Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies
Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies

LLILAS MA Graduate Rigoberto Choy Wins Outstanding Thesis Award

Mon, April 20, 2015
LLILAS MA Graduate Rigoberto Choy Wins Outstanding Thesis Award
Rigo Choy with Associate Professor Lorraine Leu at the May 2014 LLILAS graduation; photo by Mari Correa

Rigoberto Ajcalón Choy, a 2014 graduate of the LLILAS master’s program, has received a 2015 Outstanding Thesis Award from the UT Graduate School. Choy is one of three recipients of this honor.

According to the Graduate School, the $1,000 award “recognizes exceptional work by master’s students.” “Exceptional” is an adjective that fits Rigo Choy better than most. “Rigo arrived here as an indigenous Kaqchikel scholar from Guatemala who showed great promise, but who was unsure of how to negotiate the intimidating environment of U.S. higher education,” says LLILAS graduate adviser and associate director for student programs Lorraine Leu. “He received a great deal of support and mentoring, both by faculty and his peers, and ended up writing the very best thesis of his cohort.” Indeed, Rigo was awarded best master’s thesis of the 2014 LLILAS graduating class.

Choy’s thesis is titled “Masculinity, Gender, and Power in a Mayan-Kaqchikel Community in Sololá, Guatemala.” His thesis adviser, Associate Professor Gloria González-López of the Department of Sociology, describes the project as “a unique and rare ethnographic journey in the social sciences,” and “part of the must-read literature” for scholars interested in critical gender studies in Guatemala and Central America. The second reader, Assistant Professor Sergio Romero of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, adds more superlatives, saying that Choy’s thesis “will contribute enormously to advancing gender studies in Guatemala once it is published.”

González-López highlights Choy’s foray into the area of men and masculinity studies, saying the work “represents a pioneering contribution to the literature examining the lives of men as men, especially in a context that has received scarce or little attention in the field of masculinities studies: indigenous societies in Central America.” She continues, “these working-class indigenous men talk in first person about their life experiences as men to an ethnographer who is part of the same communities, another Mayan-Kaqchikel man born and raised in the very same social and cultural contexts where this study took place.”

Choy also employs the lens of feminist theory in the project. Says González-López, “Rigo walked carefully on an intellectual tightrope as he listened to and analyzed men’s stories.” These stories, he found, revealed moments of tension and contradiction. “For instance,” his adviser continues, “Rigo was shocked but not surprised to hear about the ways these men benefit from patriarchal privilege within their families and communities, while also being exposed to larger historical forces of colonization and racial oppression that have left a deep imprint in their personal and family lives.”

Choy faced challenges with English when he first arrived on campus. It is his third language. He was given a strong boost from the ESL Services program at the university’s International Office. As a native speaker of Kaqchikel, he learned Spanish as a second language. According to González-López, the thesis was essentially a trilingual project, involving interviews in Kaqchikel, discussions with his adviser in Spanish and English, translation of oral interviews into English, and a finished thesis in English and Kaqchikel. In addition, says Leu, the concepts and tools from feminist theory and gender studies were entirely unknown to him before his arrival. Choy’s commitment to this challenging project was largely due to his hope that his work could some day improve the lives of indigenous girls and women in Guatemala, including his own sisters.

Choy was unable to attend the recent award ceremony, but wrote from Guatemala expressing his gratitude to all who supported him in the project, adding, “it is a great honor for me to be among the winners.” He continued, “My purpose in writing this thesis was to contribute to knowledge about male heterosexual identities in the Kaqchikel area of Sololá, Guatemala. This work adds to current debates about gender in feminist movements.” Asked about his current work, Choy says he is exploring similar themes in different contexts in an independent project. “I hope to be able to continue my academic career in order to carry out more exhaustive research.”

Choy’s thesis points to the enormous significance of work by indigenous scholars that examines indigenous society. González-López and Leu agree that he has produced a sophisticated analysis of the everyday lives of indigenous men, their world views, values, and vulnerabilities. Leu adds, “We are proud that LLILAS and UT have played a role in advancing critical scholarship that is both inspirational and urgently needed.”

An article-length adaptation of Rigoberto Choy’s award-winning thesis is scheduled for publication in the upcoming issue of Portal, the LLILAS Benson annual review, due out in August 2015. 

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  • Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies

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