2023 - Alumni Shoutouts
The thing I loved about the American Studies program is that it allowed me to be a creative thinker. I really think the program emphasizes looking for connections between historical or cultural happenings that may seem disparate from a surface level. The program then pushes students not only to identify these connections, but also to persuasively advocate for the same. These skills, both written and oral, have helped shape me both as a person and as an attorney.
Something that I also always appreciated about AMS is that the faculty genuinely cares about the students and their long-term trajectory. Professor Lewis and Professor Engelhardt (now at UNC Chapel Hill) both eagerly wrote my law school recommendation letters years after I had completed my time in the program. I formed life-long friendships with some of the graduate students who acted as teaching assistants in some of the wonderful courses AMS offers. There really is something to be said about having a place that feels like “home” at large university like UT Austin, and AMS offered that in spades. I can say with confidence that I would not be where I am at career wise without the American Studies program and all the wonderful folks associated with it.
I think on questions that I was repeatedly asked over the years: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” or “What are you going to do with your degree?” In one of my early American Studies courses, I was told that we would spend the majority of our time examining and deconstructing mythologies, or the language and messaging that we cling to as a society. All the while, my very enrollment in these classes meant questioning a mythology that I myself had come to believe: a college major and education more broadly should lead to an obvious career path. But the AMS department, where I took residence after much soul searching across the UT campus, provided more than the tools to be successful in a specific field. The curriculum—and those who taught it—encouraged me to think critically and creatively and to be innovative, entrepreneurial and community-oriented.
As it happens, my time in American Studies did directly impact my trajectory and in more ways than one. My undergraduate thesis project transformed into my first book Made in Cuba, co-authored with my partner James Burke and released in 2018 by the Belgian publisher Luster. The town of Marfa, on which I focused my first longform paper in the department, became my home. I am now a writer, an editor, a photographer and a creative producer. Alongside James, I am working on my next book project with the New York-based Abrams. Simultaneously, we are developing a multi-disciplinary, cross-cultural residency program—a dedicated space to explore U.S.-Mexico border culture and the Chihuahuan desert through the lens of art, architecture, food, science and design—in the West Texas lands we have grown to love. I am also a very grateful American Studies alum, or as I like to consider it, a member of a small, supportive family. In continuing to dissect mythologies, I determined that I do not need to be defined by one thing, be it a passion, profession or achievement. I am, in fact, still learning what I want to be when I grow up or what I want to do with my degree and enjoying the process every step of the way.
My time as an American Studies major gave me invaluable cultural perspectives. I was encouraged to get curious about what norms are in the Americas (food, music, law, traditions, etc.) and how they impact their practitioners. American Studies calls students to challenge myths and think critically about our place on the global stage. My studies helped me realize I wanted to help people who have been impacted by long-standing practices like redlining and food deserts, so I was called to social work. I know my time in the AMS department gave me the foundation I need to practice cultural humility and seek a joyful and justice-oriented world.