Alumnus Spotlight: Recent graduate presents paper at national conference

Gina Fu, ’Doah Staff Writer
February 20, 2013

For many grads, the real world can be terrifying — finding a job, paying off those college loans, moving to a new place. But for S.U. alumnus Colleen Foster, post-graduation life involved a different kind of challenge: presenting a paper at a national academic conference in Baton Rouge, La.

On Feb. 13, Foster presented her paper, “Glimpses of the White Woman in Three Novels by Mexican-American Authors,” for the National Association of Hispanic and Latino Studies (NAHLS) at the 21st annual joint national conference of the NAHLS and its sister groups, the National Associations of African-American Studies, Native American Studies, Asian Studies and the Center for Islamic Studies.

Foster, having graduated in May 2012 with an English degree, concluded her undergraduate studies this past December when she received her bachelor’s in Spanish. This paper, written in Spanish as “Vistazos de la gringa en tres novelas de autores chicanos,” was her culminating senior project under the guidance of Dr. Bryan Pearce-Gonzales, chair of the department of English and foreign languages.

“I knew I wanted to work with literature and the Spanish language. This paper ended up being the love child of both of my fields of study,” said Foster. “Dr. P.G. pulled book recommendations off his shelf and as we discussed them in-depth, this theme began to emerge. There’s barely any writing out there on it, so I ran with it.”

The novels she used spanned almost a 50-year period. They were “Pocho” by José Antonio Villarreal (published in 1959), “La Mollie and the King of Tears” by Arturo Islas (1996) and “The Flowers” by Dagoberto Gilb (2008).

Using these works, Foster contrasted characters who were white females — or “gringas” in Spanish slang — against their chicana counterparts, Mexican-American women. She explored which dynamic, ethnicity or sex, came to more greatly define their life and their perception through the eyes of the “other,” as well as the chicano male protagonist of each story and themselves.

“The crux of what I discovered is that over time, ethnicity came to be a bigger factor than gender,” she said. “Only as women began to become more empowered in the United States as a whole did their ethnicity really become an issue and start to influence what they were told they were capable of and deserving as individuals.

“Also, ever-prevalent for both the gringa and her sister chicana is what we often hear described as the Madonna-whore complex: being practically forced by their surroundings to choose between between extremes of purity or hypersexuality, a pressure that most females in this culture, no matter what their background, feel at some point.”

While her paper is written entirely in Spanish, she spoke fervently about it in English, both when she presented an earlier version of it at S.U.’s Davis Hall in December, and with further development now.

The conference ran from Feb. 11-16 at the Crowne Plaza Executive Center in Baton Rouge. It consisted of many different sessions running simultaneously throughout the week that ranged from discussing the racial ideology of hip-hop music to 19th century Chinese poets. “It’s a rush, a huge gathering of people geeking out about literature and culture and language,” said Foster.

“Once I got my head around what I’d gotten myself into — this being my first time even attending anything like this, much less presenting — my heaps of nerves were replaced with joy. The presentation flew by and I just soaked in how fun it is to be with people who like to hash out ideas and get passionate about reading and writing.”

The goal for Foster now, is to continue refining her thesis in the hopes of getting it published in the Associations’ Journal of Intercultural Disciplines.

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