Miriam Fernandez, assistant professor of English at Cal State San Bernardino, has been selected for the 2019 Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) James Berlin Memorial Outstanding Dissertation Award for her dissertation, “Tropes of the Nation: Tracing the Colonial Origins of the Matriarchal Figures of Mexican Nationalism.”
Fernandez, who teaches a first-year writing class and a rhetoric graduate course at CSUSB, will be announced as the recipient of the award at the 2019 CCCC Annual Convention on March 15 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“I am so honored and excited,” said Fernandez, who credits her adviser, Victor Villanueva, for nominating her for the award. “I have attended the 4Cs conference since I was an MA student and to have my writing recognized by the organization is a huge honor.”
The CCCC James Berlin Memorial Outstanding Dissertation Award honors a graduate whose dissertation improved the educational process in composition studies, or adds to the field’s body of knowledge, through research or scholarly inquiry.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to know that the work I put into the dissertation paid off, and that a group of professionals in my field read this work and felt it was a contribution to the study of rhetoric,” she said. “The award is also a great motivator because I suddenly feel all this energy and excitement to keep working on my project as a professional in the field.”
In her dissertation, Fernandez explores the cultural expressions of the rhetoric of Mexican nationalism.
“Most citizens, both in Mexico and in the USA, learn to feel and express a nationalism through a variety of explicitly nationalist texts and acts,” Fernandez explains. “We might pledge our allegiance to a flag, read or recite a constitution, or celebrate the anniversary of an Independence Day. Yet, there are other ways that we come to understand and experience our nationalism. Certain cultural symbols/stories that may not seem connected to nationalism, act to rhetorically persuade us to understand the nation and ourselves as citizens in particular ways.”
Fernandez focuses on Mexico and three of its most important cultural/mythological figures: la Virgen de Guadalupe (translated as Our Lady of Guadalupe, a Catholic title of the Blessed Virgin Mary), la Llorona (the ghost of a woman who lost her children and now cries while searching for them in a river), and Malintzin (the indigenous woman who translated for Hernán Cortés).
“I argue that each of the three figures rhetorically persuades Mexican nationals to imagine themselves as part of the Mexican nation. The stories of the three women work in tandem to support a greater narrative that Mexico is born out of the clash between the noble indigenous people and the greedy Spaniards, but the stories also hide the fact that the nation developed out of a criollo group consciousness,” she said. “The criollos (American-born Spaniards), although treated differently than their Spanish-born counterparts, were still complicit in the colonial system that governed New Spain. If Mexico was born out of a criollo group consciousness, and not a native or mestizo one, that means that the colonial mentality of the past carried over into the composition of the Mexican nation.”
Fernandez further explains that this awareness is even more evident in the way whiteness prevails in Mexico today.
“The preference for whiteness and the prejudice against black and indigenous Mexicans is still as present today as it was during the height of the colony,” Fernandez said. “This is a problem that is not interrogated enough, and I believe it is because the problem is hidden behind the widespread belief that Mexico is born out of the Spanish and indigenous clash. A belief that is reinforced within the three matriarchal figures.”
Fernandez also argues that the three figures work to convert some of the colonial history and traditions of the past into stories and symbols that appear to value the indigenous.
“By looking back at the historical origins of each story, I explain how at different points in the colonial period, each one of these women were symbols, or rallying points, for different identity groups and how they have been transformed today to hide a colonial mentality,” she said. “All three women have been absorbed into the cultural fabric of the Mexican nation; not in the nation’s constitutions and laws, not in its cities and states, but as symbols for the way citizens of the nation are asked to imagine themselves. In some ways, then, this is more powerful than texts and rituals that are explicitly nationalist. By understanding how these figures originated and how they rhetorically function, we can begin to break down the power they have.”
Fernandez earned her doctorate in English with an emphasis in rhetoric and composition from Washington State University, her master’s in English from Fresno State, and her bachelor’s in sociology from UC Los Angeles.