"Hips don't lie" : Mexican American female students' identity construction at The University of Texas at Austin

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Portillo, Juan Ramon

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While a university education is sold to students as something anyone can achieve, their particular social location influences who enters this space. Mexican American women, by virtue of their intersecting identities as racialized women in the US, have to adopt a particular identity if they are to succeed through the educational pipeline and into college. In this thesis, I explore the mechanics behind the construction of this identity at The University of Texas at Austin. To understand how this happens, I read the experiences of six Mexican American, female students through a Chicana feminist lens, particularly Anzaldúa’s mestiza consciousness. I discovered that if Mexicana/Chicana students are to “make it,” they have to adopt a “good student, nice Mexican woman” identity. In other words, to be considered good students, Mexican American women must also adopt a code of conduct that is acceptable to the white-centric and middle-class norms that dominate education, both at a K-12 level and at the university level. This behavior is uniquely tied to the social construction of Mexican American women as a threat to the United States because of their alleged hypersexuality and hyperfertility. Their ability to reproduce, biologically and culturally, means that young Mexican women must be able to show to white epistemic authorities that they have their sexuality and gender performance “under control.” However, even if they adopt this identity, their presence at the university is policed and regulated. As brown women, they are trespassers of a space that has historically been constructed as white and male. This results in students and faculty engaging in microaggressions that serve to Other the Mexican American women and erect new symbolic boundaries that maintain a racial and gender hierarchy in the university. While the students do not just accept these rules, adopting the identity of “good student, nice Mexican woman” limits how the students can defend themselves from microaggressions or challenge the racial and gender structure. Nevertheless, throughout this thesis I demonstrate that even within the constraints of the limited identity available to the students, they still resist dominant discourses and exercise agency to change their social situation.



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