Las Vegas, N.M — New Mexico Highlands University cultural anthropology professor Mario Gonzales was honored with the Hispanic Writer Award to attend the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference July 15 — 22.
Named as one of the top ten writers’ conferences in the country, the event is now in its 14th year.
Gonzales, who earned his Ph.D. in anthropology from Washington State University, joined the Highlands University faculty in 2003. His expertise is in U.S. and Mexican immigration and border issues, indigenous peoples of Central and South America, Hispanics of the Southwest, and globalization and the culture of capitalism.
Gonzales earned his master’s degree in anthropology from Highlands and collected folktales in San Miguel County for his thesis.
“What makes anthropology so fascinating to me is that it studies what it means to be human in terms of culture, language, ethnicity, kinship, the arts, religion, politics, food and more,” Gonzales said. “I tell my students to think of culture as a system of symbols you can use to decipher everything humans do.”
While archaeology is the field of anthropology that studies human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artifacts, cultural anthropology is the study of living peoples.
As a child, Gonzales worked alongside his grandparents and parents as a farmworker in the Fresno, Calif. area. His grandparents immigrated from Mexico and he is the first in his family to attend college, giving him insight into the first-general college students he teaches.
Gonzales said his heritage and experience as a young farmworker influenced his interest in studying indigenous cultures. He has conducted extensive fieldwork in Oaxaca, a state in southwestern Mexico known for its high population of indigenous people.
In the summer of 2006, Gonzales worked in London with an Oxford University colleague on border and labor issues in Palestine and Mexico. He is a frequent presenter at anthropology and other conferences on border and labor issues, indigenous cultures, migrant workers in the Southwest and California, and more.
“As cultural anthropologists, we interview people and ask them to tell us their stories so we need to be good writers and storytellers ourselves,” Gonzales said. “Anthropologists need to bridge the gap between the academic world and the general population. One of the ways we can do that is through writing that is more accessible and relates to people’s everyday lives.”
In addition to writing published in academic journals and textbooks, Gonzales also pens essays and short stories. Most recently, he wrote a short story, “The Education of Ernesto Salazar,” for The Cossack Review, a new international literary journal.
“Writing is a process and we need to continually strive to be stronger writers and thinkers,” Gonzales said. “By working on my own writing, I can help my students be stronger writers and tell the stories of others more effectively.”