I work at the Center for the Study of the Southwest at Texas State University. It’s a pretty good gig. I get to read, learn, and share information about the region where I’m from. Okay, sometimes I have to grade papers and correct people’s spelling, but generally I like to think I’m getting paid to shatter people’s misconception about West Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The Southwest is an incredibly special but misunderstood location.
At the center—or the CSSW—we put out two journals: Southwestern American Literature and Texas Books in Review. We also sponsor symposiums and readings throughout the year, and we offer classes and a minor in southwestern studies. We’re located in Brazos hall which is one of the oldest buildings on campus. It used to be the university police station and the infirmary before that. I like Brazos because it holds onto a certain old Texas charm that the newer buildings just don’t have. At night, when I’m here working alone, it can be a little creepy but that has its own charm, too.
During the school year I teach two classes: southwestern studies and editing the professional publication. Southwestern studies is an interdisciplinary course over two semesters. I try to bring in guest speakers to grasp a little bit of everything about the Southwest: history, literature, music, geography, biology, cinema, sociology, economics, and archaeology. Some of my students have driven to the Hueco Tanks outside El Paso, or the cliff dwellings around the four corners, but most of them have not been west of the hill country and are a little shocked when they learn that the Southwest is more than just dirt and rocks. So it is up to me to get them to consider where these misconceptions come from. This is pretty gratifying for me because I remember when I went off to college on the east coast people were a little scared of me when I told them I was from Arizona. People asked me if I rode a horse to school, if I had ever shot anyone. And then they would make ignorant assumptions about Hispanics which always made me grind my teeth. I remember one guy who lived in my dorm told me he was afraid of me because I “came from a place with cactus and snakes.” I like to think of my job as vindication for all the stuff people said about me and my home when I went off to school.
Writer living in Central Texas.