Ramon Saldivar said he always knew that his life's work would focus on cultural diversity, having grown up in Brownsville, Texas, where the U.S. and Mexican ways of life interact so seamlessly.
As it turned out, Saldivar became a university professor. He has been at Stanford University since 1991, where he is the Hoagland Family Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences and also a professor of English and comparative literature. In September he became the director of Stanford's Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity.
In a White House ceremony last Monday, President Obama awarded the National Humanities Medal to Saldivar and eight others, saying their work had deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities. Saldivar, whose teaching and work has centered on globalization, transnationalism and Chicano studies, was recognized for "his bold explorations of identity along the border separating the United States and Mexico."
The week before, Saldivar had been in the middle of preparing to teach his Literature of the Americas class when he received an unexpected call from James Leach, the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. When Leach said he was calling to bestow the National Humanities Medal on behalf of the president, Saldivar said his first thought was that Leach had the wrong Ramon Saldivar.
When assured that there was no mistake, Saldivar said he was "just stunned. It was so completely unexpected that it didn't really make sense to me."
He said it wasn't until he was late to class, told his students what had happened and they began clapping and cheering wildly that the magnitude and importance of the award began to sink in.
Saldivar has written three books and has a fourth in progress. His second book is about Americo Paredes, a pioneer in Mexican-American border studies and a Brownsville native. The new book, tentatively titled "Race and Narrative Theory in Contemporary American Fiction," will explain how 21st century ethnic writers have initiated a new stage in the history of the novel.
Saldivar said he wants to investigate the approach of up-and-coming authors, those who were born after the civil rights era and who take for granted many of the victories won during that time.
He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin and his master's and Ph.D. in comparative literature from Yale University.
A 1968 graduate of Brownsville High School, Saldivar said that when he left Brownsville for UT he wasn't sure whether he would go into law, education, or return to the Rio Grande Valley. But he did know that the interaction of cultures interested him.
"Just growing up in Brownsville helped me to appreciate the importance of being able to live in and be comfortable with the differences in cultural identity that are so common along the border," he said.
Saldivar said that when he thinks of Brownsville he thinks of "family, old, long, deep friendships and a rich cultural history of stories about how the United States became the great country that it is."
Saldivar grew up among seven siblings just off McDavitt Boulevard in old Brownsville's Villa Verde neighborhood. A brother and a sister also became university professors.
Sonia Saldivar Hull is a professor of English and American literature and director of the Women's Studies Department at the University of Texas-San Antonio.
Jose Saldivar is a professor of comparative literature at Stanford.
Most Popular Stories
- Hezbollah Chief's Assassination Claimed by Sunni Group
- Guardian Pressured to Stop NSA Stories: Editor
- Newtown Massacre Heard on 911 Recordings
- New Home Sales Shoot up 25 Percent in October
- U.S. Growth Stayed Steady During Shutdown, Fed Says
- Allstate Seeks to Invest in Minority Firms
- Boehner Blames Obama, Senate for Congressional Inactivity
- CEOs More Optimistic About Economy, Hiring
- Liberty Power Gets Minority Business Nod
- Latin Music Conference Turns 25