Mexican American Studies website
  • Location: EDCC 2.216B
  • Phone: 956.665.3212
  • Email:

Mexican American Studies at University of Texas- Rio Grande Valley is an interdisciplinary program comprised of faculty from five different colleges. While the Mexican American Heritage Major has a forty year existence throughout the history of the university, in early 2008 Dr. Stephanie Alvarez (Modern Languages and Literature) and Dr. Sonia Hernandez (History & Philosophy) began meeting to revise the curriculum for the Mexican American Heritage Program major and minor. Dr. Jennifer Mata (History & Philosophy) Edna Ochoa (Modern Languages and Literature) and Emmy Pérez (English) then joined this effort to revitalize this important area of study in the Fall of 2008; Dr. Marci McMahon (English) joined the Advisory Board in the spring of 2009. The Advisory Board is a group of faculty dedicated to the strengthening and overall success of Mexican American Studies at UTRGV. The Advisory Board submitted the newly revised interdisciplinary degree plan to the University Curriculum Committee and received approval in late Spring of 2009. This formally changed the program from Mexican American Heritage to Mexican American Studies, and revised the MAS minor.

Mexican American Studies Faculty


Dr. Stephanie Alvarez, Founding Member, MAS Advisory Board Member, and Undergraduate Advisor

Associate Professor of Mexican American Studies

Stephanie Alvarez, Assistant Professor of Spanish in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, earned her PhD in Spanish from the University of Oklahoma. She is the founding director of the Mexican American Studies program (2009-2013) & Center for Mexican American Studies (2011-2013) at UTPA. She is the recipient of the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education Outstanding Latina/o Faculty Award (2011) and the University of Texas Board of Regent’s Outstanding Teaching Award (2009). She is the co-editor with William Luis of The AmeRícan Poet: Essays on the Work of Tato Laviera (2014). Her research intersects in the areas of Latin@ identity, language, literature, culture, education and empowerment and has appeared in various edited volumes and journals such as Hispania, Journal of Latinos and Education and CENTRO: Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, among others. Together with Tato Laviera, Edna Ochoa and José Martínez she founded Cosecha Voices, a program that provides migrant farmworker youth the opportunity to document and share their testimonios​


Dr. Marci R. McMahon, Director of MAS, Advisory Board Member, and Graduate Director

Associate Professor of Mexican American Studies

Received her Ph.D. from the University of Southern California with affiliations in the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity. She is an associate professor in the Department of English and Mexican American Studies Program. Her courses focus on Chicana/o and Latina/o literature, cultural studies, gender studies, and theater and performance. She is the author of Domestic Negotiations: Gender, Nation, and Self-Fashioning in US Mexicana and Chicana Literature and Art (Rutgers University Press’s series Latinidad: Transnational Cultures in the United States, 2013), which received the National Association for Chicana and Chicana Studies (NACCS) Tejas Non-Fiction Book Award in 2014. Her transdisciplinary research in Chicana/o and Latina/o studies appears in Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies; Chicana/Latina Studies: The Journal of MALCS; Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies; and the Journal of Equity & Excellence in Education. Her latest book manuscript, Listening to Latina/o Theater: Staging Sound in US Latina/o Theater and Performance, explores how Latina/o drama utilizes sound design and vocal bodies to engage audiences with recurring debates about nationhood, immigration, and gender. By putting the aural and sonic to the foreground of analysis in Latina/o theater and performance studies, the book intervenes in a scholarly emphasis on visual representation that has characterized US Latina/o theater studies.

Dr. Cathryn Josefina Merla-Watson, Assistant Professor of Mexican American Studies

Dr. Cathryn Josefina Merla-Watson holds a Ph.D. in American Studies with minor certificates in Feminist and Critical Sexuality Studies and Geography from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Dr. Merla-Watson co-edited W.E.B. Du Bois on Asia: Crossing the World Color Line (2005) and has published articles and chapters in ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies, El Mundo Zurdo 3, and The Un/Making of Latino Citizenship: Culture, Politics, and Aesthetics (2014). She is currently co-curating a two-part dossier on Chicana/o-Latina/o Speculative Aesthetics for the journal Aztlán (forthcoming Fall 2015 and Spring 2016). Her research and teaching interests include Mexican American and Latina/o Literary and Cultural Studies; Cultural Geography; Chicana and Women of Color Feminisms; Queer of Color Critique; and Love Studies.

Mr. Ernesto Fidel Ramirez, Undergraduate Advisor and Community Engagement Liaison

Lecturer of Mexican American Studies

Ramirez was born in San Antonio and fortunate enough to have attended 15 different schools in 10 different school districts. He moved often during his life but luckily he had roots here in the RGV. His Father is from San Juan and his mother from Harlingen, both attended Pan American University, luckily for him they met here and went on to marry soon after. He moved to the valley in 1995 and graduated from UTPA in 2000 with Bachelors in General Studies. He has worked at UTPA since 2001 in various capacities as staff and faculty. He has also taught in the Department of Criminal Justice, served with the University Retention and Advisement Program, and was liaison for the AVID for Higher Education program at UTPA. Most recently He taught with University College (previously the Office of Undergraduate Studies) and is happy to be the first full time faculty member of the Mexican American Studies Program at UTPA and UTRGV. He sees his function as a faculty member to be a guide for students, not just in their academics but in their life.

Mexican American Studies Advisory Board

Dr. Francisco Guajardo, MAS Advisory Board Member



Francisco Guajardo is an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Texas Pan American. He is from the border, having been born in Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas and raised in the rural community of Elsa, Texas. He is a graduate of Edcouch-Elsa High School, where he also worked as a teacher and administrator, and is a founding member of the Llano Grande Center for Research and Development. He is also a founding member of the Center for Bilingual Studies at UTPA, and a founder of the Community Learning Exchange, a national initiative that works to bring community together. His research agenda focuses on community leadership and community building.

Dr. Edna Ochoa, Founding Member

Modern Languages

Dr. Edna Ochoa is an assistant professor in the department of Modern Languages and Literature. She is the 2009 College of Arts and Humanities recipient of the Provost Award for Latin American Studies. Her teaching and research interests include Chicana/o Literature, Creative Writing, and Spanish language journalism. She earned a bachelor of journalism from the Escuela “Carlos Septién García” in Mexico City and her Master’s and Ph.D in Spanish from the University of Houston. She is the author of poetry books: Respiración de raíces (Toluca, México: La tinta de alcatraz, 1993), Sombra para espejos (Toluca, México: H. Ayuntamiento de Toluca, 1989), Ruinas (México: Luzbel, 1987) (book of drama) and La cerca circular (México: SEI, 1986) (book of short stories). She has written numerous plays including “La Jacobina” Teatro para estudiantes de teatro (México: Árbol Editorial, 1996) and “La Boda de la Mujer Maravilla” Teatro Joven de México (México: Tierra Adentro, 1992). Her translations to Spanish include Zoot Suit by Luis Valdez (Arte Público Press, University of Houston, 2004) and How the Frog and His Friend Saved Humanity by Víctor Villaseñor (Arte Público Press, University of Houston, 2005). She is an active participant in Cosecha Voices and her plays have showcased at numerous venues including the College of Arts and Humanities yearly FESTIBA.

Dr. Emmy Pérez, Founding Member & MAS Advisory Board Member


Emmy Pérez, originally from Santa Ana, California, is the author of a poetry collection, Solstice & a poetry manuscript With the River on our Face. She has received poetry fellowships & writing awards from CantoMundo, New York Foundation for the Arts, Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, & the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Foundation. A graduate of Columbia University & the University of Southern California, currently, she is an associate professor at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, where she teaches creative writing and Mexican American Studies courses. Over the years, she has taught creative writing and led service learning projects in juvenile and adult detention centers. In 2008, she founded, with community members and students, the annual campus event “El Valle Celebra Nuestra Gloria” Anzaldúa. In 2012, she was a recipient of a UT Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award.

Mexican American Studies Faculty Affiliates


Dr. Christopher Carmona, MAS Advisor at Brownsville Campus and MAS Affiliate

Creative Writing

Dr. Christopher Carmona is an Assistant Professor in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley where he focuses on Latin@ /Chican@ /Native Rhetorics and Poetics as well as Beat Poetry and Narrative. His story, “Strange Leaves,” was the third finalist in the Texas Observer Short Story Contest of 2014. He was a nominee for the Alfredo Cisneros de Miral Foundation Award for Writers in 2011 and a Pushcart Prize nominee in 2013. He has been published in journals such as Callaloo Literary Journal and The American Book Review. He has two books of poetry, beat and I Have Always Been Here. His newest work is entitled Nuevas Voces Poeticas: A Dialogue about the New Chican@ Identities discussing the state of Chican@ identity in a post-9/11 world. Currently, he is editing an anthology called Outrage: A Protest Anthology about Injustice in a Post 9/11 World to be published by Slough Press in 2015 and working on first collection of short stories entitled, Stories, Not Atoms to be published in 2016. He is the organizer of the Annual Beat Poetry and Arts Festival, the organizer of the Writers Live Series, and the Brownsville coordinator for the Mexican American Studies Program. ​



Dr. Amy Cummins, MAS Affiliate

Literature and Cultural Studies

Dr. Amy Cummins, Associate Professor in the Department of Literatures and Cultural Studies, is affiliate faculty with MAS. Dr. Cummins instructs courses such as “Children’s and Adolescent Literature” and “Teaching Secondary School Literature.” Amy enjoys writing and teaching about youth literature. She is particularly interested in English Education, Mexican American authors, Texas borderlands, and environmental issues. One of her significant publications is the article “Border Crossings: Undocumented Migration Between Mexico and the United States in Contemporary Young Adult Literature” in the journal Children’s Literature in Education (2013). Articles that Dr. Cummins co-authored with UT Pan American students include “Magical Realist Moments in Malín Alegría’s Border Town Series” in Bookbird, A Journal of International Children’s Literature,(2014), with Tiffany Cano; “Adolescent Self-Harm Behavior and Choke by Diana López” in The New Review of Children’s Literature and Librarianship (2013), with Polet Garza; and “Contemporary Mexican American Young Adult Books of the Texas Borderlands” in English in Texas (2012) with Leslie Briones. ​


Dr. Servando Hinojosa, MAS Affilate


Servando Z Hinojosa's research centers on the highland Maya people of Guatemala, and on Mesoamerica more generally, placing his focus on the lived experience of spiritual life and healing. In the south Texas borderlands, he has researched the Native American Church and Mexican American folk medicine, and has looked closely at folk massagers. In Turkey, meanwhile, his research focuses on civil society and folk healing. He is the co-editor of Healing by Hand: Manual Medicine and Bonesetting in Global Perspective (Altamira Press, 2004), and the author of the upcoming book, In this Body: Kaqchikel Maya and the Grounding of Spirit (University of New Mexico Press, 2015). He has taught at University of Texas - Pan American since 1998.


Dr. Irving Levinson, MAS Affiliate


Irving W. Levinson, an Associate Professor at the University of Texas – Pan American, received his Ph.D. with distinction from the University of Houston and is a Fulbright Scholar. His first book, Wars within War: Mexican Guerrillas, Domestic Elites, and the United States of America 1846-1848, was published by Texas Christian University Press in 2005. Since then, he has published four articles and co-edited a book for which he wrote a chapter, Latin American Positivism: New Historical and Philosophical Essays, (Lanham, Maryland, Lexington Books, 2013). He also has published several essay and currently in working on his third book, which will focus on the 1934 – 1946 period of Mexican political life. ​



Dr. Richard E. Phillips, MAS Affiliate


Richard E. Phillips received his Ph.D. in Viceregal art history from the University of Texas at Austin in 1993. Among his publications is the book “Woman and Art in Early Modern Latin America,” 2007. He is the UTPA Art Department’s art history coordinator. Dr. Phillips was the only art historian at UTPA since 2000 until the Art Department faculty endorsed his 2008 plan to add two new art historians in 2009 so that Mexican, Latin@, and Latin American art and architectural history are fully covered in a way unprecedented in most of the world’s universities in their three epochs and across both hemispheres of North and South America: Pre-Columbian, Viceregal and Modern. This enabled him to create the UTPA Bachelor of Arts in Mexican and Latin American Art and Architectural History and Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies in Art History degrees and curriculum. There are now students majoring in both programs. Dr. Phillips is an art curriculum expert and has had a major impact on the design of undergraduate and graduate art degree plans and their implementation for the new UTRGV for Fall semester 2015. ​


Dr. Jamie Starling, MAS Affiliate


I moved to the Rio Grande Valley in 2013 after completing my Doctorate in Borderlands History at the University of Texas at El Paso. My teaching includes undergraduate and graduate courses in Mexican American, Texas, U.S. Southwestern, and U.S. history. My research originally involved the Roman Catholic Church and how this preeminently transnational institution contended with war, conquest, and the redrawing of borders between the United States and Mexico during the middle of the nineteenth century. I have increasingly taken an interest in how fronterizos experienced these changes in their personal lives in areas such as marriage and family life, health and death, and in the cultural expressions of religion. I recently published an article on Catholicism and interfaith and interethnic marriage in American Catholic Studies and I am currently drafting an article on women’s rights and Catholic governance in the 1830s borderlands. Much of my past research has centered on the Paso del Norte and Mesilla regions; however, I am currently performing work on topics that involve the Tamaulipas-Texas borderlands. This includes a project on Afro-Mexicans during the colonial period, as well as ongoing research on health and medicine in the early nineteenth century and comparative studies of El Sal de Rey and salt mining in other areas of the U.S.-Mexican Borderlands. On a less formal level, I also enjoy comparing the cooking of South Texas with the foods of New Mexico and west Texas, and visiting the many historic sites that extend along the lower Rio Grande.

UT-Rio Grande Valley has over 50 faculty from various colleges engaged in Mexican American, Latin@, and/or Latin American research. Some of these affiliates are:

Maritza de la Trinidad, History, MAS faculty affiliate

Alexander Stehn, Philosophy, MAS faculty affiliate

Mariana Alessandri, Philosophy, MAS faculty affiliate

Jamie Starling, History, MAS faculty affiliate

Cynthia Paccacerqua, Philosophy, MAS faculty affiliate

Zulmaris Diaz, Billingual Education, MAS faculty affiliate

Leila Hernandez, Art, MAS faculty affiliate

Robert Bradley, Art, MAS faculty affiliate