The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection is pleased to announce Héctor Rodríguez III’s donation of materials pertaining to his comic series, El Peso Hero.
The series was launched in 2011, when Rodríguez saw the need for more Latino representation in graphic novels. The titular superhero, whose name is Ignacio Rivera, fights to uphold justice and morality in the border region. In some issues, Rivera can be seen helping migrants safely across the border. In others, he fights corruption and drug traffickers. Now celebrating a decade of issues, El Peso Hero will debut on the silver screen in the near future. While Rivera is the protagonist of the series, perhaps it’s his creator who is the real hero.
Héctor Rodríguez is a bilingual north Texas elementary school teacher by day and a comic book creator by night. His commitment to the genre goes beyond his own production: he’s also the creator of Texas Latino Comic Con. The mission of his independently owned Rio Bravo Comics is to give the people a “humble hero,” someone who is relatable to the audience, some of whom are his students. His inspiration comes from his family as well as his life as a Chicano in Texas. Rodríguez, who was born in Eagle Pass and grew up in College Station, uses El Peso Hero as a means to tell stories about the borderlands, from its hardships to its beauty.
For the author, that beauty is found in the multiculturalism that flourishes in the region, where El Santo comics are read while watching lucha libre, and English and Spanish are often spoken in the same sentence. It is for this reason that Rodríguez intentionally has El Peso Hero only speak in Spanish, while the series itself is bilingual. For Rodríguez, it is important that El Peso Hero transcends the U.S.–Mexico border linguistically and culturally to solidify his representation of transnational communities.
The donation features single issues, posters, stickers, storyboards, and a coloring book. One of the many highlights is a rare, signed first issue of the series.
Daniel Arbino is Head of Collection Development at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection.
Curated by Carla Alvarez, US Latina/o Archivist, Benson Latin American Collection
On Thursday, February 13, the Benson Latin American Collection and Latino Studies celebrated the opening of the archive of the Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS) with a reception, exhibition, and a staged reading of some of the archive’s contents. The reading told the emotional and powerful story of the Center’s birth, in the voices of those who fought—sometimes at their own professional peril—for an institutional commitment to Mexican American Studies by the University of Texas.
The room was full, and emotions were palpable and visible. Audience and participants ranged from students to faculty to individuals whose history with CMAS extends back decades. Read an account of the event in the Daily Texan.
Founded in 1970, the Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS) at The University of Texas at Austin benefited from Chicano student activism of the 1960s. Members of the Mexican American Student Organization (MASO) and later the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO) demanded equitable representation and resources be devoted to Mexican American studies on the UT campus. After years of activism, the Center was established. It stands as an institutional recognition of the importance of Mexican Americans and Latinos in the history, culture, and the politics of the United States.
Since its founding, the Center has fostered Mexican American studies and Latino studies on campus and nationally through partnerships. A founding member of the Inter-UniversityProgram for Latino Research (IUPLR), CMAS has worked toward shaping Latino scholarship and to support the next generation of Latino studies scholars.
For nearly thirty years, the Center operated an in-house publishing unit, CMAS Books, which began as a publisher of academic monographs, providing a means for affiliated faculty to share their research with other scholars, but blossomed into an imprint with a broader cultural and scholarly reach. CMAS Books published a series of monographs and several periodicals including journals and newsletters for the Center and sponsored entities like IUPLR.
In addition to supporting Mexican American studies on campus and nationally, CMAS had another goal from the beginning—to establish a presence and engage with the larger community. This community engagement has evolved over the years and included partnerships with the Américo Paredes Middle School;La Peña, a community-based arts organization, the Serie Project and Sam Coronado Studio; and a Latino radio project, proudly launched in the early 1990s. That initial radio project eventually developed into the nationally syndicatedLatino USA. The Center has thus firmly established a legacy of expanding and enhancing knowledge of Mexican Americans’ and Latinos’ contributions to the history and culture of the United States.
The Center for Mexican American Studies will celebrate its 50th anniversary during the 2020–2021 academic year.The Center now exists as one of three units under Latino Studies at UT, a powerhouse of Latino thought and advocacy that also includes the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies and the Latino Research Institute. Visit liberalarts.utexas.edu/latinostudies for updates on all anniversary festivities, including special events, public conversations, digital retrospectives, and interactive campus installations.
CMAS at 50 is on view through July 2, 2020, in the second-floor gallery of the Benson Latin American Collection, SRH Unit 1. To view the list of archival materials online, visit the Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO) CMAS.
By Daniel Arbino, Librarian for U.S. Latina/o Studies
They are colorful, vibrant, tongue-in-cheek, eclectic, expressive, melancholic, and political. They are self-published, sold, traded, and given away. Extremely rare, but inexpensive. And now, they are on display. The University of Texas at Austin’s Latino Studies has a flashy new exhibition in the halls of the Gordon-White Building (GWB). Made up of self-published poetry, essays, photographs, short stories, and artwork, Dissent: Zine Culture (And the Voices You Wouldn’t Hear Otherwise) highlights the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection’s U.S. Latinx Zine and Graphic Novel Collection with over forty zines.
The term “zine” is derived from fanzine, a form of expression that started in the 1930s among science fiction fans. Zines took off in the 1960s among countercultures, particularly those invested in socio-political activism that may have identified with civil rights movements, the Chicano movement, Feminism, LGBTQ+, etc. From the 1970s to the 1990s, zines continued to grow, especially through punk communities. Now, zines are more popular than ever, with a variety of subject matter that can be disseminated using twenty-first-century technologies like social media or Etsy.
What makes zines so important is that they provide an outlet for groups that have been overlooked or silenced by mainstream society and, by extension, publishers. Through self-publishing, creators of cultural content have autonomy over their content and design. This would resonate with the intersectionality flourishing within Latinx communities.
The origins of the U.S. Latinx Zine and Graphic Novel Collection started in the summer of 2017 with the single purchase of Chifladazine at the Lone Star Zine Fest in Austin. Since then, the collection has grown in its size and uniqueness with additional purchases made on trips to San Antonio, New York City, and Albuquerque. Other zines have been purchased online over the span of two years. The collection currently consists of 259 zines, graphic novels, and chapbooks that focus on U.S. Latinx zine creators. Some Indigenous writers are included as well. The Benson’s oldest zine is from 1984, but the majority were published within the last decade.
One particular interest has been on different, but inclusive, Latinx voices, with a special privilege given to feminist and LGBTQ+ expressions. Within the collection, there zines about Xicana veganism, traditional knowledge systems, gentrification, immigration, and body positivity that dismantle ways in which mainstream society thinks about these topics. Their relevance underscores the fact that zines provide a documented record of opposition, hence the exhibition title.
Curated by Mallory Laurel, the Director of Outreach and Communications for Latino Studies, Dissent: Zine Culture (And the Voices You Wouldn’t Hear Otherwise) recognizes the power that self-publishing has as a means to challenge accepted mainstream ideas while attracting the attention of students with their eye-catching formats. The exhibit is thematically structured around seven different themes: health & body, love & relationships, politics & protest, place & identity, medicinal folklore, St. Sucia Zines, and zines that come in different shapes and sizes. Though each scope is different, all aim to enunciate new modes of representation; all refuse to accept silence.
While this particular collection is new, the Benson has a history of collecting ephemeral materials such as Puerto Rican graphic novels, Brazilian cordel literature, Cuban historietas, and cartoneras. Our goal is to offer a wide breadth of materials from Latinx and Latin American populations. To that extent, Latinx zines and graphic novels participate in a hemispheric attempt to use self-publication as a means to articulate perspectives on community and identity. In housing zines at the Benson, we show creators that we value their message, support and promote their work, and want them to succeed. To our patrons, we want to emphasize the inclusivity of our collection and of our space.
The Dissent exhibition will run until December 10, 2019. Patrons can visit the Benson Latin American Collection to access our other zines and should continue checking back periodically as the collection grows.