Meet Our World-Class Faculty: Sonia Del Hierro
A conversation with Assistant Professor of English Sonia Del Hierro.
September 15, 2023
September 15, 2023
Could you introduce yourself and tell me a bit about your background?
My name is Sonia Del Hierro. I just accepted a job here as an assistant professor of English. I specialize in Mexican-American literature, and my research primarily focuses on fashion and identity formation. I’m interested in how clothing gets wrapped up in identity, race, and ethnicity. For Mexican Americans, it is difficult to figure out your race and ethnicity, especially race, and I’m tracking how clothing shows up in Chicane literature and visual media to do this complex work. I got my bachelor’s at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas, my hometown. Then, I was at Iowa State, and it was there where I was like, Okay, I want to study Mexican-American literature because before, I was sort of broadly an Americanist. After that, I went to Rice University to get my PhD. I had such a great time with the people there and had some great professors. Creating that network was amazing.
Why did you decide to focus on Mexican-American literature while you were in Iowa?
There wasn’t a visible and strong Mexican-American community; it was a small conglomerate of Latinos. The Latinx community was visible, but they weren’t legible to me in the ways I had learned in Abilene. Moving away helped me see some of the identity contours I had taken for granted before. Many didn’t know what I was talking about because I was so different from the people there. So I realized that there are things to be discovered here, things to learn here, and things to educate people on; there’s a whole field. So that’s why this is the discipline I wanted to enter.
What sparked your interest in English?
It was definitely reading. I was a huge reader growing up. My parents used to complain and say; You’re the only child we have to tell to stop reading at dinner or get on to about reading too much. I love books and think books are a natural segue into writing. I was a good writer by the time I got to high school and participated in competitions. I was reading and internalizing the language of visuals and all the different things that happen when you absorb language. You can output it in a particular way that draws people in, and it’s interesting. So then I was like, Oh, I have skills now in reading and writing; that is what English is. I can do that. Also, as a senior, my high school English teacher mentored me, told me about graduate school, and opened my eyes to being an English professor, which was the first time I’d heard of that. Being first generation, it was not something I was super familiar with, but I thought it sounded really cool. I enjoyed the conversations we were having in class, and these were things I’m good at. So, it’s what I’ve wanted to do since my senior year of high school.
How did you hear about Southwestern, and why did you want to work here?
I found Southwestern through a job posting. When you’re in the job market, the most common thing to do is to cast a wide net to get as many job opportunities as possible. I was only going to apply to jobs that I could imagine myself moving to and would enjoy. Southwestern became a possibility when I was looking. I was so excited about the opportunity, and researching what Southwestern was, it reminded me so much of McMurry, a small liberal arts college. The buildings look similar, and the people feel close-knit. Then, when I had the interview with the English department, everyone was incredibly open and kind. There’s this fear whenever you’re interviewing for a job of being completely blown off or when you tell them what you do, and they question the purpose. But the English Department faculty were the opposite. They said, what you’re doing is incredible; we’re so happy you’re doing this work. I felt really welcomed. That was an immediate green flag for me, and I began to see myself as part of this community of scholars at SU.
What classes do you teach?
I teach a survey of Chicane/Chicanx literature and a survey of Latine/Latinx literature. Right now, I’m focusing on young adult novels. We’re reading Once Upon a Quince by Julia Alvarez. We’re reading some comic books; one is called Frizzy byClaribel A. Ortega. Also, Breath and Count Back from Ten is about a young Peruvian-American woman with hip dysplasia. Next semester, I’m teaching two classes of literary methods based on Chicana feminist theories, and in 2025, I will teach capstone classes. I hope to teach the two classes I’m currently teaching again because I love to get student feedback and see what’s working or which books can be subbed out.
Is there a book or author you think everyone should read/What is your favorite to teach?
Helena María Viramontes, a Chicana writer from Los Angeles, California. She wrote The Moth and Other Stories in 1985, a book of short stories that everybody should read. She’s one of my favorite writers because she can do what we call Mexican American writing, which is writing about class struggle, race, and labor rights, and she does it artistically. Her style is absolutely beautiful. I love that writer, and I almost always teach Under the Feet of Jesus, one of her novels about farmworkers and their struggle. There’s real joy in her writing, which is super important to teach students. When we teach ethnic-specific classes, it’s frequently about struggle, trauma, violence, and these histories of colonialism. Still, there’s also real joy and happiness that emerges, and she writes that exceptionally well.
How have you enjoyed your time at Southwestern thus far?
I’ve really enjoyed it. I came in as part of a group of thematic hires at Southwestern. All of us are adding to the University’s commitment to Diversity, Inclusion, Belonging, and Equity (DIBE), and having that cohort of people is fundamental to not feeling isolated. Also, the students have been fantastic. It’s always a little scary and nerve-wracking to step in front of a class and a student population you’re unfamiliar with. You don’t know where you’re meeting them, how much they know, and what activities will hit or what won’t, but they’ve been excited and happy to talk. I have absolutely loved the classes.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I love playing on my Nintendo Switch. I’m trying to get through Zelda. I also love being in pools or bodies of water and going to markets. I have yet to go to a farmers market or any of the little mercados, but I love those. I really love buying local, buying jewelry and produce, and all those other things; it’s really fun. I also like going to live music events, especially when they’re not a huge concert but small, intimate settings.
If you could meet any author, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
I have two answers. My first thought was Kate Chopin. She was born in St. Louis in the 20th century. I read her work in high school, and then I started reading her short stories like The Story of an Hour, and I was just so shocked by what she was writing in the late 1800s. She’s writing about biracial identities, mothers who don’t find joy in mothering, or women having affairs. During her time, she was almost universally panned, and now I read it and think she was on the cutting edge. My second answer is not exactly an author, but her name is Gloria Arellanes. She did write for a local community newspaper in the 70s and 80s, during the height of the Chicano Movement, and she was one of the first Chicana Brown Berets, or activists who were heavily involved with fighting for Mexican American rights, for Spanish to be included in policy documents, and all kinds of resources for the community. She’s still alive, and I would love to talk to her because it would be amazing to hear her stories and what it was like to be one of the women organizing in the 70s.
What is something students would be surprised to learn about you?
Students might be surprised to learn that if they played me in ping pong, they would have a high chance of taking an L.
Is there anything I haven’t asked that you would like people to know about you?
I’m working on a collaborative project with Gaby Barrios, a PhD student at UCLA, and Sophia Martinez Abbud, a PhD student at Rice. We’re producing a podcast called Señora Power. It’s invested in thinking about women who are considered señoras by marriage or by being respected in the community. We’re trying to look at how women, outside of pure activism, could garner resources for their community either through the church, the welfare system, or community and family and how these women were fighting for their community in visible and invisible ways. We want to highlight that, and it’s been really fun going through archives and talking to people and obtaining oral histories. Also, I would love people to know that there is a talk on September 21 called “Reading while Hispanic,” and I’m inviting a Rice professor of Chicanx and Latin American Studies on campus. At the end, there will be a conversation, and we will talk about how literature and Hispanic Heritage Month are intertwined and what it means to go through academia as a Chicano/Hispanic person.
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