Jose Lopez Morin: Understanding the Past to Insure the Future
José López Morín, associate professor of Chicana/o Studies, had his first book published last fall. The Legacy of Américo Paredes (College Station, Texas A & M University Press, 2006). The first book-length biography of the Mexican American scholar, Legacy focuses on an interdisciplinary approach to teaching what Morín calls an “in-between existence between North American and Mexican culture.
“I was overwhelmed with what he said in With His Pistol in His Hand (Austin, University of Texas, 1958),” says Morín. “It’s actually his dissertation, about the cultural conflict that took place in South Texas in 1901. Texas historians and folklorists at that time had given a very distorted view of the Mexican people, and he challenged it.”
In With His Pistol, Paredes uses folklore as a method to illustrate the marginalization of a Mexican culture that existed along the lower Rio Grande region in the mid-1700s, before the United States became a country. Morín cites the perpetuation of negative stereotypes that continued through Paredes’ time, as a means to justify Anglo Americans domination of that region. In his own book, Morín highlights Paredes’ postmodern approach to the study of Chicana/o culture. This approach became an interdisciplinary program at Paredes’ alma mater, the University of Texas, in the 1960s.
“Paredes looks at issues from various perspectives,” he says, “not just a historical perspective, but an anthropological perspective, a folkloric perspective, a musical perspective and a literary perspective. He says in order for us to understand an issue, a historical event, we need to look at it from as many different points of view as possible, to get closer to that understanding of truth. Because of his in-between existence, he was able to revolutionize the study of culture, because he understood both cultures so well.”
Morín, who utilizes an interdisciplinary approach in his own teaching by sharing folk music and literature with his students, believes that studying the culture of a people is critical in learning their history.
“Folklore is the basis for who people are, their traditions, their customs, their language,” he says. “The reason Paredes took that approach is that most minority groups in the United States have not always had the tools of literacy, historically, to represent themselves, to defend themselves, so they’ve relied on their folklore as their means of cultural survival. I think that’s important, especially here in the United States, where we are in contact with so many different people. The first step is to understand yourself, before you can begin to understand other people and their way of life.”
Morín, whose students have entered a variety of fields, including law and education, hopes that his legacy to “teach my students to make this world a better place for all of us. I tell them not to carry a chip on their shoulder, or to feel like this country owes us something, and that we’re victims. By majoring in Chicana/o studies, they come to learn about themselves, about their history, the world around them, and of the responsibilities that await them.”
- Joanie Harmon-Whetmore
Photos above: José López Morín, associate professor of Chicana/o Studies, with senior Jhovanna Rojas (Biology), president,
Espíritu de Nuestro Futuro (Spirit of Our Future), and junior Rafael Martínez (History), president, Phi Iota Alpha.
Morín is an advisor for both student organizations.
Morín's booksigning event in LaCorte Hall last semester was attended by supporters and well-wishers, among them, many former students who have graduated and entered a variety of fields. Pictured above: Morín signs a book for his former student, Lisette Arredondo (Class of '05, B.S., Health Science), who is a pre-med student at the University of Southern California. Photos courtesy of José López Morín