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A Publication of UC Irvine School of Humanities • Winter/Spring 2011

Of Poetics and Politics: The Border Journeys of Luisa Moreno By Vicki L. Ruiz

“Hunger is the best teacher,” remembered Luisa Moreno. The simplicity of this remark cloaked her own border crossings, from a child of privilege in Guatemala to a young bohemian poet in Mexico, to a radical labor leader in the United States. I met Moreno in the summer of 1978 between my first and second year of graduate school. She laughed at my naivety—what I had read of struggles for justice, she had actually lived. To her credit and generosity, she shared her stories with me. Luisa Moreno was one of the most prominent trade union leaders in the United States. From the Great Depression to the Cold War, Moreno journeyed across the nation mobilizing seamstresses in Spanish

Luisa Moreno

Harlem, cigar rollers in Florida, and cannery women in California. The first Latina to hold a national union office, she served as vice-president of the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA), in its heyday the seventh largest affiliate of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). In 1939 Moreno also served as the principal organizer of The Spanish-speaking Peoples Congress, the first national U.S. Latino civil rights conference.

personal challenge given the fragmentary nature of available archival evidence and my friendship with Moreno and later with her daughter. How does one narrate the life of another with any sort of speculative certainty? What degrees of revelation are necessary for the historical record—where are the boundaries of discretion? I am reminded of the words of writer Tobias Wolff, “Memory is a storyteller and like storytellers, it imposes form on the raw mass of experience. It create shapes and meaning by emphasizing some things and leaving Touching my scholarship at every turn, Luisa others out.” In addition to the archive, I rely on Moreno was an invaluable mentor for me, a woman the collective and individual memories of Moreno, of uncompromising principles and honesty. Crafting her daughter, her close friends, as well as my own. her biography represents both a professional and Indeed, Luisa Moreno embodied a quintessential

...she desired a university education, but discovered that women were barred. So she organized her elite peers into Soledad Gabriela Mistral to push for greater educational opportunities for women.

transnational subject given her movement across enjoyed the heady avant-garde atmosphere discordant spaces, physical and intellectual, where she consorted with the likes of Diego where she invented and reinvented herself. Rivera and Frida Kahlo. She published a poetry collection El Vendedor de Cocuyos (Seller of Fireflies) Born Blanca Rosa Rodríguez López on August in 1927. Her poetry conveyed youthful abandon, 30, 1907, she grew up in her native Guatemala passion, and desire without pretense. In “El the daughter of a powerful coffee grower. milagro,” she wrote, “And I have lived, /I have When she was nine, her father sent her to a dreamed/held in the fire of your arms.” California convent to finish her education and to enter religious life. After four miserable years, In November 1927, she wed Miguel Angel de she returned home. She desired a university León, an artist sixteen years her senior and in education, but discovered that women were August 1928 they arrived in New York City. barred. So she organized her elite peers into The couple found their employment prospects Sociedad Gabriela Mistral to push for greater grim and when their daughter Mytyl was born educational opportunities for women. in November 1929, they lived in a crowded tenement. Rosa found work in Spanish Harlem Though slated to enter college, Rosa rejected as a seamstress. The tragic death of a friend’s her family’s wealth and ran away to Mexico infant spurred her to action. Joining a leftist City. Working as a journalist, the Latina flapper community group in Spanish Harlem and in

1930 the Communist Party, she organized her coworkers into a small garment workers’ union.

platform, calling for an end to segregation in public facilities, housing, education, and employment.

In 1935, leaving a tattered marriage, Rosa Rodríguez de León accepted a job with the American Federation of Labor (AFL) to organize African American and Latina cigar workers in Florida. AFL officials believed the Ku Klux Klan would think twice before harming a woman. Arriving with Mytyl, she chose yet another transformation—she became “Luisa Moreno.” She chose the alias “Moreno,” a name diametrically Professor of German Anke Biendarra opposite her given name “Blanca Rosa.” With her light skin, education, and unaccented English, she

Two years later, reuniting with her daughter, Moreno began to consolidate the southern California cannery locals led by Mexican and Jewish women. In addition to higher wages and improved conditions, the cannery women negotiated innovative benefits such as a hospitalization plan, free legal advice, and at one plant, management-financed day care. My first book Cannery Women, Cannery Lives provides intricate details of their union campaigns and this fall at the University of Wisconsin, students in a labor history class made a board game based on the book! In 1947 Moreno married Gray Bemis, a union colleague and a year later, she faced deportation proceedings. She refused to testify against Longshoremen leader Harry Bridges, refusing to become a “free woman with a mortgaged soul.” Accompanied by her husband, she left the United States in 1950 under terms listed as “voluntary departure under warrant of deportation” on the grounds that she had once belonged to the Communist Party.

Cannery workers

could have “passed”; instead she chose to forego any potential privileges predicated on race, class, or color. The first name “Luisa” could be interpreted as a tribute to Puerto Rican labor organizer Luisa Capetillo, who had preceded her in Florida twenty years earlier. In a move that would haunt them both, Moreno boarded her daughter with a pro-labor family. From age seven until almost thirteen, Mytyl lived with foster families; some treated her well while others abused her. In Florida Moreno honed her skills as a labor leader and in 1938 she joined the cannery union UCPAWACIO. After working in Texas and Colorado, she became the driving force for the Spanish-Speaking Peoples Congress. Over 1,000 delegates assembled in Los Angeles in 1939 and they drafted a comprehensive

She died on November 4, 1992. Several weeks later, I received a phone call from Mytyl. She had in her possession a blue suitcase, containing the remaining effects of her mother’s life. We opened the case together and to my surprise, she had saved my letters and my dissertation. Not only had Luisa Moreno profoundly influenced my own life but I had also mattered to her. Vicki L. Ruiz is dean of the School of Humanities and professor of history and Chicano/Latino studies at UC Irvine. She is the author of From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in 20th Century America and Cannery Women, Cannery Lives and is currently writing a book on the life of Luisa Moreno. Iran’s modern history we find both a desire for rapid westernization and an equal zest to project an image of an “authentic” Iran independent of the West.

T H E PA R A D O X E S O F M O D E R N I R A N I A N L I T E R AT U R E A N D C U LT U R E By Nasrin Rahimieh

Over the past three decades I have been studying modern Iranian literature and cinema. My move in 2006 to California and the Samuel Jordan Center for Persian Studies has given a new sense of immediacy about the questions I have been raising about the contradictory impulses that dominate modern Iranian culture. For instance, in Iran’s modern history we find both a desire for rapid westernization and an equal zest to project an image of an “authentic” Iran independent of the West. Or the need to embrace Iran’s ancient pre-Islamic history as a golden age of religious and ethnic diversity has stood against a competing urge to define the nation as purely Islamic. Why Iran cannot occupy some mediate ground in its attempts to grapple with its modern Nasrin Rahimieh identity is a question I constantly come back to. For me that middle ground, or what I call the messiness and inherent plurality of Iranian identity, is deeply informed by my disciplinary roots in comparative literature and my personal history.

I discovered comparative literature when I was an undergraduate student and I was studying French and German language and literatures. I learned then that comparative literature would allow me to examine what existed or emerged at the intersection of national literatures. I found an immediate affinity with the discipline, which reminded me of my experience of multiple and competing languages and cultures of my childhood and youth in Iran. As a native speaker of Persian born in a border town on the southwestern shores of the Caspian Sea, I was drawn to a type of study that so resembled my earliest experiences. My exposure to Persian, Azeri Turkish, Armenian, and Russian instilled in me a sense that there was more than one way of expressing and experiencing reality. The first school I attended in my hometown of Anzali was run by and for Armenian Christian Iranians. Because school curricula were statemandated and had to be delivered in the “national” language of Iran, Persian, aka Farsi, Muslim, Armenian, Jewish, and Baha’i children all learned from the same Persian primers. The Armenian students had classes dedicated to learning Armenian language and literature from which we non-Armenian students were exempt.

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A Glimpse of Sylvia Reines


By Alisa Reines Cowden - September 2007

As we make our way through a new year, I would like to profile our accomplished graduate students. First of all, I acknowledge our Chancellor’s Club Graduate Fellows for 201011. Chancellor’s Club Fellowships recognize “our most academically superior doctoral students” and rank among the most prestigious UCI student honors. I am pleased to announce that Danielle Vigneaux (History) and Richard Vulich (Philosophy) received two of the six Chancellor’s Club Fellowships awarded across campus this year. Ms. Vigneaux’s dissertation “Slaves in Print: Constructions of Race Rebellion, and Criminality in Early America “is an innovative study of the ways that colonial print culture helped to create national attitudes about race and slavery. Exhaustively researched, her dissertation demonstrates that slavery was institutionalized and racism was advanced, in part, through a purposeful criminalization of African Americans. A dedicated instructor, she received the History Department’s 2008 Outstanding Graduate Teaching Award. Danielle Vigneaux has also served as the program coordinator for the School of Social Ecology’s Community Outreach Partnership Center. Mr. Vulich’s dissertation “The Epistemology of Disagreement” explores its historical development and principal position. In so doing, he addresses broader issues regarding the nature of rationality and evidence, and the epistemological conditions of argument, disagreement, knowledge, and knowing— fundamental issues not only in philosophy but also in the humanities writ large. In 2007

he received the Machette Foundation Award for outstanding graduate student in philosophy. Unusual for a scholar at this stage of his career, Richard Vulich has already published one peer-reviewed paper and has another under active consideration. Danielle Vigneaux and Richard Vulich are only two of our incredibly talented humanities graduate students. Indeed, four of UCI’s Brython David Fellowship winners include Shannon Fitzpatrick (History), Erin Hourigan (German), Michael Olson (Philosophy), and Mark Villegas (Culture and Theory). Moreover, Timothy Bayless (Philosophy) was one of three students selected as a La Verne Noyes Fellow. I came to UC Irvine a decade ago attracted, in part, by the caliber of our PhD candidates. I thank the members of the Chancellor’s Club for their generous support of our talented doctoral fellows and to all of our friends who support graduate education in the Humanities. 

Vicki L. Ruiz, Dean

Visit the School of Humanities online at for up to the minute news on events, faculty, students, and general happenings in the school.

BOOKSHELF In Iron River by T. Jefferson Parker ’76, Deputy Sheriff Charlie Hood is back, this time to try and curtail the flow of money and guns along the U.S.-Mexican border. When a stakeout goes wrong and the son of the head of a powerful Mexican cartel ends up dead, Hood and his team must face cartel soldiers as they cross the border to seek revenge.

Widow is the first collection of stories from Michelle Latiolais, English professor and codirector of the Programs in Writing at UCI. Her stories explore the physiology of grief and as Leah Hager Cohen wrote for the New York Times, “are haunted by the indelible, immutable fact of loss,” reminding us that the inner life is best understood through the medium of storytelling. La destrucción de la urbe (The Destruction of the City) tells the story of Daniel, an aspiring Spanish screenplay writer in Los Angeles, who struggles to find his way in an environment that for him is both hostile and captivating. Author and Professor of Spanish Gonzalo Navajas mixes testimonial with humorous and allegorical episodes, offering a bittersweet portrayal of the experience of expatriation and the redefinition of identity.

Paradoxes continued... In my family home the new nationalist consciousness had inspired my parents to impose Persian as the language of communication despite the fact that my parents spoke to each other in Gilaki, sometimes defined as a dialect of Persian. My mother spoke to her relatives in Azeri, the language of the then Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan, my grandfather’s place of origin. As a child I could not grasp that the linguistic, religious, and ethnic diversity of my hometown was at odds with the ethos of the nationalization project of the monarchic regime of the time. The Pahlavi monarchy, which had come into power in 1925, had a zeal for modernizing Iran and mimicking the European nations in dress, social conduct, education, and cultural norms. My generation of Iranians was infused with the idea of Iran’s cultural distinctness that was believed to have outlasted the Arab conquest of Iran in the seventh century and the arrival of Islam. Ironically, Iran’s path to modernization and secularization was negotiated through a mythologized and longed for pre-Islamic ancient Iran. The paradox of building a secular, modern nation on Writer Zoya Pirzad the memory of a lost ancient empire was not pondered over. There was a great deal of appeal to falling into step with Europe and its achievements in science and technology. Higher education was almost synonymous with studying engineering, science, or medicine. While a

university education in literature, philosophy, or the humanities was looked down upon, Iranians were filled with pride about their rich poetic and cultural legacy. My immersion in the southern Californian Iranian community, believed to be the largest community of Iranians living outside Iran, has incited me to delve deeper into the paradoxes which keep being replicated in different forms in cultural expressions produced in and outside Iran. I am curious about an apparent preoccupation with “purifying” and consolidating a unitary notion of Iranianness. The impulse to erase traces of difference, be it in the imposition of Islam as the organizing and unifying principle of the nation or in the disavowal of Islam and the embrace of an idealized ancient Iran among sectors of the California diaspora community, does not appear to me to promote the crossing or even the comprehension of rigid boundaries. Yet there are fascinating literary and cinematic works, produced in Iran and in diaspora, that question narrow and rigid definitions of Iranian identity. For instance, one of the most popular Iranian writers today is an Armenian Iranian woman, Zoya Pirzad. Her novels and short stories touch on the question of how a minority sees itself as both a part of and apart from the nation. The film, MAXX, by Saman Moghadam, satirizes the difficult relationship between the California Iranians and their native Iran. My personal goal in analyzing these types of works is to uncover and highlight new ways of imagining Iranian culture in all its diversity and complexity. Nasrin Rahimieh is professor of comparative literature and Maseeh Chair and Director of the Samuel Jordan Center for Persian Studies and Culture at UC Irvine. She is the author of Missing Persians: Discovering Voices in Iranian Cultural Heritage and former president of the International Society for Iranian Studies.

FACULTY NOTES An Irish Professor of English Emma Seemann, fourth year literary journalism major, chats with English professor Laura O’Connor

A graduate from Columbia University and a native of Ireland, Professor Laura O’Connor has taught Irish literature, poetry, and postcolonial literature at UC Irvine since 1997. Before arriving on campus, O’Connor had reservations that Laura O’Connor UCI might be a party school, but was pleasantly surprised on her first visit to find she felt at home. She happily made the move across the country from New York. Since her arrival 14 years ago, O’Connor has seen the campus change dramatically in both size and student life. Students stay on campus more, even during the weekends. Perpetually under construction, the campus itself has grown up within what seems like an ever-growing Orange County. O’Connor notes that the spider-web of freeways surrounding UCI perplexed her at first, but she soon learned how to navigate them in addition to the growing campus. O’Connor has taught countless courses in poetry and literature over the years, two topics she enjoys because by their nature, each text speaks differently to individual students. Every new batch of undergraduates can “bring personal preoccupations” that “make the text hospitable to them, arousing different sympathies,” says O’Connor. “My job is to help [students] articulate that connection [between themselves and the text].”

She also enjoys teaching poetry because of the sheer it to the 1972 Olympic trials. Luckily for Thomas, amount of thought and worldly impressions that and UCI, there was life after running. each poem encompasses. After finishing his Ph.D. at UC Santa Barbara, At the moment, O’Connor is researching and Thomas took his first job in Germany where he writing a book on contemporary Irish poetry. “I taught James Joyce and American literature. One of find it somewhat autobiographical,” she says, since the interesting things he points out about teaching the group of poets she writes about are only ten abroad was the perspective from non-Americans. years her senior, growing up in the same Ireland of “One of the best ways to understand the U.S. is to her own youth. teach American literature outside. You get to see how people view us. You have to explain things In the days before she became a professor, inside America outside, at the same time you get O’Connor taught elementary school in Ireland. that double perspective,” says Thomas. After eight years of instructing four to ten yearolds, she changed course to pursue her degree in Thomas joined the literature and criticism at Columbia University. anteaters in 1988, Though she left Ireland in 1989, she has always kept bringing his unique one foot abroad through her research endeavors, perspectives to the spending just this past fall as a visiting research School of Humanities. fellow at the Center for Irish Studies at the National One can only University of Ireland, Galway. She will make imagine the variety another trip to Ireland next July to lecture at the of classes he’s taught, Yeats International Summer School. and the change he’s encountered over the When not teaching or researching for her book on last twenty-three years. contemporary Irish poetry, O’Connor enjoys yoga, “I’ve taught more traveling, and thinking of a response to the question than you can list,” says Laura Swendson/Humanities asked by countless students: “Why do you want to Thomas. With a head Brook Thomas teach English Literature if you’re Irish?!” full of salt and pepper hair, he still retains the boyish features so evident in the picture of him sprinting. His stance and figure are Running with Literature still reflective of that of a runner. Third year literary journalism major Over the years he’s taught freshman to graduate Mohammed Shariff interviews English professor Brook Thomas students-with courses on an array of topics, though one course in particular stands out as his favoriteDown a small corridor in Murray Krieger Hall -the Humanities Core Course. Unique to UCI and is Professor Brook Thomas’s literary lab, also required of all freshman Humanities majors, the known as his office, where stacks of papers and a Core Course combines aspects of philosophy, menacing amount of books are strewn about. A history, English, and so much more. “This picture of Thomas’s 11-year-old son hangs next to course has been the most rewarding [to teach]... the door. Alongside it is a black and white picture the cooperative effort is something I’m fascinated of a younger Thomas sprinting--a reminder of his with,” says Thomas. undergraduate days. A member of the All-American cross-county team at Stanford, Thomas smiles when Continued on page 9... asked about his running days and admits to making


Running continued...

Dates, times and locations subject to change. Please visit for up-to-date information about Humanities events. Unless otherwise noted, all events are free and open to the public.

Sitting in his chair, Thomas beams when conversation turns to the topic he’s most interested in--the research he’s made a career out of, exploring the connections between American legal history and American literature. He’s written three books on the topic, one every ten years. “Maybe I’ll write another in ten years time, if I’m still alive,” he says laughing. Most of his research today focuses on law and literature and he stresses the importance of looking at these forms together explaining that “it’s like two eyes—if you can only see with one eye you can’t see with depth, but if you put two eyes together you get the parallax-you can see with depth.”

APRIL XVIII Annual Juan Bruce-Novoa Mexican Conference Thursday, April 28 - Saturday, April 30, 2011 - 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Humanities Gateway Building 1030 & 1010, UC Irvine Featured speakers include Barbara Jacobs, author of the novel Las hojas muertas and Graciela Iturbide, an award winning photographer. Presented by UC Mexicanistas and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. Visit for more information. MAY 2011 Wellek Library Lectures with Donna Haraway May 2, 3 and 5, 2011 - 5:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m. Humanities Gateway 1030, UC Irvine Donna Haraway is professor emerita, history of consciousness at UC Santa Cruz. Her lecture is titled “Playing Cat’s Cradle with Companion Species.” Presented by the Critical Theory Institute. Please visit for more information. Reading and Book Signing with Michelle Latiolais Wednesday, May 18, 2011 - 5:00 p.m. UCI Bookstore, UC Irvine Latiolais, professor of English and co-director of the Programs in Writing will read from Widow, her collecton of short stories. Part of the UCI Bookstore Author Series. Call (949) 824-2665 for more information. JUNE School of Humanities Commencement Saturday, June 11, 2011 - 11 a.m. Bren Events Center, UC Irvine With featured speaker ‘09 history alum and Rhodes scholar Megan Braun. Tickets required for entry. Visit for more information.

Thomas admits he would like to teach abroad again one day, but not anytime soon. For now, his wife and son are his main priorities, although a summer teaching stint in Germany might be on the horizon. For now at least, he’s hard at work in his lab.

Spotlight on ’85 English Alum Greg Hardesty Google the name “Greg Hardesty” and the third search entry to pop up is a headline from the OC Register that reads “My daughter racked up 14,528 text messages in one month.” The story might sound familiar, back in December of 2009 Hardesty’s daughter managed to send an astounding 484 text messages per day. Hardesty, a staff writer at the Register, decided to make his daughter’s affinity for texting the subject of one of his weekly stories and unwittingly launched a full-blown media blitz. The pair soon found themselves on the Rachel Ray Show, Dr. Phil and Inside Edition. That same year, Hardesty managed to scoop everyone when he landed an interview with the aunt of Jaycee Dugard in the wake of Jaycee’s return home, which meant appearances on The Early Show and CNN. Resembling the quintessential California surfer dude, Hardesty recalls that time with an amused

nonchalance, jokingly referring to ’09 as his “TV year.” Although perhaps not fully prepared for his TV close-up, Hardesty, who graduated from UCI in ‘85 with a degree in English, seemed set on a career in journalism from early on. He spent all four years of his undergraduate career as a staff writer for the New University, even assuming the role of editor his senior year. Working the UCI beat meant that Hardesty had the chance to interview campus and community power players such as the Chief of Police, various school deans, and even former Chancellor Jack Peltason. “Working for the newspaper enhanced my experience…it made me feel connected to the university,” said Hardesty.

Greg Hardesty

Going by the handle, “Captain Paranoia,” Hardesty also spent time as a disc jockey on UCI’s very own KUCI radio station. He typically manned the station from midnight until three in the morning and played such eclectic mash-ups as the sounds of Brian Eno layered over a recording of Richard Nixon’s resignation speech. He also worked in the cafeteria at Mesa Court housing and during his junior year began working for another former New U editor at an upstart business lifestyle magazine. After graduation, Hardesty continued writing for the magazine industry and then moved to Japan to teach English. What was meant to be a one year break from the magazine world, turned into six years; a position as copy editor at the Japan Times, a marriage, and two children. When Hardesty returned to the states, he spent time writing for community newspapers such as the Daily Pilot and the Glendale News Press before joining the Register, where he focuses on human interest stories – and the occasional talk show appearance.

Between the Lines is published quarterly by the UC Irvine School of Humanities Office of Development and Alumni Relations Humanities Gateway Building, Irvine, CA 92697-3376 Contact Kristie Williams at 949.824.1342 or to be added to the mailing list or to update your e-mail address.

Between the Lines - Winter/Spring 2011  

Between the Lines - Winter/Spring 2011