The sound of conjunto music engulfed the Dunne Conference Center at Texas Lutheran University (TLU) as Bárbara Renaud González twirled around and gave a few gritos toward the crowd.
González — an award winning independent, Chicana columnist — was invited to the campus to celebrate Latinx Heritage Month and read from her new book, “Las Nalgas de JLo.”
“I knew she was on tour … but just knowing her articles and having read them before when I was growing up I thought this would be a wonderful voice to bring to campus,” Dr. Jennifer Mata, director of TLU’s Center for Mexican American Studies.
A South Texan who grew up in the Panhandle, González obtained her Bachelor of Arts in social work from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and her Masters in social work from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. After she went on to work in Washington D.C., and studied immigration and labor at the Harvard Kennedy School.
In 2009, González became the first published Chicana under the University of Texas Press for her book “Golondrina, why did you leave me?”
Her latest book, “Las Nalgas de JLo,” is a collection of essays, short stories, poems and also columns from the San Antonio Express News — where she was a monthly columnist for their Op-Ed page for nearly five years.
During the event, González took the opportunity to read select passages from the new book such as “Cerveza-Time!,” “Selena and Cisneros,” “Brown Men Can’t Run,” “Las Nalgas de JLo” and an afterword, which focuses on President Donald Trump’s accusations about Mexicans during his campaign.
Like most of the pieces in the book, the passages focus on topics such as immigration and politics.
“I selected these passages because I just felt like they were so relevant to everything that is going on in today’s world,” González said.
In the background of her readings, Juan Tejeda, owner of Aztlan Libre Press, the book’s publisher, played the accordion and flute to tie the readings back to Mexican culture.
After her reading, attendees had the opportunity to ask González questions.
One question was if González receives criticism from either the Hispanic community or the white community.
González said she receives equal criticism from both communities.
“With my columns … sometimes I got criticized for challenging whites for not seeing what a marginalized community was like, especially in Texas,” she said. “Then, that particular group got upset with the Selena piece because they say I’m suppose to defend them and take care of them. The thing is, we have to belong in the 21st century to the global tribe. So I used to say I’m inside the tribe and outside the tribe. You can be both. You can be Chicano or Chicana, but you also are a part of the states.”
Mata believes it’s important for the students to hear González’s voice of critique.
“As she stated, as a Chicana people assume that she is always going to be pro-Latino or Hispanic and always going to be oppositional to certain groups,” she said. “I think if you’re a voice of critique and trying to bring awareness to social issues you have to critique a lot of people, but also you have to welcome a lot of people. I think it’s important that she can do all of that in her writing.”
González hopes the students and faculty gained something from her presentation.
“I hope they take away that the journey of being who we are is a journey that is a lifelong process,” she said. “It requires not only knowing what the outside and what our heritage is, but who we are in the inside as people because that heritage makes us stronger to get through this world.”
For Joshua Jimenez, a junior and kinesiology major, it was worth hearing from González.
“We read her articles in Dr. Mata’s class and I just liked how her views are different from most people,” he said. “They’re very controversial, so I was interested in learning and hearing more about her.”
The González presentation is part of TLU’s series of events for Latinx Heritage Month.
“Having a Hispanic Heritage Month allows schools and universities to open their doors to a wide range of speakers and the shakers and bakers that students need to know about,” González said.
Instead of using Hispanic Heritage Month, the department chose to refer to is as Latinx Heritage Month for a few reasons, Mata said.
“Hispanic is the government term coined in the 1970s when the United States was trying to identify who this group was,” she said. “To them they weren’t exactly white because they were of color, but they were not black … So thinking about the labels that people pick … the reason we named it Latinx is because there’s a movement right now to critique the ‘A’ and the ‘O’ within the Spanish language because it’s a gendered language. There are people who don’t conform to the ‘A’ or the ‘O.’ It’s trying to show more fluidity in gender.”
Terms such as ‘Chicanx’ and ‘Latinx’ are used frequently in California, Mata said.
Furthermore, Mata said celebrating Latinos allows people to know their own history and speak up for themselves.
“I think it’s really easy if you don’t know your history,” she said. “If you don’t know where you came from, you allow yourself to live in fear and I think there is a lot of fear in our contemporary United States. I think there are a lot of people living in fear and I think if you truly know your history and where you come from … If you understand who you really are you can speak up. If you have the safety to speak out then you can speak up for those who don’t.”