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ASU alumna, Spanish faculty honored for substantial contributions to humanities

Headshot portrait of Anita Huizar-Hernandez.

Anita Huizar-Hernandez

May 26, 2023

Arizona Humanities has named Anita Huizar-Hernandez, associate professor of Spanish in Arizona State University's School of International Letters and Cultures as this year's Humanities Public Scholar.

The honor was given as part of the association's annual Hands-On Humanities Awards — four different awards, all of which celebrate “individuals who have advanced the humanities in Arizona through their scholarship, leadership, support and advocacy.”

Arizona Humanities is the Arizona affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, an independent federal agency and one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States. The agency's mission is to strengthen the nation “by promoting excellence in the humanities and conveying the lessons of history to all Americans.” 

The Arizona organization developed this award to recognize “a distinguished humanities scholar who enhances public understanding of the humanities, transforms lives, and strengthens communities through civil discourse and community engagement,” according to its website. 

The organization cites Huizar-Hernandez's accomplishments as “a leader in opening access to the humanities through collaborative and innovative digital projects that tell the stories of the people of the borderlands," specifically her work on the project Detained: Voices from the Migrant Incarceration System

“Anita is doing truly outstanding work, and it is only fitting that she should be recognized for its impact on Arizona and its people. The school’s faculty are no strangers to their work being recognized by this organization,” said Michael Tueller interim director of the school. “This is just part of the picture of the great work that we're doing.

"The School of International Letters and Cultures outdoes itself with regards to winning recognition from the Arizona Humanities. David Foster, late Regent’s Professor of Spanish, also won this same award in 2014, and Almira Poudrier won the Friend of the Humanities Award in 2018.”

Huizar-Hernandez’s field of expertise focuses on how art in various forms either maintains or challenges myths about Arizona, the West and U.S. borderlands. As a proud ASU alumna — she earned undergraduate degrees both in Spanish and in English literature — and Arizona native, she truly has a passion for shedding light on the reality of these topics in the state. Even so, the scholar did not initially set out to be an expert in these issues. 

This path revealed itself while she was pursuing a PhD at the University of California, San Diego. At the time, she saw Arizona was receiving much less attention than other states regarding media coverage of the borderlands. The exception was SB1070, which was making headlines at the time. However, with the discourse around the bill and issues pertaining to it, there was “a lot of misunderstanding outside of the state and a lot of stereotypes.”

As an Arizona native, she felt compelled to fill this information gap to show how things really are and bring more attention to the state. 

The Detained: Voices from the Migrant Incarceration System project, which the Arizona Humanities specifically cites as one of her most impressive contributions, is an online archiveThe archive was originally started by David Taylor, Francisco Cantú and Daniel Hernandez and includes Susan Biante, Aems Emswiler, David Blanco Gaitan, Greer Millard and Astrid Riley as contributors. of testimonials from former detainees that document their experiences through written, visual and voice recordings.

Artifacts include artwork, personal items, letters and interview recordings from detained individuals. The archive sheds light on their experiences and the poignant reality of being detained in a way that shares their personal experiences on an intimate level. 

Arizona Humanities also references her contributions as a professor and a mentor to her students. According to Huizar-Hernandez, it is important to work closely with students in a way that they are learning from each other and the students are shaping the projects. She incorporates collaborative, creative projects in the classroom and even co-creates the syllabus with students so they learn what they want to. 

When asked about receiving the award, she said that she is grateful to be named and even more grateful to everyone she has worked with, and recognized her partners in collaborative projects, those who gave feedback on her book, the community of people in academia who her work is informed by and in conversation with and many more.

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