SMU doctoral student Carla Mendiola receives Fulbright Fellowship

Carla Mendiola, an SMU Dedman College graduate student in history, has been awarded a prestigious 2011-2012 Fulbright Fellowship that will help fund the research and writing of her dissertation in Canada.

DALLAS (SMU) —Carla Mendiola, an SMU Dedman College graduate student in history, has been awarded a prestigious 2011-2012 Fulbright Fellowship that will help fund the research and writing of her dissertation in Canada. She also has received a Government of Canada Doctoral Student Research Award, which will help fund travel for her research.

Mendiola is one of an estimated 1,600 students out of more than 9,000 applicants to be honored with the Fulbright grant, which is made possible by the U.S. Congress and U.S. Department of State. Fulbright grants allow U.S. and foreign students to travel and work abroad, promoting cultural awareness while achieving educational and vocational advancement.

Mendiola is one of six Government of Canada award recipients for 2011. These awards are offered each year to a select number of students who can provide research contributing to a better knowledge of Canada, its relationship with the United States and its international affairs.

Mendiola’s research project is “Métissage Along a North American Borderland: Family and Identity on the Maine-Canada Border” and will examine “métissage” (the mixing of ethnicities) among Franco-American families along the Maine-Canada border during the transformative period of 1880-1930, when the U.S. instituted stricter border and immigration policies.

“This borderland and hybrid ethnic group helped define the U.S. as a country, and influenced who is, or is not, considered ‘American,’” says, Mendiola, a fourth-year student and native of San Antonio. “I will study marriage records, newspapers and school language policies to better understand U.S.-Canada border relations.” She will be based at the University of Laval in Quebec City, and hosted through the Center for the Development of Research on French Culture in North America.

Sherry Smith, acting chair of SMU’s Clements Department of History and associate director of the Clements Center for Southwest Studies, says she is not surprised by the prestigious support Mendiola will receive. “Normally people assume a Texas borderlands scholar is going to study the U.S./Mexico border. But Carla’s project starts with her deep understanding of the Texas borderlands and moves to the northern reaches of our country and into Canada. This is a great honor for Carla but also an indication of the high quality of SMU graduate students. We can compete for the best — with the best.”

Her mentor, John Chávez, agrees. “As if the southwestern borderlands were not challenge enough, Carla has taken up the daunting task of comparing peoples on the borders of the U.S. with both Mexico and Canada. Her work examines the complex interplay of cultures in the Southwest with the equally intermixed society of the Northeast. Her study in Canada will contribute to a truly transnational approach to borderlands history.”

Mendiola will analyze similarities and differences between the Texas-Mexico border and Maine-Canada border experiences, including that of being a cultural outsider. Her research sources will include typical documents historians rely upon, but also will include interviews with some of her relatives, who are of both French-Canadian and Mexican-American descent. “It used to be frowned upon for history students to look into their own history, but that’s been changing,” she says.

“Understanding the changing border populations and policies of the past can help us develop effective border policies today in response to similar concerns over border security, immigration, changing demographics and national identity,” Mendiola notes. She plans to conduct research in several archives reaching from Ottawa, Ontario, to Fredericton, New Brunswick.

Mendiola earned her Bachelor’s degree in history from Rice University in 1991 and her Master’s in history from the University of Texas at Austin in 1993. She worked in radio/TV production and as a teacher at San Antonio Community College before beginning SMU’s five-year history Ph.D. program in 2007.

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