Marco Cervantes
Marco Cervantes

UTSA Spotlight: Doc student and hip-hop performer Marco Cervantes came to UTSA because of Mexican American studies faculty

By Lynn Gosnell
Special Projects Writer

(May 27, 2009)--Marco Cervantes, a doctoral candidate in the UTSA Department of English, has been awarded a Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship. The prestigious fellowship provides one year of support ($21,000) for individuals working to complete a dissertation.

Cervantes, who grew up in Houston, earned his M.A. in English from UTSA and his B.A. in English from the University of Houston-Downtown. His dissertation-in-progress is titled "Afro-Mestizaje: Tracing Blackness in Tejano Fiction, Poetry and Music."

"I'm looking at cultural interactions between black and Chicano artistic expressions, more specifically through music, poetry, fiction," Cervantes said, adding that he came to UTSA for graduate study because of "top Mexican American studies scholars here, such as Sonja Saldívar-Hull, Ben Olguín and Norma Cantú."

Cervantes is one of only 36 students of 580 applicants nationally to receive this fellowship.

"Ford Fellows are selected by panelists who serve on selection committees for the National Academies," said Chris O'Brien, program chair of the Ford Foundation Fellowships. "They select individuals with stellar credentials with a firm and strong commitment to fostering diversity in their university teaching and who show great promise of future achievement," she said.

Professor Norma Cantú calls Cervantes "a promising young scholar whose work will no doubt add significantly to Chicana/Chicano studies." She has worked with Cervantes since he entered the master's program and is a member of his dissertation committee.

In addition to being a scholar of cultural and artistic expressions, Cervantes is also a DJ and rap performer who goes by the name Mexican Stepgrandfather. A musician since his teen years, Cervantes has performed and recorded hip-hop music in Texas as well as in Spain and Mexico. (Listen to Mexican Stepgrandfather's music on MySpace.)

"What I do [in rap] is different. I try to place less emphasis on commodities and talk more about social and political issues," Cervantes explained, adding that his artistic performance and scholarly lives are coalescing in his research.

Students in UTSA's young Ph.D. program in English (launched in 2002) have garnered three fellowships to date. Fourteen students and faculty in various UTSA departments have received Ford Foundation pre-doctoral, dissertation or postdoctoral fellowships.

A past Ford Foundation Fellowship recipient is Ben Olguín, a UTSA associate professor of English who runs an intensive, nine-month fellowship application workshop each year. Cervantes began participating in Olguín's workshop last summer and completed the application process in December. Cervantes credits the rigorous workshop and feedback from the department's faculty for being instrumental in his success. "It was definitely a group effort," he said.

Cervantes is looking forward to the coming year. "The fellowship will give me time to conduct more interviews, evaluate resources, and incorporate more video and audio into my dissertation. The ultimate goal is to turn the dissertation into a book with multimedia attached," Cervantes said.

He also has a job waiting for him on completion of his fellowship: Cervantes was recently offered a tenure-track position in the UTSA Department of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies.

"I'm starting to see my dreams happen," said Cervantes. "All of these things are starting to work themselves out after years of hard work."

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