Reyna Esquivel-King kindly took a break from grading finals to share her story with ¡Dímelo, Columbus! She is currently a graduate student in Ohio State’s Department of History studying the relationship between film censorship and identity creation in Mexico’s revolutionary and post-revoluationary periods. We discussed her dissertation, how our backgrounds inspire research topics, and the strong relationship between history and the present.
Growing up in a small town Sterling Heights, Michigan, Esquivel-King embracing her dual-heritage as Jewish and Mexican. Due to their religious beliefs, her mother’s family had fled Germany during World War II and settled in Michigan. Esquivel-King’s father is Mexican and hails from Watts, California. Her parents met in Los Angeles while her mom was completing her degree in social work. Eventually, they moved back to Michigan to rejoin her mother’s family and escape the gang violence involving her father.
Esquivel-King remembers the looks neighbors and friends gave her father while living in Sterling Heights. As one of the few Mexicans in the area, friends and neighbors would comment that he looked “scary” and were reluctant to talk to him. College made evident the reasons for her father’s treatment. Esquivel-King took courses that identified race as socially constructed and explained why men of color are perceived a certain way and have to adhere to certain notions of masculinity. This interest in the intersection of gender and race influences her dissertation project which analyzes how censorship in Mexican films following the revolution depict a positive “Mexican citizen.” Listen in full to our conversation below:
“Back in the Midwest:”
🎧 Listen (2:57)
“Because my project was turning into a lot more about Mexico and film and race… I ended up applying to OSU [after studying at New York University]… I decided I’d come here because I really like Stephanie [Dr. Stephanie Smith]. Our projects are so similar since she does culture and art in the revolutionary/post-revolutionary period…”
“To come back here – we were four hours away from family, and the advisor was great, and I really like the people in the cohort here. So that’s how I ended up here, back in the Midwest I guess!”
Two rich cultures:
🎧 Listen (3:37)
“My dad moved to Michigan [from Watts, Los Angeles] with my mom… It was interesting because my neighborhood was mostly white Polish people. So I didn’t have anybody else who was Jewish or Latina – which kind of ties into why I got interested in what I study. I always grew up with people looking at my dad and thinking he was scary or staring at him because he was darker. There were not a lot of Hispanics…and they did not have gang tattoos and look like my dad did.”
🎧 Listen (6:27)
“I always knew that it was different growing up. Just having a dad that was Hispanic and being Jewish and being bi-racial… I never really thought about it as balancing both, but when I went to college people were like ‘That’s weird, how does that work…’ as an undergrad, I got to put a theory to what was going on…really understanding how race is built or characterized.”
“I became interested in the way men of color, particularly Hispanics, were portrayed in film… My dissertation now is looking at how Mexican censorship tried to make a better version of Mexicans or a positive version of Mexicans in light of the U.S. stereotypes [during the Mexican Revolution/post-revolution era (1910-1920)]… With the new administration, I think Mexico has become a lot more relevant and the statements made about Mexicans are coming back. I mean they were always there, but now they’re in everyone’s face… This is not new with just Trump. This has been here the whole time, and these are stereotypes they’ve always relied on. So I’m trying to connect my research to now. The state of affairs really hasn’t changed.”