Daniel Santana

UTEP History PhD Student Explores Mexico's Colonial Memory

danny presents conference paper

During the summer, UTEP PhD students dive into a variety of research, teaching, and professional activities. For history doctoral candidate, Daniel Santana, summer means traveling around North America and Europe on a hunt for early colonial Spanish documents. Recently awarded a Mellon Summer Fellowship, Daniel will join nine other scholars at the Newberry Research Library in Chicago for a three-week intensive course in Spanish Paleography. That training in reading colonial documents will come in handy as Daniel conducts archival research at the Biblioteca Pública del Estado de Jalisco in Guadalajara; the Museo Mezcalan in his family's hometown of Mezcala de la Asunción, Jalisco; and the Archivo General de la Nación in Mexico City in the coming months. Culminating his field research will be a trip to Seville, Spain to visit the Archivo General de las Indias, perhaps the most valuable archive on the planet for students of colonial Latin America. The Frances G. Harper History Dissertation Research Award and the Graduate School’s Dodson Research Grant will fund Daniel’s ambitious research agenda.

Born and raised in the Southeast Los Angeles city of Lynwood, Daniel came to UTEP to take advantage of the History Ph.D. program’s unique borderlands approach and proximity to Mexico. “I am the first of my family to pursue a Ph.D. program,” Daniel said, “I am alone, but I am excited to get my education.” The program supports his focus on early colonial borders and memory, allowing him to explore under-studied aspects of North American indigenous history. Daniel’s work examines how the indigenous border territories of the Tarascan (Purépecha) Empire were complicated sites where Amerindian groups fought, shared local customs, practiced trade, coexisted, and exercised diplomacy even under Spanish tutelage. Daniel challenges the idea that the customs of indigenous populations in western Mexico were simply lost after being colonized by the Spanish. His case studies in the area that is now the Mexican state of Michoacán and eastern Jalisco, explore how indigenous communities and cultures survived and thrived despite the violence of colonialism. 

In addition to Daniel’s promising research profile, he is an active member of the El Paso community. Active in the UTEP Association of Applied Border History (AABH) he volunteers at the Sin Fronteras Archive digitally preserving Bracero farmworker documents from the mid twentieth century. These documents support efforts to pressure the U.S. and Mexican governments to compensate the remaining workers and their families’ money the braceros earned but never received. Daniel also stays connected–and in shape–by participating in a local danza group [Aztec dance] Danza Omecoatl. “It is more than just dance,” he said, “we do ritual dances for special harvests… merg[ing] my culture with dance and music.” Like many UTEP graduate students, Daniel leverages his unique background and skills to conduct innovative research, bridge the gap between higher education and underrepresented communities, and build a twenty-first-century faculty for twenty-first-century students.


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