Arreola honored for building geographic understanding of Latin America

By

Barbara Trapido-Lurie

Professor Daniel Arreola retired from his position as professor of geography at ASU this May, after over 25 years at the school, and an academic career spanning nearly 40 years.

Weeks before his retirement, he learned that he’d been selected to by the Conference of Latin American Geographers (CLAG) to receive their Preston E. James Eminent Latin Americanist Career Award.  This is one of the two highest honors granted by the organization, and recognizes Arreola’s lifetime achievements.

In granting the award, CLAG states that Arreola’s career “stands as a shining example of accomplishment. Among Latin Americanists, he is particularly well known as one of the leading scholars, in any discipline, of the US-Mexico borderlands.”

Arreola has published four books, two co-edited thematic issues of professional journals, thirty-nine refereed articles in journals, thirty-eight book chapters and other writings, and thirty-four book reviews for professional journals.

His Tejano South Texas has been especially well received, winning the 2002 J. B. Jackson Book Prize from the American Association of Geographers, one of the few times that broader recognition by the AAG membership has gone to a Latin Americanist.

“His edited volume, Hispanic Spaces, Latino Places: Community and Cultural Diversity in Contemporary America, has become required reading for all who study the increasingly significant Latino dimensions of the USA,” said the CLAG nominating committee.

As he begins his retirement, Arreola is finalizing work on Postcards from the Sonora Border: Visualizing Place through a Popular Lens, 1900s - 1950s. The book is the second installment in a multi-volume research project documenting the visual history of Mexican border towns. In 2013, he published the first volume, Postcards from the Río Bravo Border: Picturing the Place, Placing the Picture, 1900s - 1950s.

In 2003, Arreola received the Carl O. Sauer Distinguished Scholarship Award, also from CLAG. He has served as a contributing editor to the Hispanic Division of the Library of Congress, and in leadership roles with the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers, and is active on editorial boards for several leading geography journals. 

A legacy of mentees

Over his career, Arreola taught numerous groups of undergraduate and graduate students, and was especially known for his field-based borderlands seminars, as well as those focusing on Latino communities in Arizona and the Southwest.  He supervised 11 doctoral dissertations, 13 masters’ theses, and one honors thesis. These students are now living and working around the country, each in their own way sharing Arreola’s legacy. 

Here are a number of former students’ reflections on Arreola’s impact:

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Dan changed my life through his mentoring and gracious welcoming into the ASU Department of Geography.  The opportunity to work with a star scholar was enough to attract me to ASU, but I learned that Dan is an example of a “Renaissance Geographer” in that he mentored students in a wide variety of cultural, historical, landscape, Southwestern, Mexican, and Borderlands topics. 

In addition to a dazzling array of accomplishments and awards, Dan is the most accomplished and considerate correspondent I’ve ever encountered in the geographic world.  Whether measured by the quantity of his output or quality of his style, his postcards, emails, and letters are insightful treasures of the cultural landscape.

Kevin Blake, PhD Geography 1996
Professor Emeritus of Geography
Kansas State University

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Dan Arreola is a master at reading the cultural landscape and clearly articulating its meanings through succinct prose and graphical representations.  His love of field excursions along the borderlands created memorable learning experiences for many students. He has always been an exceptional mentor, highly supportive of his students’ careers. Dan has given me treasured skills at landscape interpretation that I continue to refine every day in my own work and with my own students. He is a true scholar who has contributed greatly to the field of cultural geography, but most importantly, a person whose wonder at the world around us never ceases.  There will not be another like him anytime soon. What good fortune I had to work with him!  

John Harner, PhD Geography 1996
Professor, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies
University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

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I trace my interest in studying the borderlands back to Dan’s Spring 1998 border field course.  For my project that semester I carried out a study of border fences along the Arizona-Sonora border, setting in motion a research interest I continue to develop today.  But as important as that was, more important still was the training in how to do field work as a cultural geographer.  How to learn about a topic comprehensively, how to spend time in the field, and how to enjoy the work was all part of being an Arreola student and something I continue to strive for in my own career in higher education.

Kenneth D. Madsen, PhD Geography 2005
Associate Professor, Department of Geography
The Ohio State University at Newark

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In the short story, “A Scandal in Bohemia,” Sherlock Holmes admonishes his sidekick Doctor Watson with the phrase, “You see, but you do not observe.”  Dan Arreola is a keen observer.  He was instrumental in helping me hone my senses—especially my eyes—to see value in the ordinary and the overlooked.  He has shaped my skills, my habits, which not only enrich my everyday teaching but also rewards my waking hours.  Everything, every landscape is interesting.  Therefore, largely, he has not only helped shape who I am as an “eyes and feet” geographer, but he has helped cast me as a human being.  He is truly a father of mine, and for the lessons that he has taught me, I am blessed.

Michael Schmandt, PhD Geography 1995
Professor & Department Chair, Department of Geography
California State University, Sacramento

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I am delighted for Dan, but sad because, once again, every era comes to an end.  Dan seems to have found his place in the world and I am confident that the next stage of his life will be as productive as those that have preceded it.

I have very fond memories of my time at Arizona State and many of them revolve around the time I spent working with Dan.  The Department of Geography at ASU was the right place at the right time for me. I still remember with clarity the day Dan agreed to be my PH.D. advisor; that was the day "I arrived."

Recently, I have found myself tracing my academic linage and it is gratifying to know that I am a product of Professor Daniel D. Arreola. To be an Arreola disciple means:

  • – you had to work hard; lazy people need not apply;
  • – you earned your degree; nothing was dropped in your lap or given to you;
  • – you had to be intellectually sharp and ready to defend your assertions;
  • – you must have thick skin; no emotional weaklings need apply (I once used the phrase "tough love"); and
  • – you were given the tools necessary to be successful.

Dan has always set high standards for his students because he has always had high expectations of himself.

Jeffrey Smith, PhD Geography 1997
Associate Professor, Department of Geography
Kansas State University

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I will join with the other voices in the list of grateful students to say congratulations to Dan on his award and recognition and thanks for the tremendous mentoring he provided to me and many others while at ASU. His mentorship is something I carry with me each day and realize the fruits of all the more working with my own students now. Dan's carefully curated field trips were some of the best experiences of my graduate work. I have fond memories of bouncing along dirt roads in a van full of students as he pointed this way and that, posed questions we debated for days about historical, cultural, and environmental landscapes of the U.S.-Mexican border, and encouraged us to seek our out own interpretations of the dynamic social and physical landscapes we encountered along the way.

Thank you, Dan, for the time and investment, the depth of your thoughtful comments on my writing, and the care you invested in your students.

Yolonda Youngs, PhD Geography 2009
Assistant Professor, Department of Global Studies
Idaho State University