Meet WRAC Faculty Alexandra Hidalgo
Alexandra Hidalgo. Photo by Spencer Tunick
Alexandra Hidalgo had a uniquely diverse upbringing. She was born in Caracas, Venezuela and lived there until she turned 16 and moved to Ohio. “That experience of immigrating and becoming acculturated to a new language and way of life pervades my research and pedagogy,” she says. She obtained an MFA in Creative Writing-Fiction at Naropa University before teaching English at elementary schools in France for two years. After this, she attended Purdue University for her Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition. It took time for her to adjust to Rhetoric and Composition as a discipline. “My fellow students and faculty were speaking a seemingly foreign language with names of well-known scholars I’d never heard of, and terms, acronyms, and ways of thinking that I hadn’t encountered in my creative writing background.”
During her Ph.D. she decided that the best way for her to blend Rhetoric and Composition with her storytelling background was to learn to make moving images. She had always loved watching films and she turned that love into learning to make them. “Once again, I was having to learn a new language - this time a primarily visual language - and culture, a mostly technological one,” she says. Hidalgo enjoys the wide range of topics she can cover through filmmaking, like gender and race.
When she interviewed for the job at Michigan State, she knew that she had found her academic home. Her dissertation chair at Purdue, Patricia Sullivan, had also chaired the dissertations of current WRAC faculty members Stuart Blythe, Bill Hart-Davidson, and Jeff Grabill when they studied at Purdue. Hidalgo explains, “I knew that here I’d be surrounded by colleagues who understood what I was trying to do and would support it.” She also enjoys the MSU student body, saying she was “thrilled by working with a student population as diverse as ours in terms of gender, race, sexuality, and class. As someone who studies difference and the ways in which we navigate our own identities as we join new spaces and cultures, there was no better program for me to teach at.”
Last year, Hidalgo completed her first feature-length documentary, Vanishing Borders, about four immigrant women who came from South Africa, Australia, Ecuador/Peru/Spain, and India, and who now live in New York City. Her goal
Alexandra with her son Santiago. Photo by Aidan Tyson
for the film, she says, was to “humanize immigration, to question the idea that immigrants are abstract threats and instead show that these are human beings with compelling stories, who bring innovative ways of seeing the world to the host country, in this case, the U.S.” The film has screened at universities, classrooms, public libraries, and at festivals and has been featured on NPR and various news outlets. For her, the most powerful part of the film is the post-screening Q&As. "Often women immigrants in the audience will start telling their stories, as if the film reminded them that their journeys are powerful and have much to teach us. Those moments make the long endless editing hours worth it."
She is also the mother to two sons, Santiago and William, whose experiences growing up she’s turning into a series of films about motherhood, childhood, and family. “I just completed ‘William and Santiago Simultaneous,’ a five-minute piece that looks at the boys’ first year of life side by side on the screen – we see them learning to crawl at the same time, learning to walk, and so on.” Hidalgo is proud to have MSU students help her on these projects, such as Professional Writing student Lindsey Spitzley, the second-unit Director of Photography for another short film in the series, which chronicles her experience breastfeeding Santiago as a working mother. Spitzley, alongside PW student Sabrina Hirsch and Experience Architecture student Shell Little, works on agnès films, a website that supports women filmmakers, which Hidalgo co-founded in 2010 and of which she is the editor-in-chief. agnès films’s recent #FavWomanFilmmaker Campaign, a collaboration between Hidalgo and a number of MSU undergraduate and graduate students, was featured on IndieWire, NPR, and MSU Today.
When asked about her favorite part of MSU, she says she enjoys learning from her colleagues’ and collaborating with students outside the classroom. “Last year I started the Film and Video Production Research Cluster with graduate students across CAL and with WRAC faculty member Jon Ritz.” Members of the group help each other with film and video projects through various stages. Anything from “untangling a vague idea we may have to editing full drafts of a film or video,” she says. “It’s such a gift to be surrounded by others who are also trying to make sense of how the moving image fits into our academic experiences.”
Alexandra with her son William. Photo by Aidan Tyson