Michelle Habell-Pallan

Michelle Habell-Pallan

Professor at University of Washington

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1959 NE PACIFIC ST, Seattle, Washington, United States
HQ Phone:
(206) 543-2100

General Information


Professor - UW Medicine


MLA book prize honorable mention

doctorate - literature , University of California , Santa Cruz


Fellow - The Rockefeller Foundation

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People | Simpson Center for the Humanities

Michelle Habell-Pallán, Director

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A podcast interview with Michelle Habell-Pallan
In this month's podcast Jerry Garcia talks to Professor Michelle Habell-Pallan about Chicano and Mexican pop music and pop culture from from rock and roll through punk to hip hop. Professor Michelle Habell-Pallan is an associate professor of the Women's Study Center at the University of Washington. She is author of Loca Motion: The Travels of Chicana and Latina Popular Culture and co-editor of Latino/a Popular Culture with Mary Romero as well as a series of influential articles. Most recently, she has curated the award-winning traveling exhibit American Sabor: U.S. Latinos in Popular Music , a collaboration between the University of Washington and The Experience Music Project Museum.

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From Chicana Punk Rock, Habell-Pallán Forges a Vision for Public Scholarship | Simpson Center for the Humanities

Michelle Habell-Pallán, a co-organizer and a cultural studies scholar at the University of Washington, helped the exhibition trace the rich streams of Latin jazz, soul, and rock, from the Cuban roots of "Louie Louie" to the Los Angeles punk.
She also included a shout-out to Girl in a Coma, a band of three San Antonio women who turned their Tejano heritage into a raucous, feminist sound. To Habell-Pallán, that offered a potent metaphor for the possibilities of public scholarship, a philosophy that has marked her career through a series of groundbreaking projects, including American Sabor and the oral history project Women Who Rock: Making Scenes, Building Communities. As the new director of the University of Washington's graduate Certificate in Public Scholarship, Habell-Pallán, Associate Professor of Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies, will share such possibilities with students. "It's an exciting moment in the university," she said. "We are excited for the new energy, ideas, and connections that Michelle brings to her role." Habell-Pallán also praises the Chicana/o Radio Archive project of Monica De La Torre (Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies), supervised by John Vallier (UW Libraries), which contributed to De La Torre's hire as Assistant Professor in Media & Expressive Culture at Arizona State University. As director, Habell-Pallán will work to keep coursework and portfolio work flexible, allowing students to bring preexisting relationships and projects into the program. She will encourage faculty to help identify courses that can count toward the certificate. She will also advocate for public scholarship across academic departments. "We need understanding in students' home departments and committees about the value of this work, even though it may not be in traditional print form," she said. Habell-Pallán grew up in a Southern California neighborhood in the process of becoming ethnically diverse, and not always peacefully so. The racial slurs she sometimes heard as a teenager made discovering punk music all the more welcoming. "Punk music was appealing to me because it's a way to say 'It's all right to be a misfit and an outsider,'" she said. As one of the few Mexican-American students in majority white high-school, she found in punk "an ethic that cares about people rather than marginalizing them and treating them terribly based on their skin color. And a language to speak back to teachers who justified social inequality." As an MA student at the University of California, San Diego, and as a PhD student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, she made the case for unconventional research into L.A.'s grassroots feminist and queer music. She describes the origins of her career as "a conventional cultural studies scholar," leading to her books Loca Motion: The Travels of Chicana and Latina Popular Culture (2005), Cornbread and Cuchifritos: Ethnic Identity Politics, Transnationalization, and Transculturation in American Urban Popular Music (co-edited with William Raussert, 2011), and Latina/o Popular Culture (co-edited with Mary Romero, 2002). In 2003, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and the newly formed Experience Music Project (EMP) funded a UW collaboration grant. Habell-Pallán, Shannon Dudley (Ethnomusicology, School of Music), Marisol Berríos-Miranda (Ethnomusicology, School of Music), and graduate students Rob Carrol and Francisco Orozco, saw the potential for the seeds of American Sabor. Working with museum curators taught Habell-Pallán about balancing the needs of different audiences. Where scholars prize thoroughness and precision, many museums require text written at an 8th-grade level. When Habell-Pallán offered cultural context, curators urged her to let the music speak for itself. There were disagreements, but they ultimately found a path forward. The EMP exhibit grew into a traveling Smithsonian exhibition, which Girl in a Coma found in San Antonio. A book from American Sabor, bilingual and geared toward a broad audience, is in press with the University of Washington Press, co-authored by Habell-Pallán, Dudley, and Berríos-Miranda. Later, Habell-Pallán and Sonnet Retman (American Ethnic Studies) helped develop Women Who Rock, an oral history archive and series of public "unconferences" documenting women who use pop music as a tool for social transformation. Like Girl in a Coma's anthems, Women Who Rock participants "rock the archive" by claiming a place for women musicians, DJs, critics, fans, and others in the male-dominated narrative of rock 'n' roll history. The group invites participants to its annual gathering on Saturday, February 11. (See the Woman Who Rock website for more.) An Ethic of Relationality Such work has led Habell-Pallán to see an ethic of relationality (or relationship) as the core of public scholarship. Another partnership, the Seattle Fandango Project, uses music, dance, and verse to create a space of "convivencia," or co-living (co-vivir) as a stage for social-justice work. The closest English word, conviviality, doesn't quite capture the sense of building trust through time together. "It's about the co-creation of social space within the context of social inequality," Habell-Pallán said. "We recognize inequality, we don't pretend it's not there, and we still engage with each other." Convivencia offers a model for public scholarship in which scholars can work across boundaries of race/ethnicity, gender, wealth, and access, she said. Collaborators on all sides must work to undo false assumptions-about universities, about under-resourced neighborhoods, and on. "Part of being a public scholar means understanding that you're working with different people and organizations with different missions," she said. She takes inspiration from the late Stuart Hall, a Jamaica-born cultural theorist who collaborated with filmmakers and spoke to scholarly and public audiences alike, expanding the scope of cultural studies beyond academic audiences. "Public scholarship means acting as a bridge with the intent of generating something transformative," Habell-Pallán said.

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