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Anthropology | Nancy McKee

Ph.D., Washington State University
Associate Professor Emeritus
Cultural Anthropology

Research interests

Language use, inequality and poverty, gender, pedagogy, Mexico/U.S. border region

Representative publications

2000 “Gendered Futures: Student Visions of Career and Family on a College Campus” (Linda Stone and Nancy P. McKee). Anthropology and Education Quarterly 31(1):67-89.

2002 Gender and Culture in America, second edition (Linda Stone and Nancy P. McKee). Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.

2002 Readings in Gender and Culture in America (Nancy P. McKee and Linda Stone). Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.

Current, continuing, and recent research

I am an anthropological linguist and cultural anthropologist with a specific interest in inequality and poverty. I began my research with an examination of the structure and role of the dialect of northern Mexican Spanish spoken in Laredo, Texas, an impoverished city on the Mexican border. I returned to examine the survival strategies of Laredo’s poorest inhabitants. When I first lived in Laredo in the late 1960s, it was a city of 65,000 people. I have returned to Laredo in each of the last three years, to find an enormous city of 225,000, many of whom still suffer from extreme poverty, and roughly 94% of whom are of Mexican ancestry. I recently began working on two new projects in Laredo: a life history of an old friend, born into a large family of migrant farm workers, but now a high school teacher, and interviews with some of Laredo’s never-married mothers.

In the last few years I have interviewed never-married mothers in rural eastern Washington and northern Idaho. Two papers on this research, soon to be included in a third edition of Stone and McKee’s Gender and Culture in America, may be found below.

In general I found that these young women had little education and no career plans. Lacking a stake in their own futures, and with a vague hope that a romantic attachment would somehow provide them with meaning for their lives and structure for their futures, they took no precautions to avoid pregnancy. None of the young women I interviewed was still with the father of her baby, and all of the women were having difficulties coping economically with single motherhood. I plan to compare the lives of these single Angla mothers with the lives of single Chicana mothers in Laredo. I suspect that in Laredo unmarried mothers may have somewhat easier lives, since their own mothers are less likely to be employed, and are thus better able to care for their grandchildren. But this is changing along the border, where married women are increasingly likely to be employed.

The problem of combining childcare and employment has been the focus of another research project, which I undertook with Dr. Linda Stone, also a faculty member of the WSU Anthropology Department. We explored the academic and career goals of male and female students at WSU and at other American universities. What we discovered surprised us, though subsequent reports from other researchers (and journalists) have indicated that the phenomenon is widespread: many women university students, though they are interested in their majors and plan to work after graduation, also plan to cease working temporarily or permanently once they are married and their children are born. Our research findings are reported both in our Gender and Culture in America, and also in our article, “Gendered Futures: Student Visions of Career and Family on a College Campus.”

I am presently in the process of completing an article in applied linguistics and pedagogy. “Competing Paradigms: Variation in Expectations of First Year Writing Classes” allows me to work on student writing, my interest in which stems from my early graduate training in linguistics and my undergraduate training in the humanities (philosophy). Some years ago these interests led to a writing handbook, produced with George E. Kennedy of WSU’s English Department, which we are now revising into a fourth edition. And I have just begun work on an introductory text in cultural anthropology with Corey Pressman, a former graduate student in our department.

The beginning of a mural on the neighborhood consilio building in mural-mckeethe old Laredo barrio of Azteca. The man on the top of the scaffolding is my longtime friend, Joaquin Valenzuela, and the rest of the artists are his students at the Vidal M. Trevino Magnet High School in Laredo. The mural, which is now complete, was inspired by the Mexican muralists of the first half of the 20th century. It depicts people at work, doing all sorts of jobs, both blue and white collar. The students, nearly all from low income families, have worked on other murals throughout the city, spending weekends and vacation time to get them done. When this mural was completed, there was a big inauguration ceremony, which was covered by newspapers, radio, and television from both Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico, right across the international bridge.

The Three Graces, not in the style of the Italian or Flemish Renaissance. Here I am with two friends, one of them the wife of Joaquin Valenzuela, watching work on the Azteca mural. We sat women-mckeeright on the side of the road in our folding chairs and provided moral support—and at lunchtime we provided lunch for the artists. I have known these women for many years. Twenty-one years ago, when I was doing doctoral fieldwork in Laredo, we were all three pregnant together, and now we all have 21 year old children, one of whom, my daughter Hannah, took this photograph.

A birthday party last August, held in an auto repair shop in the Laredo barrio of Azteca. I’m not much of a party animal, and it was a thousand degrees in the shop that night (thus the grim expression). But it’s always a thousand degrees in Laredo, and there was wonderful carne asada (barbecued beef) and great traditional Mexican dance music.
The musicians and their friends, who come from all walks of life andwomen-mckee2 both sides of the border, get together once a week to play and listen to music. Most is in Spanish, but some of the musicians have also had success playing Anglo music. This is usually a male-only group, but because it was a special birthday celebration and the gringa and her daughter were visiting, the group graciously invited four women to be present. We sat demurely in the back, trying to drink our Diet Cokes before they started to boil over from the heat.



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