There have been times in the life of Paloma Díaz-Minshew ’24 when she’s felt like the only Mexican American “theater kid” in Texas.

But at Trinity, as part of English professor Kathryn Vomero Santos’ “The Bard in the Borderlands” project and the Mellon Initiative for Undergraduate Research, Díaz-Minshew is working to amplify the voices of playwrights who’ve transformed William Shakespeare’s stories into depictions of life along an area commonly referred to as La Frontera, or the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands. 

“This is my dream,” says Díaz-Minshew, a global Latinx studies and English double major who hails from Dallas and has roots in Mexico and San Antonio. “I get to talk about borderland politics, immigration, and also theater and Shakespeare? Yes, please!’”

Santos, left, has led students like Díaz-Minshew on a Shakespeare journey like no other.

The culmination of this research project—launched by Santos in 2019—is the soon-to-be released publication, The Bard in the Borderlands: An Anthology of Shakespeare Appropriations en La Frontera, which will be published as an open-access book with 12 previously unpublished plays. This project has already earned the team a prestigious Collaborative Research grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Santos eventually wants to see these plays taught alongside traditional Shakespeare in South Texas and Rio Grande Valley classrooms. “We’re hoping that this anthology not only transforms Shakespeare research, but especially impacts teaching.”

Dicke Hall, Trinity’s new 40,000 square foot home for the Humanities, houses the project.

This research is all happening inside Trinity’s new Dicke Hall, a unique facility dedicated specifically for the Humanities, and one of only a handful of its kind in Texas. The Bard in the Borderlands project being conducted at Dicke Hall is, perhaps, the perfect example of the timelessness of the humanities at Trinity: a tradition of answering questions—and questioning answers—all in a physical space that invites the type of collaboration and interdisciplinarity that has become synonymous with Trinity’s brand in the modern era.

After all, the plays that Santos, her collaborators, and her students are exploring go beyond merely revamping Shakespeare: Each represents a transformative storytelling process. Imagine Romeo and Juliet, but with Juliet coming from an upwardly-mobile Mexican American family seeking to assimilate into Anglo culture, and Romeo as an undocumented immigrant.

“These playwrights insert moments of linguistic contact and conflict in significant places in the plays,” Santos says. “For example, Juliet has been told not to speak Spanish as part of her family’s emphasis on assimilation. So, Romeo becomes a way of connecting to her heritage and connecting to her language.”

To glean this type of insight, Santos has set students such as Díaz-Minshew to work on parsing through the type scripts of each play. The students have then transcribed these plays, identified moments in the text that they thought required more annotation and more historical research, and helped frame the types of discussion questions that future school teachers might use to teach these adaptations to their own students.

Such is the name of the game for undergraduate research at Trinity, which supports rigorous scholarship and discovery in the fields of the humanities with the same fervor that it does the social sciences and STEM fields. Santos, in addition to her research and teaching, also co-leads a special Trinity resource known as the Humanities Collective, which fosters humanistic learning and enables meaningful action. Santos says. “At Trinity, we are invested in exploring what humanistic inquiry can do to enact social justice.”

Santos and Díaz-Minshew hope their work helps transform how Texas teaches Shakespeare

For Díaz-Minshew, exploring Borderlands culture has been an invaluable process in the context of her global Latinx studies major. “One of the reasons I actually came to Trinity in the first place was because I was going to get to learn about my identity, my community, and also get credit for it through my global Latinx studies major. That’s super cool,” Díaz-Minshew says.

As a result of this research, one of these plays might end up in the hands of the next Díaz-Minshew.

 “As a Mexican American, there were a lot of times during this research that I would be reading things and just start crying because seeing yourself accurately represented, that’s something that doesn’t happen often,” she says. “[I was] getting into this research, getting into this world, and realizing, ‘Of course there are other Mexican American theater kids!’”