Sustaining Spaces For Latinx Scholars

Hispanic Community October 2020 PREMIUM
Written by Magdalena Martinez, Ph.D. Assistant Professor School of Public Policy and Leadership Greenspun College of Urban Affairs Director, Education Programs, The Lincy Institute University of Nevada, Las Vegas

At the annual conference of the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE) in March 2020, Dolores Huerta, social justice leader and co-founder of the United Farm Workers, gave a keynote address in which she reminded us of our collective responsibility to speak up and take actions aligned with our social justice convictions. At 90 years of age, Ms. Huerta continues to inspire through her narrative and her nonprofit, the Dolores Huerta Foundation. It was an empowering experience to share with her that my father was a Mexican farmworker during the time farm labor organizing took shape. Her work, along with Cesar Chavez, laid the foundation for families like mine to imagine a new way of life in the United States. As the youngest of six and raised during a period when policymakers genuinely attempted to create social policies to even the playing field for children of color, low-income families and new Americans, I was the benefactor of programs such as bilingual education, summer meals and affirmative action. Unfortunately, many of these programs have been reversed and had my family been new immigrants today, I may not have had the same opportunities. This is the context under which I situate my research and work with the hopes that we, as a diverse society, can reimagine a new America where social policy can open new doors.

Today, I am an assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas where I focus my research and practice on education policy, Latinx communities and the policymaking experiences of Latinx and women legislators. In my work, I ask questions often left at the margins because Latinx are underrepresented in the academy and tenure-track positions. Informed by feminist and critical theories, I seek to understand the ways Latinx communities contribute, challenge and participate in important societal and democratic-sustaining policies and practices.

The courage to ask these questions in spaces not intended for me stemmed from villages that have supported me throughout the years. One important village is AAHHE. I first participated in AAHHE as a doctoral student. I recall Dr. Jaime Chahín shared with a group of doctoral fellows his personal journey to the academy and, without a second thought, assured us that he and AAHHE were invested in our success. A decade later, Dr. Chahín and AAHHE members continue to be an important part of my higher education village.

In 2020, I participated in the AAHHE Faculty Fellows program and was once again inspired by the commitment of AAHHE and the organizers to create a space for Latinx professionals. In my experience, AAHHE is one of the few places that honors and celebrates the work of Latinx scholars and communities. As a new generation of Latinx scholars enters the academy, I am encouraged by their willingness to challenge assumptions and organizational practices to extend inclusivity. My hope is that we take lessons from the villages that have paved the path to push against accepted assumptions of inclusivity and equity. AAHHE’s founders and members are an example; they have widened the doors for us to convene in spaces to challenge organizational practices. I hope new and emerging scholars can also accept the challenge to consider how each village, such as AAHHE, has a role to play in our diverse democracy and reimagining a new America. 

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