As Hispanic Heritage Month begins on the 15th, we wanted to take a look at language, experiences, and allyship for Hispanic, Latina, and Chicana people in higher education. La Casa’s website has more information about things happening on campus related to this Month!
Reflect: What are the implications of the language we use?
The delineation between the terms Hispanic and Latino is a complex conversation about culture and heritage. Yara Simón defined “Hispanic” as a federal category for people with language and culture descending from Spain; “Latino/a” recognizes heritage from Latin America and parts of the Caribbean, beyond the history of Spanish colonization. Others, such as Leo Guerra Tezcatlipoca, use terms like Chicano/a to resist the homogenization of the cultural diversity in Latin America. An important variation one might see is when an –x, -e, or -@ replaces the end letter, a move to be more inclusive of genders beyond the linguistic binary (e.g., Latinx, Latine, or Latin@). Allies must always respect how one identifies, so listen to the language someone uses (especially to others like you) and follow their lead.
Learn: Latina Experiences in Higher Education
Latina faculty and staff contribute to their institutions in a variety of ways, such as supporting Latinx students by serving as examples of success; however, they are not always given the resources to be successful. Tenure can be like a “moving target” for Latina faculty, where they feel pressured to be twice as productive as white faculty. Latina faculty supervivencia (survivance) buffers isolating environments to promote thriving, including collaborative relationships that keep them culturally connected. Latina faculty and staff are often also tokenized by their institution, externally promoting diversity without receiving support for institutional exclusion. Cultural capital, personal motivation, and the presence of supportive people (like family) are integral Latina undergraduate students’ success, yet campus environments are significant barriers to success and thriving. Latinas face persistent bias, including expectations of “fiery” personality, fetishization, rampant cultural appropriation, care-taker stereotypes, and more. This is particularly true in STEM, where Latina students struggle to feel like they belong, despite excelling academically and creating their own community.
Change: Supporting Their Voices
- Listen to their stories: As we talked about earlier, the diversity in Latin America is immense and cannot be encapsulated by a single term. As such, people with Latin heritage can feel tension with assimilating to the predominantly white culture and limiting demographic terminology forced upon them in the U.S., particularly those with Indigenous and African/Black ancestry (e.g., Afro-Latinas). Learning about this struggle in their own words, such as in this New York Times video, will help you become a better ally to their needs in the future.
- Affirm the legitimacy of Latina academics: Research shows that academics who center marginalized identities rather than conform to dominant perspectives are frequently perceived as less legitimate scholars by their peers with privileged identities.16, 17 Dr. Lorgia García Peña is an example of this bias, a Latina Ethnic Studies professor denied tenure at Harvard in part because some were concerned her work was “not research, but activism.“ Vocally support the importance of Latinx academics, particularly women, to your community, learn more about Latinx academics in your field, and questioning those who try to devalue Latinx work.
- Promote Culturally-Competent Mentorship: Mentorship, grounded in cultural recognition, is one of the strongest factors in Latina students’ long-term career success. Latina faculty also benefit from such mentorship, wherein they can acclimate without losing their identity. Reinvigorate/reexamine your mentorship practices to include cultural competency both in content and structure. An example considering the gendered and racial experiences of Latinas/Chicanas in higher education is Mujerista mentoring, which honors the mentee’s cultural and personal background rather than encouraging assimilation into the dominant culture.
Additional Resource Recommendations
- Video: Do Latinos Think the Same - Hosts Ien and Michael ask 6 Latinx people questions about language, Latin culture, and being in America.
- Article: Latin American Women in Science and Technology – These inspiring women are leaders in their respective fields and showcase the importance of diversity in STEM.
- Podcast: Best Spanish and Latino Podcasts for Learning and Laughing – Irina Gonzalez lists numerous podcasts by Latinx people about education, current events, and more!
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