Irene Vasquez is director of the Chicana and Chicano Studies department at the University of New Mexico. Vasquez started the post in 2013 and from there he helped UNM establish not only the department but also the possibility of obtaining a bachelor’s degree in CCS. Vasquez’s passion for teaching at the college level stems from her childhood experiences and the lack of adequate publications on communities of color, and she continually works to further educate marginalized groups.
Vasquez found little material available on communities of color as she taught as a substitute teacher in college during her masters program. According to Vasquez, the small blurbs in textbooks on Martin Luther King Jr. failed to communicate the rich history of people of color, and higher education institutions play a special role in shaping course materials and training teachers in specialties such as CCS.
“For me, learning Chicana and Chicano studies (at university) changed my life because it provided a critical framework for understanding my family history, the history of our relationship with the US-Mexico border. and the importance of understanding our ancestral traditions. and cultural roots, ”Vasquez said.
Although CCS was founded as an academic program in 1970 at UNM, it did not become a full-fledged undergraduate degree until 2013. In 2014, CCS was converted to a department, where the pathways leading to the master’s and doctoral degrees were finally approved. in 2018.
Friend and colleague Tanaya Winder recalled meeting Vasquez at a cultural conference shortly after Vasquez started her post at UNM and being impressed by her initiative to get involved in the local community.
“I think it’s rare that people also immediately try to get to know the community they’re in,” Winder said.
According to Vasquez, all ethnic studies programs have always had a wider community orientation outside of college. She continually asks the question of how to help people who are struggling to get a college education, especially with the economic inequalities and uncertainties that emerge amid the pandemic.
“We know that in these communities these people have (fewer opportunities) and many tend to fall through the cracks,” Vasquez said. “We are even more attached to the idea that Chicana and Chicano studies should be available everywhere … because we know that people are interested in knowing more about the diverse history of this state and the importance of Latino and Latina populations in the United States. “
Vasquez, who grew up in a small rural California town, went on to earn his doctorate. from the Department of History at the University of California, Los Angeles. She began her career as an educator at a community college in eastern Los Angeles and remained in California, where she became head of the CCS department at California State University, Dominguez Hills.
“(My studies) gave me the opportunity to understand my identity and be proud of it,” Vasquez said.
After receiving the job description for his current position at UNM, Vasquez recalled that the department was in a state of transition, where more work needed to be done to form a CCS license program.
“I felt really challenged and also very motivated and very supported by the recruiting committee (at UNM),” Vasquez said. “I’m really, really lucky because we have an incredibly vibrant community of undergraduates, graduate students, staff, and faculty who really want to make education accessible to communities across the state.”
Winder said Vasquez is a model of good leadership.
“I remember the first department meeting I attended, and I was just in awe of the way she ran the meetings,” Winder said. “I was like, ‘Wow, I’ve been waiting to see a woman of color like this in person for so long,’ and thought that was the kind of leader I wanted to be if I ever became. in this position. ”
Vasquez said she was motivated to study CCS because she grew up with a Mexican-American mother and an Anglo-American father, and had strained travel experiences with her mother across national borders until his mother’s hometown, Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, but never with his father across state borders.
“My mother’s family lived in Juarez and we often visited them in the summer. The experience of crossing and re-crossing the border has always been, for us, very triggering because my mother was always worried about being able to cross, ”said Vasquez. “She had her green card, but if she lost it or didn’t know what it was, we were trying to figure out, ‘What is a green card?’ “Are they going to take our mother?” It was filled with such a sense of dread even though what we were doing was reconnecting with family. “
Vasquez is a strong advocate for individuals who pursue higher education, especially people from communities that have so often been marginalized and denied their rights to education.
“This is the first time in college that they have had the opportunity to truly explore and critically explore the history and experience of their community in the United States,” said Vasquez.
Emma Trevino is the cultural editor of the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at [email protected] or on Twitter @itsemmatr