Hispanic Heritage Month
Hispanic Heritage Month: Faculty Spotlight
As we close out Hispanic Heritage Month, the College of Education and Human Development’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) wants to honor the contributions of faculty members of Hispanic/Latinx heritage.
ODI recently sat down and interviewed Associate Professors Dr. Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera and Dr. Tehama Lopez Bunyasi. We also spotlight Director of Faculty Diversity, Inclusion, and Well-being Dr. Milagros (Millie) Rivera.
Dr. Correa-Cabrera is a migrant and border scholar in the Schar School of Policy and Government. Correa-Cabrera was born and raised in Mexico, near Mexico City. She was inspired and influenced by her parents, both of whom pursued graduate degrees.
Correa-Cabrera: "I define myself as Mexican because I was born and raised in Mexico and what it means to be Mexican… I mean it’s a lot of things. We have in Mexico, a particular history, we have a particular culture. That you know manifests itself in having certain type of food, listening to certain songs, and we become excited when we remember our history, periods of time that have made us who we are but, at the same time, Mexico is a very diverse country. I was born in the State of Mexico, I was raised, most of my life in Mexico City. I studied in the United States for my doctorate and I have lived in the United States for the past 20 years. So that has also helped me to value the place where I come from—my country, my traditions, my food, my songs, my language."
When asked how her culture influenced her work, there was no hesitation in her responses. The very nature of her work is so interwoven in her personal experiences, painting a beautiful picture of how pride in heritage and her quest for shedding light on powerful issues was so impactful to her work. During her interview there was an energy that radiated as she shared with great passion the work that she does.
Correa-Cabrera: "Totally it has impacted my work completely. My areas of expertise are immigration in the United States, global migration, migration from the northern triangle to the U.S.-Mexico border. I consider myself as a border scholar. Always thinking about myself as somebody who is in the middle of the United States and Mexico, in this “third country” that is the U.S.-Mexico border, so my area of expertise is the U.S.-Mexico border and Mexico border relations and Mexican relations in general. The border is more than that, there were moments of fear, there were moments of anxiety, moments of sadness when you see a number of events taking place.
Border communities are in solidarity with the world in many ways. The border is a beautiful place. The border is a place of beautiful people; there in solidarity with those who need them the most. So, of the border communities, they are the ones that pay the highest price but do it very gladly. Though it's been an amazing journey along the border, an amazing journey to study immigration, and an amazing journey also because I understand it. I am Mexican and I am an American citizen now.”
When given the opportunity to reflect on their development Dr. Correa-Cabrera offered the following advice:
Correa-Cabrera: “To be more open, because I suffered a lot for not being open. It took me a while to adapt to new realities, the complexity of the culture in a third country—I talk about the borderlands as a third country—being more open about what this society lives through. Because you come from your own background, from your own traditions, from your own culture, from your own country, and you go somewhere else, and it takes time to adapt because you're closed [off], because you think that the place where you are from has taught you everything and you feel like a stranger at the beginning, so if I had advice to give myself when I was younger, I would say, just open your eyes, this is going to be fantastic.”
As the interview came to a close, one final question was asked—what advice would you give students and faculty of Hispanic/Latinx heritage?
Correa-Cabrera: “Compared to what previous generations had, we have a lot of opportunities. Even though we are underrepresented in many ways, even though there are some limitations of the system that put us in disadvantage, this is a time of opportunities, and we know the power we have. And we know that if we got here, it’s because we work harder than anybody else. It’s been difficult for Latinos in the United States to make a way in this society. Now, we are very powerful and we just have to understand that and we’ll fight for our rights, and this is the time to do it, and now there is more openness for inclusiveness, for diversity. You know different historical processes have happened very recently that have led to greater paths for diversity and inclusion that have happened in this country. So what I would tell everybody is we have to stop being fearful, we have to fight for our rights and now our voice matters more now than any other time.”
To learn more about Correa-Cabrera, please visit here and be sure to support her book publications.
Dr. Correa-Cabrera (Ph.D. in Political Science, The New School for Social Research) is an Associate Professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University. Her areas of expertise are Mexico-U.S. relations, organized crime, immigration/migration, border security, social movements and human trafficking. She was the Principal Investigator of a research grant to study organized crime and trafficking in persons in Central America and along Mexico’s eastern migration routes, supported by the Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.
Dr. Tehama Lopez Bunyasi, Associate Professor in the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution is a Mexican-American born and raised in LA County.
Lopez Bunyasi: “I am Mexican-American and I grew up in LA County. Both sides of my family have been in California for four generations. So, I’m fourth generation Mexican-American on my dad’s side. My mom's side of the family is mainly from England, and so my mother is white. When I was growing up, if you were biracial and one of your parents was white, you’re weren’t white. That’s the practice of hypodescent. So, I’ve always identified as Mexican, and not as white. When I was a child, people read me as mixed-race, but now that I’m older and my phenotype has changed, people tend to read me as white. In addition to identifying as Mexican-American, I more and more try to also identify my biracial identity as a way of being accountable to the way I receive certain privileges for being light-skinned and being proximate to whiteness via my mother. When I moved to the East Coast from the West Coast and no one knew “what” a Mexican was, that was strange for me.”
When asked how her culture influenced her work, there was no hesitation in her responses. The very nature of her work is so interwoven in her personal experiences, painting a beautiful picture of how pride in heritage and her quests for shedding light on powerful issues was so impactful to her work.
Lopez Bunyasi: “If I’m going to talk about any culture that’s shaped how I’ve gotten to what I'm doing now, and have been doing for a long time—that is, studying whiteness—I should talk about being somebody who was raised in Southern California and then, who moved to New Hampshire. I moved to New Hampshire in 1993, right at the start of high school, and the year prior is when Los Angeles erupted into riots/uprisings. And even though I lived on the outskirts of Los Angeles County at the time, it impacted everybody in different ways. And of course, that entire year , and prior we'd been seeing that video [of the beating of Rodney King by LAPD officers] over and over again. So, talking about race was like an everyday thing, it was very common. That was a thing we talked about—people fought about, people made peace about it, it was a thing [race].”
“I moved to New Hampshire and nobody's talking about race at all. Nobody's talking about Rodney King. Nobody's talking about the police. It was like another planet. And the fact that I saw that as strange gave me a particular lens; this homogenous whiteness is strange to me; but what it made possible for me, was to see whiteness as a thing, to see whiteness at all. I don’t think people see whiteness as a thing to think about; maybe more and more people are talking about it now. The culture of growing up in a place that was racially diverse and intense with conflict and then moving to a place where you seemingly have no racial conflict at all, that wasn't like the main stage there. So, I think that in retrospect it shaped a lot of where I ended up going as a scholar.
When given the opportunity to reflect on her development Dr. Lopez Bunyasi offered her younger self the following advice:
Lopez Bunyasi: “I'm thinking a lot about graduate school right now. I made sure I had fun, which is good; I would reaffirm that. Because a lot of life happens while you're pursuing these really hard goals and you can't act like ‘OK, I’m just going to do this PhD program and that's going to be my life.’ Also, asking for more help to get certain things I could have benefited from in the way of these summer programs or certain opportunities that were out of reach for me financially.”
As the interview came to a close, one final question was asked…what advice would you give students and faculty of Hispanic/Latina/Latino/Latinx heritage.
Lopez Bunyasi: “To faculty specifically, I think it's important to our undergraduates in particular to be recognizable, to show up for them, especially when they're asking. I'm showing solidarity in the sense of what can we do to help one another. I think it’s important to signal [that]. And so, I think we should be thinking about our service to others, I think that's important.”
To learn more about Lopez Bunyasi’s work please visit here and be sure to support her book publications.
Dr. Tehama Lopez Bunyasi is an Associate Professor at the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University. A political scientist by training, her scholarship is broadly concerned with matters of race, racism and antiracism in the United States, with specializations in structural inequality, racial attitudes and ideologies, racial marginalization, and the politics of whiteness.
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month 2021 with a spotlight on Dr. Milagros (Millie) Rivera. She works in the Office of Faculty Affairs and Development, but Dr. Rivera is a friend to all around campus. After a few minutes of chatting with her, her friendly demeanor puts you at ease, and you feel like you’ve known her forever. Forging a career in academia is no surprise because she grew up questioning everything. She jokes that she was kicked out of catechism as a child because of her inquisitive nature and her desire to prove everything adults would tell her.
Even though Dr. Rivera’s training was as a department chair, she was confident in her ability to take on the newly established role of Director of Faculty Diversity, Inclusion, and Well-being because of her past experience as a faculty member. She already had a sense of how other faculty members could be supported, and she was especially drawn to the idea of being able to create something brand new from nothing. The focus on well-being was also a draw for her. She uses an integrated approach to the role that includes helping faculty be successful teachers, researchers, and mentors, but also considering how faculty look after their own wellness to thrive in the demanding work of academia.
Dr. Rivera has accomplished many things throughout her career. One of the things she is most proud of is creating a successful department with faculty members representing 17 nationalities and a variety of disciplines and methodologies. The Rivera-led department became a model at the National University of Singapore for collegiality and inclusion. She is also proud of going into a completely different environment at the University of the Free State in South Africa and transforming a department that had not included a person of color in its almost 50 years of existence. Within three years, she was able to increase the hiring of people of color to over 40%.
With regard to Hispanic firsts, Dr. Rivera is always hopeful. In most of her jobs, she has been the only Latina in the department, but she’s okay being the first one as long as she’s not the last. Her advice to Latinx people who may find themselves the only one in their jobs is to reach out and connect with people of your unit who can give you context of the culture of the institution. She also encourages people in units with one or no Latinx people to be deliberate in writing or calling qualified people to invite them to apply for open positions.
Outside of work, Dr. Rivera loves meeting people and reading. When the pandemic first started, she cancelled television subscriptions and purely read during her time off. She also relies on mindfulness and meditation when she needs to refresh. Family time is also important. Being able to stay connected with her family no matter where she is in the world is her proudest personal accomplishment. Her love of difference also shows up in her personal life, and the result has been so much fun. She is married to a South African, and some of their “lost in translation moments can be quite amusing.”
Hispanic Heritage Month is always September 15 through October 15. Dr. Rivera believes the period is essential for reflecting on the contributions of Hispanic and Latinx people and how their contributions make places more inclusive, diverse, and creative. She also acknowledges that Hispanic and Latinx are labels that have been imposed on people and that diversity is found within “every culture across the Americas…” and we should recognize that, “…that difference comes with certain elements of commonalities.” Everyone can celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by reaching out and trying to learn something about the culture, such as some of the related historical, social, and political issues. We can also connect with students and learn about their experiences. Dr. Rivera believes that when we understand others’ challenges, we have a greater understanding of our own privilege and how we can support people from other cultures and backgrounds.
Thank you for all you do, Dr. Rivera. Your presence at Mason makes a difference!