Each year, Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15) offers an opportunity to celebrate the culture and contributions of Latino/a/e/x people. We asked two of our faculty to reflect on their cultura, experiences at PSU and what it will look like for PSU to become a thriving Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI).
Martín Alberto Gonzalez is an assistant professor of Chicano/Latino Studies, and Óscar Fernández is a senior instructor in University Studies.
Q: How do you identify and what does that mean to you?
Martín: I identify as Xicano. As an undergraduate student at California State University, Northridge, I realized that identifying as Xicanx was very political. Before being educated on this topic, I thought Xicanx simply meant being Mexican American, but I learned that it is more than that. To be Xicanx means that you’re not only critical of your identity as a Brown person, but you’re also critical of society as a whole. To be Xicanx means that you’re willing to challenge systems of oppression like white supremacy, classism, racism, homophobia, patriarchy, toxic masculinity, ableism, and so on. It means that you’re proud of your name, your cultura, your histories, your comunidad, and that you’re down to work and advocate alongside your communities to ensure we live in a just society. “Chicanos” have a long history of being anti-Black, homophobic, patriarchal, or even xenophobic, and I aim to challenge that by being intersectional with my perspectives, ideologies, and way of living.
Óscar: I identify as a queer immigrant scholar from Costa Rica. The terms I use for myself are Latinx.
Q: What is it about your culture that has made you who you are?
Óscar: In my family, we’re three things — we’re critical, we’re playful and we’re angry — so I think that informs who I am as a person. In my personal and professional life, I am playful, I am critical and I am angry. I’m angry at so many injustices around us.
Martín: So many things. La comida, la música, the languages, the community care, the tough love, the beautiful Brown shades of skin, the spirituality, the arts, the unapologetic-ness, los chistes, los dichos, the clothing/attire, the courage, the aspirations, the hard work, and the list goes on and on. One thing that is really important to me is the storytelling. I come from a family of storytellers. For the most part, everyone in my family likes to tell stories in their own unique way. As the youngest of seven, I picked up on so many ways to tell stories. I take pride in telling stories. Stories become lessons. The stories and storytellers I grew up with made me who I am.
Q: How do you bring your culture and community into your classes, campus activities and/or work?
Martín: This is such a difficult question for me to answer because that’s all I do. My culture and community made me who I am. I try my best to be me, unapologetically. I speak Spanglish. I listen to Spanish music. I tell jokes and sayings I heard growing up. I dress how I feel most comfortable. It’s normal for me to bring my whole self to campus.
Óscar: When I came to University Studies back in 2014, I created a new course that did not exist. The course is now called “Immigration, Migration and Belonging,” and that is one way I bring my immigrant culture and cultures into curricular aspects. I was teaching other themes in University Studies, but the only course that sort of spoke to students of color in University Studies was a course called Race and Social Justice. But I was seeing that some immigrant students, particularly Latiné students, wanted something else. They wanted a course that was about the immigration experience. The other way I bring my culture and immigrant experience to Portland State is I was one of the co-authors for a DREAMers resource center, which is currently in its implementation process. I’m hoping that my legacy at PSU is that I have made PSU an even more welcoming space for Latino, Hispanic and Latinx students.
Q: Can you describe your experience at PSU as a Latino/a/e/x individual?
Óscar: I started at PSU back in 2002. There weren’t a lot of Latino faculty back then and if there were, they were in the departments that you would expect like Chicano Studies. Even in the Spanish section of World Languages & Literatures, there weren’t a lot of Latino faculty. I would describe my experience at PSU as a Latinx individual as both full of hope but also full of isolation.
Martín: I have a very unique and privileged Xicano experience at PSU because I teach in Chicano/Latino Studies (CHLA). Even though PSU is a predominantly white university, my classes are mostly filled with Latinx students who are eager to learn more about their histories and identities. Most of the students enrolled in my classes have shared experiences with each other and with me. So, my classes become my home away from home. Our conversations are so organic and heartfelt, and they make me feel like I belong at PSU. I rarely venture away from CHLA spaces because that is where I feel the most supported and appreciated. I always tell my students, “Surround yourself with others who value and appreciate you, for who you are,” and that’s exactly what I do at PSU.
Q: Portland State is on its way to becoming a federally recognized Hispanic-Serving Institution, a designation given to institutions with a Hispanic full-time undergraduate student enrollment of at least 25 percent. What would it look like for PSU to become a thriving HSI?
Martín: I believe that retention and graduation numbers are only part of the equation. For me, a thriving Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) means that Latinx students are not only graduating from PSU, but they’re being supported holistically throughout the process. For example, culturally responsive counselors, therapists, and financial aid representatives. Courses and curriculums across all majors and minors that reflect their lived experiences as Latinxs. Financial and emotional support for undocumented students. Support for post-graduation opportunities and careers. Faculty, staff, and administrators of color who represent them and who are also committed to serving and mentoring historically marginalized students of color. More than anything, for me, what makes a thriving HSI is having Latinx students feel as if they belong on campus in all their classes, not just CHLA classes. A thriving HSI acknowledges and validates the experiences, knowledges, and histories of Latinx students across all fields of study.
Óscar: I will know that PSU is a thriving HSI when Latino students share with me how PSU is their home, their hogar. I would love for our Latino students not to consider PSU just as a place where they go get their credentials but as a place where they belong, a place where PSU honors all their different immigrant experiences and their various Latino experiences. I would love to see events at PSU that include families. I would love to see courses taught for family members who have children coming to PSU. I would love for my Latino students not to feel so isolated as they move up into degree programs. I teach in a general studies program, so I hear back from some Latino students that as they advance in degree programs, that’s where their sense of isolation happens. Also, what does that look like for me? A PSU that is a thriving HSI would also be a PSU in which the leadership both in mid-level administration and upper-level administration and in Faculty Senate have more people of color.
Q: What’s the one song that gets you going?
Óscar: It depends on how I’m feeling. If I want something to pick me up, I would say “Save Your Tear” by The Weeknd. I think that’s my song I need to feel happy.
Martín: “El Tizón” by La Sonora Dinamita
BECOMING AN HSI
You can hear more from Martín and Óscar on a recent episode of ¿Qué pasa, HSIs?, where they’re joined by Carrie Vasquez, program coordinator of La Casa Latina Student Center, and Joe Rivera Soto, one of PSU’s student success advocates.
Featured photo: Portion of “Dreaming of Educational Horizons” mural created by Hector H Hernandez and spring 2011 class of the Chicano/Latino Muralism and Public Art Class