Celebrating Latinx Heritage Month: Our Stories Part One

As Latinx Heritage Month comes to a close, we’d like to share some reflections from Nellie Mae staff and board members on what their heritage means to them. Read these personal and important stories below.

Delia Arellano-Weddleton, Director of Engagement and Partnerships: Mi Historia

I identify as Mejicana, Chicana and Latina and I often deal with the tension that comes from being a first-generation American. There is an expression — ‘Ni de aqui, ni de alla’ which describes how I often feel. I don’t always feel that I belong in this country, but I know that I don’t belong in Mexico either.

My family comes from Guanjuato Mexico and belongs to the Guamare Indigenous community. That history gives me great pride and strength. I come from a line of warriors that have had to overcome many challenges.

I value showing up as who I am 100%, be it my accent, my brown skin or the straight hair that connects me to my indigenous roots.

I find pride in the stories that have been passed down to me, whether it is about curranderas or stories that show the strength of my people. These stories give me strength.

I find great joy, knowing that I’ve fulfilled my parents’ American dream and that they can look down and say’ ‘mija you have done us well’. I find joy in passing the torch to my children, nieces, and nephews so that we don’t lose our stories.

The youth give me eseperanza. Historically, social movements have been led by youth and there are many great examples of how Chicanos, Latinos have been leading change. For example, the 1968 high school walk outs in LA, the Young Lords, and the farm worker huelgas.

Youth are having the difficult conversations that other generations haven’t had, whether it is about LGBTQ rights, anti-Blackness in the Latinx community or climate change. They are our hope and I’ll always support them.

Marcos Lucio Popovich, Program Director of Grantmaking: My Reflections

My family comes from San Luis Potosi and Jalisco, Mexico. For several generations (probably beginning in the late 1800s), my family began traveling from Mexico to harvest crops throughout the United States. They were migrant farmworkers working in Texas, Ohio, Oregon and everywhere in between, picking cotton, tomatoes, plums. My grandmother would say that they were not rich in material things, but that they were rich in faith, rich in family, and rich in culture. She taught me to be proud of being Mexican, of being Mexicano, even when the world told us otherwise. She taught me to be proud of our culture, language, and history, and to be proud of the many contributions we’ve made to the U.S. even though it is not written in our history books.

I’m proud of our resilience and work ethic, our courage to risk it all to create a better life for our families. I pray that when the history is written about our current times that we don’t forget to recognize the contributions of migrant farmworkers during this pandemic. They fed our country while working under dangerous conditions.

When I went to college, I met other Latinos that shared similar experiences: Puerto Ricans, Peruvians, Dominicans, Salvadorans. While we each had our own unique histories and cultures, we realized that we faced similar challenges, had similar interests, and that by creating a bond across our various cultures, we could create power, political power, power that can effectuate change. “In unity, there is strength” was our motto. “In unity, there is strength.”

I carry that with me today. No matter what we call ourselves, Hispano, Latino, Latinx, Chicano, Borinquen, we are stronger when we are united. And, we need to continue to find ways to bridge divides, build community, be inclusive and grow the movement for our collective liberation.

Latinos will soon make up 30% (2050) of the U.S. population. My hope is that we foster a people that knows and remembers its history, maintains its pride in its culture and language, rejects assimilation and welcomes acculturation, has opportunities to thrive and succeed, and charts a new and better path forward. The next generation of activists brings me hope that this is possible. “Si, se puede.” Yes we can!

While Latinx heritage month ends after today,

we think it’s important to celebrate Latinx heritage year round. Therefore, look out for the next part in our series coming soon.

Additionally, we understand that language is ever-evolving — and how individuals with Latinx heritage describe themselves varies. We understand this complexity and invite you to learn more here.

Researcher Positionality

Eric Toshalis, KnowledgeWorks

This piece originally appeared on the Students at the Center Hub.

“What you see depends on where you stand.”

“And where you stand is the result of where you’ve been.”

Many of us may be tempted to dismiss these pithy maxims because they’re just plain self-evident. “Right,” we might say, “tell me something I don’t know.” But really, they’re kinda radical observations. Maybe even revolutionary. Let me explain.

Researchers are taught to establish the rigor, validity, and reliability of their investigations by controlling for or eliminating the influence of any bias. They learn to design studies and use methods that yield observations whose trends and implications can be defended, largely because they are cleansed of any idiosyncratic interpretations. The logic is that others should be able to look at those same gathered data and make the same inferences. When this is achieved, the study is understood to be authoritative. But is it?

Whose authority are we talking about here? Who gets to decide what counts as “valid,” “reliable,” “rigorous,” or even “important”? Can we rely on existing systems — and the individuals trained within them — to render judgments about the veracity of research without any predisposition? What if the whole systemic approach to eliminating bias can sometimes erase the insights, funds of knowledge, and expertise we actually need if we are to see where and how bias functions?

These are the questions we raised in the Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative as we designed our most recent RFP. In that RFP we set out to support research projects that examined the impact of student-centered practices on marginalized populations, namely Black and Brown students, students from low-income families, English learners, and students with learning differences. To do that well, we realized we needed to go beyond traditional “objective” investigations of students’ experiences. We needed to find and support researchers who could make meaning of diverse participants’ experiences of student-centered learning, who possessed the necessary critical sophistication with various forms of marginalization and inequity in education, and who were familiar with the techniques used to overcome them. In other words, we needed researchers who understood their position and used it (rather than controlled for it) when designing an investigation. So we built the RFP around a concept called “positionality.” And the results couldn’t be more promising.

Guided by the field-defining work of one of our Advisors, Rich Milner, the Cornelius Vanderbilt Endowed Chair of Education and Professor of Education in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University we integrated “researcher positionality” into the way we solicited and evaluated proposals. We reasoned that if we’re going to use research to move the needle on equity, we need to consider very carefully who is conducting the investigations and how they are prepared to answer questions related to forms of oppression that occur in and through education. History has shown that people from dominant backgrounds tend to use dominant funds of knowledge and forms of inquiry to reproduce dominant interpretations of educational phenomena (sense a theme here?). Scholars’ from nondominant racial / ethnic / cultural / linguistic / disability backgrounds (or those who have done the hard work to become allies) therefore bring essential insights into research question formation, method selection, data collection, and findings interpretation. So we crafted an RFP that required applicants to answer a host of prompts about design, staffing, timelines, deliverables, budgets, etc. — pretty standard stuff — but we also asked these two questions to place positionality in the foreground:

  • In what ways do your team members’ backgrounds influence your research approach and design? For instance, how do your racial/ethnic/cultural/linguistic/disability backgrounds influence the research questions you pose, the data collection tools you employ, and the way you interpret research findings?
  • In what ways do you expect to encounter race, racism, ableism, discrimination, marginalization, and other forms of systemic oppression in your study, and what specific staffing and research design features prepare you to capture and interpret such phenomena with rigor and responsiveness?

And in our evaluation criteria we introduced a weighted category on “capacity” that included typical components like the team’s prior history of success, staffing allocations, access to data and sites, and a management plan. It also included this:

  • The research team possesses the requisite expertise in, experiences of, and/or sophistication with identifying and understanding issues of inequity and marginalization, and provides evidence of members’ ability and willingness to appropriately name and account for researcher positionality.

The range of responses these prompts yielded was striking. Many applicants couldn’t or didn’t address them at all, choosing instead to characterize the legitimacy of their proposed inquiry based on how well-practiced they were at removing preconceptions that would bias their interpretations. But the proposals from teams who demonstrated their capacity to read and respond to issues of systemic oppression in their work just jumped off the page. Theirs were careful, measured, insightful, and critical investigations of student-centered practices that might promote more equitable outcomes. The funds of knowledge they drew from, the responsiveness of their designs, and the intentionality of their interpretive methods demonstrated a kind of rigor that uses positionality as a strength. The ones that rose to the top were clear, and we were thrilled to award grants to the research teams at the High Tech High Graduate School of Education, the NYU Metro Center, and Rowan University.

Our current grantees are now beginning the second year of their two-year cycles of research at sites in Denver, New York, Philadelphia, and San Diego. We gather together twice per year to analyze data, discuss problems of practice, refine public-facing deliverables, and identify where the field of student-centered learning needs to go if it is to truly prioritize equity. And at each turn, we foreground our positionality both to frame the limitations of our view, and also to underscore where our expertise is most useful. This approach is as scientific as it is strategic, as political as it rigorous. Really, we’re all here because we’re from there. Conducting research with this positioning in mind helps us to name what we can see and move with purpose toward where we want to go.

Join us! We can’t wait to share with you what we’re finding and learning, and hear how it might resonate in your community. Click here to sign up for alerts about our studies and updates about the public release of findings at our convening in fall of 2020.

This blog is part of the Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative Equity Series by JFF and KnowledgeWorks.