By Belle Vang, COSS Communications Student Assistant

Dr. Cristina Herrera, Chicano & Latin American Studies (CLAS) Professor and Department Chair, grew up in Oxnard, California with her first-generation Chicanx parents.  She says this has greatly influenced her connection between her Chicana identity and activities in and out of the classroom.  

“I can’t separate who I am from how I see the world, and this is especially true in the classroom.”  

Although Dr. Herrera is a literature scholar trained in her degrees with an emphasis in literature, she specializes in Chicana and Latina writing.  She encourages students to immerse themselves in literature written by writers who look like them and share similar names, histories, and experiences with them.  Herrera highlights the importance of literary representation and the power of being knowledgeable about oneself’s rich histories that deserve attention and respect. 

“It’s important that our curriculum reflects the realities of our students’ lives, so I remind my students that they come from a long line of powerful, talented writers and artists.”

Dr. Herrera in her important role of aunt and godmother

Her cultural empowerment derived from her mother and grandparents who taught her what it meant to be a proud, fierce, strong, and brave Chicana.  Her grandmother, Concepción Monárrez (featured image), taught Herrera what it meant to survive, resist, and make yourself visible when others refused to see you, through storytelling from her time before the U.S.  It was through her cherished conversations with her grandmother that Herrera found her true connection to Mexico.

The close connection to her family instilled a responsibility in Herrera to teach youth that everyone has an obligation to “defend and support the Hispanic community when they’re under attack.”

Despite the controversies encountered every day, she encourages students the way her grandfather’s wise words of love encouraged her “siempre adelante,” as she translates it, “continue moving ahead.”   She relays the message and opportunities to students by teaching them that resistance exemplifies strength.  

“Strength comes in a number of ways: by being compassionate, kind, and speaking up when necessary.  For me, that’s what it means to be Chicana: to be resistant when all the odds are stacked against you.”