Every September, Americans recognize Hispanic Heritage Month with the hopes of bringing the contributions of Latinos and Latinas to the forefront of public consciousness for the remaining 11 months. Although progress has been made when it comes to increasing the profile of Latinas in academia, they remain extremely underrepresented as professors, administrators, and researchers. This article honors some of the most noteworthy representatives with the hopes of not only celebrating their accomplishments, but also providing role models to women and men across racial and national barriers striving for a more diverse discourse.
- Sandra Cisneros:
While not a full-time professor, this MacArthur Fellow with at least two honorary doctorates and enough awards to snap a diamond-encrusted marble mantel in half still served as a visiting writer at numerous universities and a teacher, mentor, and counselor for high school dropouts. Sandra Cisneros’ bibliography includes poetry, novels and novellas, essays, and short stories, and literary types frequently cite her as the foremost voice in Chicana feminism. Despite this pigeonholing, however, works like The House on Mango Street and Caramelo still proffer universally human insight, solidifying the writer’s well-earned spot in the canon.
- Juliet Garcia:
Time named Juliet Garcia of University of Texas at Brownsville one of its “10 Best College Presidents” in 2009, and she earned the laudable administrative position two decades ago. Rising to the presidency smashed the glass ceiling for Latina women in academia, as she holds the honor of being the first to claim the title. Her time at UTB witnessed an impressive increase of Latino students working toward bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees, many of whom were the first in their families to pursue higher education.
- Josefina Castillo Baltodano:
Former Marian University president Josefina Castillo Baltodano currently serves as both the Founder and Executive Director of the Executive Leadership Academy and University of California at Berkeley’s Senior Associate of External Relations for the Center for Studies in Higher Education; oh, and she’s also on the Board of Directors for the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education and numerous other organizations. The Executive Leadership Academy, her brainchild, provides a solid, comprehensive foundation for training administrators for possible future academic president and vice president roles. It takes place once a year and, while its curriculum covers everything participants need to know, emphasizes the unique (and rapidly growing!) needs of an ethnically, racially, culturally, and nationally heterogeneous campus.
- Julia Alvarez:
Known mainly as the celebrated author of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, these days Julia Alvarez enjoys her life as a writer-in-residence at Middlebury College in Vermont. She felt the school opened her up to the wonders of the literary world, crediting her undergraduate years there with her decision to devote her time, energy, and talents to it, and sometimes teaches classes to share this passion. ALIANZA, Middlebury’s student organization celebrating and promoting Latin American culture, considers Alvarez their “godmother/madrina.”
- Hortensia Amaro:
Northeastern University boasts a highly influential voice in the public health sector, awarding her with the Assistant Dean position at its Bouve College of Health Sciences, the Directorship at the Institute on Urban Health Research, and a Distinguished Professorship of Health Sciences and Counseling Psychology. Hispanic Business named Hortensia Amaro one of its “100 Most Influential Hispanics” in 2005 for her work in researching health and medical issues amongst African-American and Latina women, specifically substance abuse, AIDS and HIV, psychological concerns, and possible discrepancies between wellness and race. In addition, she’s earned multiple titles and positions from the National Institute of Health, the National Academy of Science, the Department of Health and Human Services, and a litany of other prominent organizations.
- Frances Negron-Muntaner:
One of the most prominent voices in Latina LGBT culture doesn’t limit herself to just one discipline; this Renaissance woman expresses her views on politics, culture, sexuality, and more via writing, film, and art. Currently, Frances Negron-Muntaner acts as Columbia University’s Director of the Study of Ethnicity and Race and teaches English and comparative literature, and her cinematic works have earned her at least five notable fellowships. Her scholarship dissects both depictions and the role of Hispanic women in the media, with much of her research gleaned from a stint with National Association of Latino Independent Producers, which she once chaired and sat as a founding board member.
- Sylvia Puente:
Sylvia Puente works as the Executive Director of the Latino Policy Forum, following seven years as the Director of the Center for Metropolitan Chicago Initiatives at the University of Notre Dame and a plethora of awards, honors, and distinguished positions in the field of community service. LPF, to which she devotes herself full-time these days, mobilizes Illinois’ growing Hispanic community and draws up research and solutions for addressing issues concerning the demographic. Education in particular forms one of the most significant components of their plans, reaching out to students of all ages and working towards more opportunities and heightened end results.
- Ellen Ochoa:
NASA’s Johnson Space Center might not be “academia” in the traditional sense of the word, but nobody will dispute its status as a cornerstone of learning and inquiry in America (and beyond). First Latina woman in space Ellen Ochoa, a heavily-decorated astronaut, currently holds the Deputy Director position there, and continues presenting her research at academic conferences and publishing in peer-reviewed journals. During her career in spaceflight, she flew four missions as payload specialist and optics expert, developing technologies meant to improve the efficacy and efficiency of spacecraft.
- Tania Leon:
Few have brought the diversity and beauty of Latin American music to the forefront of scholarship like composer, conductor, Pulitzer nominee, Artistic Ambassador of American Culture, and founding member of the Dance Theatre of Harlem (among a veritable Marianas Trench full of awards and accolades) Tania Leon. While she teaches as a Distinguished Professor at Brooklyn College, the thoroughly influential musician and American Academy of Arts and Letters member, she has also lent her time to Harvard, Yaddo, the Bellagio Center, Musikschule, and Yale. Miraculously, Leon manages to squeeze in time advising other music educators so future generations know the love and passion songs can inspire.
- Monica F. Torres:
New Mexico State University’s head of the English Department, Monica F. Torres, furthers the discourse of Chicana, Latina, and Native American studies as the Ex-Officio Chair of Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social (“Women Active in Letters and Social Change”). Since 1982, it has organized activities and conferences – in addition to publishing its own journal – promoting the contributions of Hispanic and indigenous women to society, particularly within the humanities and social sciences. However, general issues relating to their centuries-long struggle for equal footing across disciplines are by no means ignored.