Mujeres Talk: What the MALCS Summer Institute Gave Me: The Hope to Be Happy in Academia

"Outside of the Southwest: Chicana/Latina Activism During the Chicano Movement"Panel at 2012 Summer Institute
“Outside of the Southwest: Chicana/Latina Activism During the Chicano Movement” Panel at 2012 Summer Institute

I felt like I was in the Chicana Feminist’s Hollywood at my first MALCS Summer Institute. Everywhere I looked there were scholars whose books I had tirelessly taken notes on only weeks and days before arriving. At the beginning of the summer, my advisor had decided that we should focus our independent study on Chicana feminist history. It was in these books where I read about the founding of MALCS and what it meant historically to have an organization that focused on the intellectual needs and accomplishments of Chicanas and Latinas in general. Knowing the context in which the organization was formed contributed to the awe I felt at the opening ceremony and in the days that followed as I met, in person, women whose scholarship inspired me.

My proposal to discuss excerpts from my thesis research at MALCS had been accepted so I was scheduled to present my findings on a panel moderated by Maylei Blackwell. I was very nervous in the days preceding my presentation because I was worried about getting critical comments that would not be constructive, but as I attended other panels those feelings waned. I realized that the intimidatingly interrogative attitude present at other conferences and venues was not here. Audience members were not trying to trip up presenters, but instead genuinely trying to help the presenters to improve their work. There were no “got ya” questions, and audience members offered additional layers of analysis and different conceptual framework to help develop their projects. Moreover, it was incredibly refreshing not to have to defend the validity of my research methods or the value of my work. MALCS was the perfect place for an emerging scholar like me to get helpful feedback and feel comfortable and confident at the same time. It was like I had found the academic family of my dreams!

It was not only the academic sessions that provided empowering interactions. At MALCS, everything from breakfast at the dining hall, to a ride back from the Tortuga Awards, to the Noche de Cultura provided opportunities for a graduate student like myself to interact with top scholars in my field, up and coming faculty, and other graduate students. These academics offered incredible insight into what it means to be a woman of color in their departments in their varied regions of the country. Connections with other graduate students were also invaluable. My second day in Santa Barbara, I met Nora Salas, another graduate student in History from the Midwest who is using primary sources very similar to those that I am employing in my work. We found that we could be a great help to each other! But for the Summer Institute, I would not have met my peer or known that the historical documents she showed me even existed.

As I sat on my panel together with three phenomenal scholars Nora Salas, Norma Cardenas, and Sonia Mariscal, who research Chicanas outside of the Midwest, and listened to the ways in which they were re-conceptualizing the Chicana/o movement, it dawned on me: we were the future of MALCS. One day we would be the awesome professors at this conference helping to pave the way for others.  It was almost overwhelming to think of filling the shoes of the women who founded this organization and those that have kept it alive for the past 30 years, but it was also incredibly empowering! This is what happened to me at MALCS: I could finally see myself in academia—and happy in it! Upon deciding to pursue graduate school I imagined myself as professor, but the politics of academia seemed like they could be incredibly exhausting and discouraging at times. I wondered how I would handle it all, but MALCS gave me a safe-haven where I could see that I could be in the profession, have my work appreciated, and find a community of support. I relish this new professional life, knowing that I will  always have MALCS to rejuvenate me. I came to MALCS excited to meet people and to see Santa Barbara, and I left with a new sense of purpose and direction for my work. I cannot wait to contribute to the organization and, moreover, bring the fire and passion I found at MALCS to women at The Ohio State University and to the Midwest.

Delia Fernandez is a graduate student in History at The Ohio State University and a new member of MALCS.