Respect for Mexicano Families: An Interview with Martina Miranda-Lugo

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Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico and immigrated
to the U.S. 21 years ago. She has
lived in Urbana for the last 13 years. In
1995, when Martina arrived with her family
to the area, she recalls there were no
Mexican markets where she could buy tortillas
or other familiar Mexican staples. But
today, there is a strong Mexicano community
in the area, evidenced by the growing
number of Mexican restaurants and Spanish-
speaking activities.
Despite this reality, when university
administrators speak about diversity, they
tend to concentrate primarily on
White/Black relations, while the Latino
immigrant community remains invisible
and unacknowledged. Yet, as Martina is
quick to acknowledge, there are Mexican
immigrants, like her, who have lived for
generations in the United States. They
come in every skin color. And they identify
as Mexican-Americans or Chicana/os or
Latina/os; but seldom do they call themselves
Martina feels a strong connection to this
region. It is here that she builds liaisons,
works arduously, and learns actively from
Latino families to better understand the
issues they face today in the local community.
Over the years, she has worked as a
childcare coordinator, Spanish liaison,
Spanish teacher, teacher assistant, preschool
teacher, recruiter for the Migrant Summer
School Program, and as a community volunteer.
Currently, Martina teaches Spanish
as a second language to K-8th graders, in
addition to being the ESL liaison for Unit 4
Early Childhood.
Contrary to demeaning views of Mexican
women, Martina has experienced first
hand,the power and strength of Mexicana
mothers in Champaign-Urbana. When their
voices have been silenced, the women have
joined together to demand that schools provide
inclusive spaces for their children.
They have strengthened community, to better
organize politically. They have demanded
bilingual coordinators in the schools and
culturally relevant activities such as school
plays, anchored in Mexican cultural traditions.
Together, the women continue to
work to hold educators accountable for the
quality of education their children receive.
However, despite the women’s courageous
efforts, Martina explains there have
been repercussions. At times, this has led
to not being invited to school events,
which they themselves initiated. Through
their efforts, the Mexicano families in the
area have worked in solidarity to organize
cultural events and celebrations in alternative
spaces. Last November, they sponsored
a Día de los Muertos (Day of the
Dead) event in the community—celebrated
in the traditional style of many communities
in Mexico.
Martina is deeply concerned about the
ways in which symbols are used to stereotype
Mexicanas/os (i.e., sombreros or maracas on
ads), particularly when immigrants from
European countries are not subjected to such
distortions. Even more disheartening is the
impact of such stereotypes on immigrant
children. For this reason, she believes that
educators have an important responsibility to
include the community in educational decisions
that directly impact their children.
Those in positions of influence cannot
assume to be experts in community matters.
They cannot speak for the people, for the
people can speak for themselves.
Martina often wonders why the University,
situated in the heart of Champaign-
Urbana, does not interact and collaborate
more with the local community.
Why wait until Latina/o students are completing
high school to include them in
outreach efforts? Why not make university
resources more accessible throughout
their education? Many families must work
2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet. The university
could work with Mexicano families
to advocate for better working conditions,
create educational programs, and
develop recreational activities that support
families and their children.
Martina has no doubt that there are
good intentions by university administrators,
faculty, and officials from school districts
and other related units, but the world
is full of good intentions. Instead, Martina
advocates tirelessly for educators who are
conscientious and actively engaged with
families, who truly seek to understand the
diversity and complexity of immigrant families.
Most importantly, we must all
acknowledge the agency and wisdom that
Mexicano communities possess, rather than
assuming they cannot think for themselves.

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