Elisa Velasco, She/Her, Pomona College, Norman, Oklahoma

M: Why did you choose CLS as your major?
E: I took CLS because well I came in as a politics major but even within the field of politics, I knew I wanted to focus on marginalized communities quickly, like immigrants or other Latinx people. And I just felt like in the CLS field I was more connected with students and professors. I think a huge thing was also that for the first time I was seeing, like, Latinx representation in academia, and that was something that was really impactful for me and drew me to the major.

M: Do you remember what class it was? Like? drew you in?
E:Oh, yeah. It was my first semester, I got so lucky. And I was in Gilda Ochoa's ID1, which was Chicanx/Latinx in Los Angeles, a freshman writing seminar. And I was taking a politics class at the same time. I was taking that class and that's when I knew CLS was for me. I just remember wanting to cry every day or crying every day because I felt so happy and seen and safe. And so yeah, I was definitely Ochoa was one of the main reasons why I decided to major
M: What's your research interest? Like? What's, the thesis on because it's thesis season?
E: Yeah so my research interests, I focus a lot of my work on education. And so my thesis is about looking at how the lack of Latinx representation in the school curriculum affects student experiences in the school. So that was kind of the first part. But then the second part is talking with students about how they reimagine history and learning spaces and using their input to create a Latinx history curriculum that I'm actually going to teach in the summer. Well it's like a Latinx history/ community engagement/ college access program that uses my interviews with students, and what they say to influence the curriculum. For example, one of the students was talking about how they just hate doing textbook work, and that that's all they did in their history class, and they said “I wish we could have guest speakers around.” When I was making this program, I put in guest speakers. People talked about how they want to know about the history of all the Latin American countries and how those specific people got here. So we have a whole lesson on that.
M: Wow. That's crazy. That's so cool.
E: Thank you. Thank you.
M: So like, tell me a little bit more about your future plans after graduating?
E: So I got two fellowships to teach that to create and teach that summer program that was called Sin Limites.
M: Okay!
E: Yeah, and I'll be partnering with this organization, Oklahoma called Dream Action Oklahoma and so I'll be doing that in the Summer Teaching and it's gonna be about 20 students, 20 high school freshmen and sophomores. And then after that, I actually just accepted today. I'm gonna go to the Dominican Republic and do a Youth Initiative program with the Peace Corps.
M: And how long is that going to be for?
E: It's two years minimum.
M: How do you feel about that?
E: I'm so nervous. I've never been away from home for so long. I mean California. I'm from Oklahoma. So California was far. But I have family here. DR. That's, that's even further. And I don't know got no family there. But I'm really excited. And I think I like this specific program, because it's very community centered, like, I'm going to be helping the teachers and whatever the community and the youth want in terms of programming, like, that's what I will help them on. And all the people running the program will also like be Dominican. So I like that I don't..I feel like I'm gonna be putting myself to good use.
M: Nice. And I heard from a little birdie, that you went to Puerto Rico. How was Puerto Rico.
E: Yeah. So I went to the Society for Cross Cultural Research conference and I presented my thesis work but I kind of talked more about critical race theory bans and states like Oklahoma, where I'm from and how those bans are affecting the classroom. Because there's now a lot of censorship and yeah, teachers, teachers are getting suspended and fired for talking about racism. An issue, and that's one of the main reasons why I am doing the program in the summer, also to teach Latino kids history that they're probably not going to be able to learn in school anymore. They already weren't gonna learn the history right now even more so is illegal.
M: Do you have any advice for CLS students or anyone looking into cls?
E: Don't be afraid to do it. There are opportunities for you after graduation. Like the major teaches you how to do a lot and I feel like whatever your specific interest is, you can find it in the major. Like I really focus on education, but there are other people that focus more on like art, and like Chicano Latino studies or psych, or like, doing more research things. I'm more interested in community organizing. And I've learned a lot about that through the major. So go for it.
M: Do you feel like you had any achievements, like throughout undergrad? Like, are there any things that you feel like the CLS department like, helped you accomplish and stuff?
E: Yeah, I mean, definitely, like research, Ochoa was supporting me a lot with that. I worked with PAYS students through the PAYS program at the Draper center, did the SURP Pomona research like the summer undergraduate research program? And then also, she helped me a lot and other CLS majors that were like seniors helped me get into the Mellon Mays research fellowship. And so that's where I left the major as well. I feel like there's a lot of opportunities for mentorship to me because the major is so small, and a lot of the students take the same classes. And so, yeah, definitely those opportunities and then yeah, also, it was Ochoa that told me about the fellowship, the Napier Initiative fellowship that's helping me fund my program for the summer.
M: Nice. What is your favorite memory? Being in the CLS department?
E: Well, I remember one of my favorite memories in the CLS class was that first class, which was, it was the last day and it was in this classroom actually. We just started playing Mana and we had this big white sheet. And we drew a big butterfly, and I'll put our hands on wrote like.Just really nice messages on it. And, like, I remember crying in that class. um, and then also another good memories. Over COVID I took Martha Gonzalez's Fandango as a Decolonial Tool. And you know, that was a class where she made us move and get up and dance. And I feel like, during that time, so much of my learning was just looking at a screen writing reading, like frying my brain. Yeah, like she had us moving, which was really nice. And I feel like it was therapeutic even during times and COVID.And then, and then also, I just love any of the like, gatherings like the course registration things, having all the professor's be together, and also the students together. It's nice.
M: What has been kind of like that determining factor of like, doing your education, like into, like your thesis into education?
E:I think a lot of it has to do with where I came from, Oklahoma, and how different the education experience I had there versus here was, and knowing that that is because of so many education disparities, that specifically affect marginalized communities like immigrant communities. Yeah, I think that's like, the main reason why and because in my CLS classes, I realized how much history is not taught to us and how learning that history and having a safe space where you can learn can affect your identity formation and affect you feeling comfortable in your identity, right? Because I definitely feel a lot more connected now that I'm here at Pomona around more like, my experiential knowledge and my family's is validated.
M:Facts I love that. Good. We started like, I think, like five more minutes. We're still good though. Like what? You literally hit it and I was like, oh, like okay. Let's see what else
M:Yeah. Okay. Anything else to say? Yeah, that's it. Last thoughts?
E:Just that I'm thankful for the department. And I feel like it has sustained me here because this school is really hard. And yeah, it's nice to have a space where there's people around you with similar experiences. The senior seminar class, too, because we've been taking the same classes for four years. We all have projects that are really personal to us, and that's why I'm really excited about the thesis presentations too because I just love everyone's projects and they're also some of my best friends.