It’s Official

Photo credit:  Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

First Graduate of Latina/o Studies Program

After just three years in existence, the Latina/Latino Studies (LLS) program is gaining traction at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The program is celebrating growth in class enrollment, as well as this semester’s graduation of the first student with a minor in the LLS program.

Maritza Gordillo, a double major in sociology and foreign languages with an emphasis in Spanish, will graduate in December. She shared what made this program so valuable to her, including finding her career and her identity.

Currently planning to apply to graduate school to earn a master’s in social work, Gordillo wants to work with those involved in domestic violence.

“I know domestic violence is a problem in many cultures, including my own, and I want to help people find a better way to resolve issues,” said Gordillo. “The master’s degree will give me the knowledge to do that.”

The Latino Community had been advocating for an academic program, and Miguel Carranza, Ph.D., director of the interdisciplinary Latina/Latino Studies program and professor of Sociology and Latina/Latino Studies, was hired to start one. Its mission is to be the leading center of teaching, learning and research on Latino/Chicano populations in the Midwest.

“The goal for the program is to offer an undergraduate, and eventually a graduate degree in Latino Studies,” said Norma Cantú, Ph.D., professor in LLS and the English department. “This will prepare students to go into any field – law, medicine, psychology, education – with a strong understanding of the Latina/Latino reality in the United States.”

Cantú noted that a student who completed the coursework for the LLS minor in May 2014 – prior to the time the program was official – was not designated as the first student to graduate with the minor designation.

Gordillo wanted a career in which she could help people, but initially she wasn’t sure about a direction. Once she took “Latin America Refugees in the U.S.,” a class taught by Theresa Torres, Ph.D., associate professor in LLS and department of sociology, she knew where she was meant to be.

“Dr. Torres talked about our migration from all areas, all countries, and it sparked an interest in me. It provided the missing piece of the puzzle of life for me,” said Gordillo. “I knew then that sociology – a way to understand and connect with people – was what I wanted to do.”

According to Gordillo, Cantú and Torres pushed her to do more – like continue her education, maybe become a professor – since joining the program.

“They have been wonderful mentors, great connectors to our culture and my ‘madrinas’ (godmothers),” said Gordillo.

“I was born and raised in Kansas City and most of my history classes were about European history with no mention of the Latino history,” said Gordillo. “Learning about my past has shown me how important it is to know who I am and where my ancestors are from. I realize how important we as a people are to this culture and this country. It gave me a sense of identity.

“I am able to embrace both cultures and take pride in that.”

Gordillo said Carranza was another supporter who taught her so much about the barriers she may face.

“In discussing our history, he shared some of those barriers Latinos encounter such as – dropping out of school, teen pregnancies or high incarceration rates, and discussed the reasons why such patterns continue to happen in our communities,” she said. “Now that I am aware of the issues, discussions like these have given me the tools to overcome barriers for my success.”

Gordillo said she encourages all students to take classes through the program whether they are Latina/Latino or not. Latinos are the fastest growing population group in the U.S., and she believes that a knowledge of other cultures is vital for anyone to become a well-rounded person.

“All ethnic studies will help me, and others, develop as an individual,” said Gordillo. And to potential LLS students, she had a special message.

“I want incoming Latina and Latino students to feel the sense of identity and confidence that I feel since going through the program. LLS has given me my identity and sense of confidence. Everywhere I go, I am now sure of myself.”

The program is teaching the community about the contributions of Latinas and Latinos, as well as about Latino culture. One of the classes – “Crossing Boundaries: The Latino Immigrant Experience” – is now an Anchor II course, and there were approximately 150 students in the class this semester. Other LLS classes scheduled for the spring include “Introduction to Latina/o Literature” and “Latina Feminisms.”

Gordillo has a specific desire for the program – and a parting thought.

I would like the program to offer a major in Latina/Latino Studies. As, for me, with the family I’ve gained with the professors in the program, I’ve made it this far and I know I will make it in graduate school.”

|Wandra Brooks Green, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

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