Colorado Mountain College club advocates for representation
Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social chapter celebrates diversity amongst academics and activists
Providing encouragement through representation not only helps members of the Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social (MALCS) chapter at Colorado Mountain College, but also strengthens the diversification of the Roaring Fork Valley Community, the organization’s faculty adviser said.
Leticia Burbano de Lara, an Associate Professor in Education at CMC and better known to her students and MALCS members as Leti, started the CMC chapter back in 2017. MALCS in English translates to Women Active in Letters and Social Change. Burbano de Lara, who is originally from Costa Rica, began the chapter after attending a nationwide summer institute at Sonoma State University with some of her students who gave a workshop presentation demonstrating the strategies they use to teach emerging bilinguals.
“When we came back the students had such a rich experience of connecting with other women, Latina, Chicana, Afro-Latina, gender-nonconforming activists and academics that they said ‘Leti, we need to create a chapter,’ and that’s how it started,” Burbano de Lara said.
Burbano de Lara is also a MALCS At-Large representative for the national organization in addition to her role at CMC. The students who were with her for that institute and helped found the chapter are now teachers within the community. The group is open to all students, but is designed to celebrate self-identifying Chicanas, Latinas, Native American, Indigenas women and gender non-conforming academics and activists. Burbano de Lara said that in addition to discussion about research texts, the chapter meetings consist of conversations that revolve around feminist theory and ways to advocate for one’s self.
“Because our personal experiences although they are individual, they are also collective… Because we need safe spaces to talk about them. We need also safe spaces to celebrate accomplishments, but also to heal together. Because these topics are seldom addressed in classrooms…we want to create a more robust support system,” Burbano de Lara said.
During these meetings the group uses a translanguaging technique, which means there’s usually English and Spanish spoken, but is coupled with the intent for inclusivity for individuals who are mono-lingual. Luz Galaviz, a 2020 CMC graduate and alumni member of MALCS, said translanguaging is a technique she also implements in her kindergarten classroom at Highland Elementary School in Rifle. Galaviz moved from Mexico to Colorado around the first grade and said she remembers what it’s like to not be able to understand or communicate in a classroom.
“I have a couple (of students) who are newcomers, so just came from Mexico, when the class is predominantly in English they kind of just stare at you. But when you kind of throw in your own translanguaging they seem to understand at least the gist of it…we always have those one-on-one conversations to go a little bit further,” Galaviz said.
Burbano de Lara said studies show bilingual learners don’t code switch when speaking in one language or the other, but are pulling from their entire linguistic repertoire. Translaguage helps the fluidity of a conversation instead of pausing every time a word escapes someone, due to the limitations of speaking in one language, Burbano de Lara said. Utilizing the technique is an excellent way to expand the means of communication and help further develop speaking and listening abilities in more than one language, Burbano de Lara said. It plays into MALCS meetings by honoring the native languages of those who are a part of the conversation.
“Research in second language acquisition has told us that the brain of the bilingual learner or a bilingual person goes back and forth between the languages…that’s why when you are speaking in English and then you don’t know how to say a word in English because you don’t have it in your repertoire, your brain picks immediately from what you have…for my case in Spanish, but it could be for any language,” Burbano de Lara said.
Galaviz said something MALCS does is connect students who had a similar experience as she did as an emerging English learner when she first came to the U.S. and helps grow a specific network that feels strong and supportive.
“In the MALCS I really felt like a lot of people were connected to that experience that I felt coming here in second grade…just left out and not understanding anything, and kind of being a little bit of an outcast,” Galaviz said.
Karen Gonzalez is a senior within the CMC education program at the Vail campus and a current MALCS member. Gonzalez was born in Mexico but grew up in New Jersey before moving to Colorado around 13 years ago. She said she feels a sense of belonging and better understanding of herself by being a part of the MALCS chapter, and hopes to be able to provide the same for her future students who may also be new to the U.S.
“I’m just glad to hear that more and more schools are opening up to this bilingual setting which gives students the opportunity to not only speak more than one language, but give students who are native Spanish speakers…the chance to use their language. I’m glad that more and more teachers are opening up to the idea that their home language is important and we should be bringing that into our classrooms,” Gonzalez said.
Burbano de Lara said within her classes and MALCS, she is often the first Latina teacher or professor her students have ever had. She said the group’s conversations and ideologies are about them working together and recognizing other strong women or non-gender conforming individuals who are looking to make social change. Meetings are currently only being held virtually because of the pandemic, but Burbano de Lara said the conversation shared remains intentional and powerful.
“It has been different. It is still a safe space because we come with this mindset that this is a labor of love to understand our lived experiences through our minds, our hearts and our bodies. But because of the pandemic, students now are having different work schedules in (order to) support (their) families, it has been difficult to have more participation,” Burbano de Lara said.
There is a la Ceremonia Estola for members of MALCS when they graduate. Galaviz said although she had a virtual ceremony, it was a special experience to have her parents put the estola on her and pay tribute to her heritage.
“For our graduation we had our estolas and it was such a cool experience because we got to represent both our awesome cultures being Mexican-American, showing that I felt like (for) our ancestors, parents and our homeland we wore that with pride,” Galaviz said.
Galaviz and Gonzalez said they hope to be resources for not just their students, but immigrant families as well. Galaviz said her mom tells her she isn’t just teaching the students but also serves as a point of connection for parents who only speak spanish. She said it’s necessary for everyone to acknowledge the privilege they have so they can better understand their neighbors, or people with different backgrounds in the community.
“We all have some sort of privilege even if we are undocumented…I think MALCS really opened that up to me in a way too because I feel like sometimes I start to think of disadvantages that we have and things like that, but at the end of the day we really do have privilege over something and (it’s about) how you use that too. How we communicate that to other people, what we use it for, how we serve other people with it, and that sort of thing,” Galaviz said.
If you would like to learn more about MALCS or become a part of the organization, the CMC chapter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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