It was her experience as a Solagueña woman studying abroad in Oxford, England that inspired Daina Sanchez '11 to research her ethnic community. Oxford locals failed to perceive her as "American," despite the fact that she grew up in Los Angeles. She saw a need for more academic research and conversation about Americans who, like her family, emigrated from Oaxaca. Sanchez began her project as a participant in USD's McNair Program. She now continues her research at UCI, where she is pursuing a PhD in Anthropology.
Daina, as a McNair Scholar, you had the opportunity to work closely with Sociology Professor Michelle Camacho, PhD. How did mentorship play a role in your education at USD?
Taking Dr. Camacho's class was probably one of the best decisions I made as an undergrad. She opened a whole new world for me from the moment I met her. In our first class, she discussed her research, which was based in Oaxaca, the state my parents emigrated from. Before that, I had no idea anyone studied people like us. Eventually, she e-mailed me saying I should think about participating in USD's McNair Scholars Program. She helped me develop my project and suggested authors whose works I should read. More importantly, she encouraged me to develop my own opinions.
Dr. Camacho's mentorship was instrumental in me applying to graduate schools. She met with me almost weekly the first semester of senior year, making sure I had a binder of potential schools, and helping me work through my application materials. When the acceptances came, she helped me weigh my options. She's been encouraging throughout the process, talking openly about her own experiences as a graduate student. I still find myself texting and emailing her during my grad school crises and she doesn't fail to email, text, or call me back to help me work through it.
"I was determined to give a voice to immigrants like my parents who are seemingly invisible in the United States and consequently abroad."
Your McNair research focused on cultural identity among Zapotec immigrants in Los Angeles. Why did you choose your topic?
At USD, I was a member of the Native American Student Organization (NASO), the Association of Chicana Activists, and a mentor in the American Indian Recruitment Program (AIR). Through these activities, I met the people who would become my best friends during undergrad. My involvement in NASO and AIR helped make me more aware of my indigeneity. I didn't really think about it growing up, despite living in a trilingual household in Los Angeles where English, Spanish and Zapotec were spoken. Having Dine and Tohono O'odam friends (Roberta Garcia and Wynona Peters) made me realize that Native Americans did not disappear like my elementary school history books made it seem, and that we actually had a great deal in common--besides being indigenous to the Americas.
We also understand that you were able to present your research at several conferences. How would you describe the value of undergraduate research?
Presenting at conferences was invaluable. I was able to get feedback on my work as an undergraduate and also bring awareness about indigenous migrants to conference-goers—who were often in disbelief about the amount of discrimination within the Latino community. I think undergraduate research is really important, especially for those who want to pursue master's or PhD programs. When you apply to graduate school, you need to propose a project in order to be accepted. I proposed to study my own community, which I had done for McNair and my undergrad Ethnic Studies thesis. I plan to continue with this work.
You are pursuing a PhD at UCI. I understand your goal is to approach social problems from an "auto-ethnographic perspective." Can you explain that for us? Tell us a little about your program.
Mary Louise Pratt defines autoethnography as "instances in which colonized subjects undertake to represent themselves in ways to engage with the colonizer's own terms." Through my research, I hope to demonstrate how I perceive the world as a second-generation Solagueña woman having been born, raised, and educated in the United States and exposed to the mainstream American perspective (and treatment) of indigenous peoples, immigrants, and Latinos.
My program is in the field of anthropology, which is a completely new discipline for me. I just finished my first quarter of the Proseminar Series, which is our version of introductory graduate anthropology. I plan to take courses in fieldwork methodology, identity formation, indigeneity, and immigration and the second-generation.
USD was recently named the top university for undergraduate study abroad participation. While at USD, you studied abroad at Oxford. How did this enhance your education and personal experiences as an undergraduate?
Although Oxford was not my first experience in Europe, it was my first time staying in one European city for an extended period. My expected culture shock was multiplied because of the locals' inability to understand that I was American, because I was not White. I did not fit their idea of an "American," because of my indigenous features and Spanish surname. This led me to the realization that the idea most foreigners (and even Americans) have of the United States and its inhabitants is not the same as the one I experienced growing up in Los Angeles among diverse groups of people.
I became aware that a main factor in the confusion was the reality that people like me did not have the means to study abroad, much less travel abroad. These realizations forced me to contemplate my own ethnic and national identity and to question my position within the United States and the world. Coupled with my discovery in Dr. Camacho's class the previous semester—that studying people from Oaxaca on both sides of the United States-Mexico border was a valid academic venture—these experiences provided me with inspiration to participate in the McNair program, so that I could research the experiences of my own community—immigrants from San Andrés Solaga. I was determined to give a voice to immigrants like my parents who are seemingly invisible in the United States and consequently abroad.
- Anne Malinoski ‘11