Latinx Heritage Month (observed September 15-October 15) signifies a time to recognize, honor, and celebrate the resilience, contributions, and cultures of Latinx, Chicanx, and all Latinx-identified folx from America and with ancestors from Mexico, the Caribbean, Spain, and Central and South America. 

In our Q&A below, you’ll hear directly from Latinx-identified graduate students who share their stories of perseverance and the various ways in which their culture has informed their experiences at Berkeley and beyond. For them, celebrating Latinx heritage means recognizing the importance of their community, identity and the significance of staying connected.

Miguel Samano
Miguel Samano (they/them)
Ph.D. student, English

Maura McDonagh headshot
Maura McDonagh (they/she)                              Ph.D. student, Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute

Steven Herrera Tenorio
Steven Herrera Tenorio (he/him)                              Ph.D. student, Sociology & Demography

Q: Tell us about your experience as a graduate student at Berkeley. Have you encountered any challenges? If so, how were/are you able to push past them?

Miguel: I’m a first-generation low-income Chicanx-identified genderqueer student, who used to be large-bodied and recently realized they are neurodivergent. My first semester here, I had trouble connecting with others in my department, both students and faculty. A group of other Latinx graduate students in Comparative Literature included me in their group chat, and that helped me achieve a sense of community. Later on, in the spring, I also focused making friends with other students of color and members of the queer community in other departments, as well as off campus. Funding to form research working groups on campus (transnational ethnic studies, relational Asian American and Latinx, and Queer of Color) has also helped me form community with others outside my department. Outside of my research, I’ve found community as a board member for the Graduate Association of Latinx Students, and generally by being involved with the Chicanx Latinx Student Development Office.

Steven: Integrating into the culture (UC-Berkeley, Bay Area, and California) was difficult to get over, especially as someone who grew up in rural North Carolina. Further, being away from family and friends I grew up with was challenging, especially because the norm was not to live so far away, especially across state lines. I was able to push past these challenges by making efforts to call friends and family weekly, scheduling plans ahead of time whenever I returned home to NC, and learning to replicate foods I enjoyed eating from home.

Q: As a Latinx-identifying student, you contribute to the rich, diverse culture that makes Berkeley so unique. How has your cultural identity affected your experience as a graduate student?  

Miguel: My research interests are directly related to my identity and circumstances growing up as a mixed-nationality Latinx person whose native language was not English. Since starting out focused on Chicanx art and literature as an undergraduate, I’ve since broadened out to Latinx studies more broadly and have also adopted a relational approach, where I compare Asian American art and literature to Latinx. Outside of research, my cultural identity has inspired me to be involved in campus advocacy, especially around helping Berkeley reach Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) status: currently, I am involved with the Latinx Thriving Institution Steering Committee, the board of the Graduate Association of Latinx Students (GALS), and the Chicanx/Latinx Standing Committee.

Maura: My Mexican-/Irish-American family has always ingrained in me the importance of community. Coming to graduate school, and being further from my parents, sister, and siblings than ever before, I found that surrounding myself with other Latine students was key to my sense of belonging. I did this mostly though joining the Latino/a Association of Graduate Students in Engineering & Science (LAGSES) and find that it bleeds into how I approach my science and academic work: I see it as a collaboration with my coworkers only made better with laughter, music, and of course, great food.

Steven: Growing up Latinx in North Carolina is vastly different from growing up Latinx in California. I think there is a unique historical legacy of Latinx activism that has not been apparent in my upbringing back home, and there are distinct leaders (e.g., Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, etc.) that Californians can name without hesitation. This has complicated my relationship with my Latinx identity, as moving here and seeing an incredible amount of tenured Latinx scholars and successful undergraduate students has affirmed my understanding that the Latinx identity is not monolithic, very diverse, and not a setback for educational advancement, which was previously understood as a latent characteristic for my struggles in North Carolina. It is very inspirational as a graduate student interested in Latinx populations.

Q: In big or small ways – how do you celebrate, recognize your heritage?

Miguel: Once a month I like to go to Baile, a community gender-affirming salsa and bachata night held at La Peña Cultural Center. I also try to attend, when possible, events at the Latinx Research Center. In my free time, I like to take trips to the SF Mission District and to check out local Latinx-owned restaurants, especially panaderias, taquerias, and pupuserias.

Maura: I celebrate my heritage in small ways by making myself food when I’m feeling homesick: frijoles pintos, fresh salsa, and huevos rancheros are all regular menu items for me! I love also meeting other graduate students with roots in Latin America and exploring cuisine around Berkeley and Oakland.

Steven: My mom volunteers a significant amount of time with the North Carolina Association of United Guatemalans, and thus joining efforts with other organizations that celebrate Latinx history, culture, and music, I often get reminders about live Facebook events that I attend to keep me connected with my community. Further, I am becoming increasingly involved with the Latinx undocumented community through student programming in my role as a Diversity and Community Fellow this year.