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'Take Action'

DATE: Saturday, June 5, 2021

"You are more than just survivors of a pandemic – you are our dreamers, our innovators, our family, our community and our world."– HCC professor Vanessa Martínez, recipient of the 2020 Marieb Award for Teaching Excellence

Vanessa Martinez gets ready to deliver her Commencement address to the classes of 2020 and 2021.

Professor Vanessa Martínez teaches anthropology at HCC and is coordinator of the HCC Honors Program. As the recipient of the 2020 Marieb Award for Teaching Excellence, she delivered the Commencement address below to classes of 2020 and 2021. Her speech was pre-recorded for inclusion in HCC's virtual Commencement ceremony on June 5.  Hola y Buenos Días


A few nights ago, my partner Jamie and I were snuggling with our little one, Alejandra, before bed when she spontaneously said "thank you." Overjoyed but confused, we looked at each other before asking "Alejandra, what are you saying thank you to us for exactly? And do you know what she says to us with a big smile on her face?  She says "Thank you for all the love you are giving me right now."  And I thought WOW. In that moment, I thought, she sees how much we love her. She sees all the hard work it takes to be parents. She sees all the hard work I do to be a #mamaLatinascholaractivistsuperhero.   

I know. That is a lot of pressure to put on a 3-year-old and yet her thank you seemed to be exactly what I needed at that moment. I mean, it is 2021 and the COVID-19 pandemic lingers. I am recording this speech because we cannot be together in large gatherings and so I am doing my best to share my pride and passion with the HCC graduates. 

Estoy haciendo todo lo posible para compartir mi orgullo y pasión con ustedes. 

Like the HCC graduates of 2020, I got to celebrate winning the Marieb teaching award with my nuclear family only with limited fanfare. HCC graduates of 2020 and 2021, I am part of you and you are part of me. Yo soy parte de ti y ustedes son parte de mi. 

To me, and likely to many of you, the challenges of 2020 and COVID just felt like it would swallow me whole and that I might not survive it. 2020 brought work stress like never before AND also an opportunity to spend more quality time with my nena. When childcare shut down for over six months, my 2-year-old just kept asking why she could not be with her friends, why we could not go to parks, and why our regular outings on the weekends became just playing in our pretty bare backyard. I thought I might lose my mind. Instead, I tried to enjoy every minute with her, practicing español more frequently. 

No fue fácil, pero tener más tiempo con ella fue muy especial.  

When I paid attention to the world outside my home drama, there was a similar emotional contrast. Some people ignored science, an uncoordinated and negligent response by our federal government allowed a virus to continue to wreak havoc and so many people have died. People of color were experiencing disproportionate loss at the hands of the virus, racist policing and so much more. All this is true and yet, there is good we can choose to invest in, even in the midst of overwhelming tragedy and trauma.  

Todo esto es cierto, y, sin embargo, hay cosas buenas a las que podemos dedicar nuestros esfuerzos incluso en medio de la tragedia y del trauma. 

2020 brought horrible harm and death but also moments of hope and action. Classes of 2020 and 2021, ¿Qué daño y qué esperanza ven en el mundo? What harm and what hope do you see in the world?  

In the midst of all the daño, I saw my nena and she was my hope. So, in August 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, my team of four women of color launched our nonprofit, The Women of Color Health Equity Collective. We decided to focus our efforts on creating a space where communities of color have better access to maternal health, therapeutic services and community support. 

I work every day to make the world a better place for my nena and other children and I start in my own community.  

¿Te atreves a soñar? Do you dare to dream? Do you dare to envision a more just and kinder world?

I want to share three steps you can take to change the world for the better by starting in your own community. Many of you may be like me and so my advice is to look inward and determine what your passions are, who will support them and investigate projects you can do in small ways to make great change. But how?  

Primero, comienza a investigar poco a poco quienes son ustedes. First, begin to investigate, little by little, who you are. 

As I often do in my classroom to help students explore how their own social identity can impact the way they see the world and the way the world sees them, I am asking you now, who are you and what type of change do you wish to make in this world? Do you love book clubs – why not start one with friends or at work focused on anti-racism and equity? Do you love working with kids and being creative – maybe you could start beautifying your neighborhood together, making murals and painting mailboxes and park benches?

Your self-reflection and taking small actions can have ripple effects you may not even see right away.   

Segundo, encuentra tus personas. Second, find your people. 

They will help you figure out your passions and be a support when you are so exhausted you can barely survive. In 2020, we all experienced significant isolation and loss. And yet, what I found was that even in the losses, surprising connections arose. I lost physical time with my parents and brother that live in Texas AND we all learned to treasure video chats and zoom dinners as a family. It is not the same and I cannot wait to hug them hopefully soon BUT it was better than pandemics before wifi. 

There were also several work acquaintances who upgraded from friendly to friends and then to chosen family – especially in times of need like during my husband's emergency surgery and my own health challenges. How unexpected and important those connections became. Several of them are my partners in research, teaching, program administration, training and more. I would not be who I am without my supportive family and friends.

What about you? Who are the people you can depend on and how do you know? Who are the people who help you with childcare, who you can share feelings with, like tears and laughter, who you can ask for help with school or to vent about work? These are the people who you could and can work with to build houses, visit the statehouse, present research on environmental hazards, and give out food at a local soup kitchen?  

Working in collaboration to change our world for the better is just so powerful. 

Finalmente, actúa en tu comunidad y concéntrate en tus áreas de fortaleza. Finally, take action in your community with your people by focusing on your areas of strength to make the greatest impact. 

As an academic, I am much more comfortable giving a speech like this one than writing a publishable paper, as sometimes I am required to do. In these situations, I rely on others to help me brainstorm, edit and polish my essays. Taking action in the world can and should start in your community. The actions can be big or small, they can be self-reflective or engaging of large groups. Remember, there are community agencies to assist, neighborhood mini libraries to build, book clubs to host, protests to plan, government policies to change, peer support groups to run and so much more.  And if all else fails and you need a little help, you can always reach out to me and I am happy to make connections.     

These steps are by no means exhaustive. In reality, I am just hoping that they spark creativity and move you to take action in your communities, especially in times of greatest tragedy when we all need it the most. 

To the graduates of 2020 and 2021, you are more than just survivors of a pandemic, ustedes son nuestros soñadores, nuestros innovadores, nuestra familia, nuestra comunidad y nuestro mundo – you are our dreamers, our innovators, our family, our community and our world.  

Gracias!

PHOTOS by CHRIS YURKo: HCC professor Vanessa Martínez delivers her Commencement address to the classes of 2020 and 2021.



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