Student Feature: Imelda Cortez

May 19, 2020

My name is Imelda G. Cortez, I am the eldest of three girls, first generation college student, from a mixed status family, and identify as a Queer Chicana. For the majority of my life, my parents were undocumented, and when I turned 21 years old, I was able to finally petition to have my parents gain status in the United States. This has been one of my highest accomplishments in my life related to my family because it gave me a sense of providing security for them.  For the majority of my educational career, there was always a gray cloud following my family and I. The uncertainty of knowing if after school I would see my parents were always there.  The uncertainty of receiving phone calls from unknown numbers and the immediate thought being that my parents have been “picked up” was constant.  (Picked up by border patrol). Till this very day, I continue to have this fear of receiving calls from unknown numbers...the anxiety never goes away. 

Imelda Cortez

I was in 7th grade when Pat “Nana" Lapan adopted us.  By “adopted” I mean, my siblings and I started attending the Lapan College Club.  At first, I didn’t really understand exactly what the purpose was.  I knew it was an after school program to provide opportunity to students in high school and college. I didn’t know exactly what “opportunity” entailed. I was always a good student and seemed to be on track.  My parents always told me that education is most important and that they are making sacrifices for me to be successful. When I was in high school, I decided that I wanted to stop being a student in the Advanced Placement courses and be a student in Culturally Relevant classes.

This was perhaps one of the best decisions that I made during my high school experience. The critical thinking skills that I gained in the Culturally Relevant classroom were the tools that I needed to navigate college in a way that I felt like I belonged there. It wasn’t until I was graduating high school, that I truly understood what it meant to have the financial and emotional support that "Nana" and the Lapan College Club instilled in us. 

Imelda Cortez

Because of the Culturally Relevant classes in high school, I was connected to a local grassroots organization at UArizona that works towards the empowerment and self-determination of people in the neighborhood that I grew up in. They taught me how to be a community organizer, how to build food producing gardens in urban spaces, and most importantly, they taught me to be a leader in my community. With the continuous support of the Lapan Sunshine Foundation and especially Ms. Lucy Kin (Executive Director of Lapan College Club) and Mr. Voelkel (Director of Media and Special Projects), who had been with me since I was in preschool, (They were both teachers within the Tucson Unified School District), I don’t think that I would have had the success at UArizona as I did.

Throughout my college career I worked organizing youth in the Wakefield Neighborhood and beyond to build leadership skills, organizational skills, and empowering them to continue to change their communities for the better by employing sustainability practices within their families. This was in addition to being a full-time student and working part time at the UArizona bookstore. Although I continue to work with the organization, my role has shifted, and as an educator, I now impact the lives of young people in a different way while still utilizing the skills I gained as a community organizer. 

Currently, I am a teacher at Pueblo High School here in Tucson. In December of 2019, I bought my first house, within the Pueblo High School boundaries, and close to the barrio that I grew up in. I am finally home, but most importantly, I’m an educator that is seeing first-hand the ways that communities and neighborhoods impact education. This is something that I hope to continue to study as I move forward in my doctorate program at UArizona within the College of Education and in Educational Leadership and Policy. Because of my background, and because I have seen the way that this neighborhood has changed and pushed people out, I want to dig deeper in change of demographics and landscapes to impact educational attainment of the students. Most importantly, I want to show others that you don’t have to leave your neighborhood to be better, or to make your community proud.

Imelda Cortez

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