A lot goes into the selection for a prestigious fellows program, including a peer-nomination process, a selection committee and a governing board’s approval — and Aída Hurtado, who was recently named an American Education Research Association (AERA) fellow, doesn’t take that for granted.
“I was honored to be selected as an AERA fellow because I know the process by which the selection takes place, and it’s arduous,” said Hurtado, Luis Leal Endowed Chair of the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies at UC Santa Barbara. “Your colleagues have to rally around you, so the fact that people did that for me was meaningful.”
Hurtado is among 24 individuals named to the 2023 AERA Fellows Program which honors scholars for their exceptional contributions to education research. Her work has focused on intersectional feminisms, particularly the effects of gender on educational success. In a novel way, she has looked at educational achievement with a focus on Latinas and Chicanas, ultimately disproving the idea that traditional Latino families just want their children to get married and have more children.
“My work contributes to debunking the deficit point of view that Latino families don’t care about education or discourage it,” she said, “but a lot of the work I do shows how committed the families are, especially to their daughters. I’ve documented that Latinas and Chicanas will go out of their way, even when they haven’t received an education, even working three jobs to send their girls to Catholic schools because they think it will help them get into college or not doing a cultural event like a quinceañera in order to have the money for education — and these parents might not even know what college is but they have a deep belief in the idea of education in general.”
Trained as a social psychologist, Hurtado combines the feminist writings of African American scholars with Chicana feminisms, social identity theory and Anzaldúa’s Borderland Theory to delineate the applicability of intersectionality to different ethnic, racial and gender formations.
Recently her research has begun to draw depth from the arts, which she credited to the influence of her department colleagues. She has started looking at the relationship between viewing dance performances, like Ballet Nepantla, which fuses folkloric dance with ballet and contemporary dance.
“I took some undergraduate students to see Ballet Nepantla in San Francisco and I asked them to write reactions,” she said. “As a result, I realized that these very intelligent and well-formed students were finding new possibilities for engaging with social justice through the arts. I don’t think people understand how performing and cultural arts help build engagement with social justice. It hasn’t been well-documented.”
Hurtado’s most recent books include “Intersectional Chicana Feminisms: Sitios y Lenguas” (University of Arizona Press, 2020) and “meXicana Fashions: Politics, Self-Adornment, and Identity Construction” (University of Texas Press, 2020). She is also the recipient of the Outstanding Latino/a Faculty in Higher Education Award, and the Heritage Award from the American Psychological Association.
“I congratulate Aida Hurtado on this great honor, in recognition of her career-long commitment to education research, particularly in the area of educational equity for Chicanas/os,” said Charles R. Hale, SAGE Sara Miller McCune Dean of Social Sciences. “Her contributions to the field have received both national and international acclaim, and the division of Social Sciences — indeed the entire campus — is honored by this timely celebration of the accomplishments of one of our university’s premier scholars.”
Over her multi-decade career, Hurtado has achieved much to boast about, but a highlight, she said, is the time she gave the remarks at the historic 2017 Women’s March on Washington — more than anything, she said, because it was her former student Carmen Perez who organized the event and invited her.
“You meet these kids at 19 or 20 years old that you’re teaching, and you don’t know how it will all blossom; it’s the impact of teaching that’s rewarding,” she said.
And yes, the Women’s March itself was remarkable, Hurtado said, noting that her entire plane was filled with women. “We didn’t know where we were going or what was going to happen — Would there be violence? Would we get hosed down? We were just saying as women that we’re not going to tolerate this. I don’t think there’s been a moment like it since. It was a unique historical moment: people united in a spontaneous and honest way.”
Spontaneous indeed. Right before Hurtado was to give her speech, Madonna surprised the half-million-person audience by performing two songs at the podium. Behind the Material Girl at all times, center right, was Hurtado. “People thought I was there with Madonna, I became very famous for a minute,” she said.