A Q&A with “Latina Leadership” editors and contributors for Hispanic Heritage Month

Latina Leadership by Laura Gonzales and Michelle Hall Kells

“This is a landmark collection of the leading Latina voices in the field. This is the kind of book I have longed to read in our field for more than a decade.”

Michelle Hall Kells

SUP: Tell us a little bit about Latina Leadership and how you came together to create this groundbreaking study.

Laura Gonzales: This book has been a long time in the making. The collection began as a project that Michelle Hall Kells discussed with Lorena Gutierrez and I as part of our work with the Cultivating New Voices Among Scholars of Color (CNV) program sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English. That program and the community that stemmed from it continue to inspire and motivate my work in multiple ways. Through the process of co-editing the collection, my own orientation to understanding the complexity of Latinx experiences, mentorship, and leadership also continues to shift and grow.

Raquel Corona and Nancy Alvarez: We advocate for a model of mentorship that allows for the intersectional experiences of Latinxs in graduate school. It was important for us to continually reiterate how each of us required a different kind of mentorship to reach graduation and that’s what faculty need to remember: there is no cookie-cutter method to advocating for and mentoring Latinxs.

Michelle Kells: In my chapter, I find inspiration for my understanding of mujerista activism and Latina Leadership in the landmark mobilizing efforts of the women of Local 890 union in Bayard, New Mexico in the historic Empire Zinc Mine Strike of 1950-1952.  The embodied rhetoric of the more than 100 women (who self-identified as mexicanas) held the strike lines against racial, environmental, cultural, economic, and sexual violence for more than nine months. Most of the women’s names were ultimately erased over the past 70 years. My goal was to recover their names and the stories as heuristics of Latina leadership during the Cold War era in America—a climate we find ourselves re-living in many respects today.

SUP: What makes this study a model for emerging Latina leaders?

Michelle Hall Kells: The authentic, bold, and beautiful Latina voices reflected in the essays by each of the contributors to this volume, in my mind, distinguishes this book.  This is a landmark collection of the leading Latina voices in the field. This is the kind of book I have longed to read in our field for more than a decade. 

Raquel Corona and Nancy Alvarez: What really stands out to us is how this book looks at various roles Latina leaders are in within the institution of higher education. We really appreciated being able to focus on our graduate experiences, but we found it important to consider some of the pedagogical implications for others in the book. This diversity in content really shows the power of this book.

Cristina Kirklighter: For too long, many of us have felt pressure to stifle our experiences both internally and externally.  How many times have we heard that the personal does not belong in our research, writing, teaching or elsewhere.  The consequences of this to Latinas is enormous for it stifles others’ understanding of us.  As a former co-chair of the Latina caucus, I often heard from emerging Latina leaders that the caucus felt like home precisely because they felt free to share their personal experiences.  I have heard many do not feel at home outside the caucus because they feel misunderstood.  What better way to bridge these misunderstandings than with the personal for we want our emerging Latina leaders to foster multiple homes where they are accepted and respected.  My hope is that emerging Latina leaders will take this book to their institutional colleagues and ask them to read it.  Then, I hope they will ask their colleagues to engage with them in meaningful personal conversations about what has been written and shared.  Emerging Latina leaders deserve to excel in multiple homes, and the personal is one way of making this happen.

SUP: How were the contributors selected and what are their unique contributions?

Laura Gonzales: Our contributors were selected through our connections with CNV, through our own mentorship networks, and through a CFP that was shared with the NCTE Latinx caucus. What is really useful, in my opinion, is that the chapters speak to experiences in both K-12 and University settings. These experiences are often separated, and yet our contributors illustrate the many connections we can find and the community we can build across institutional boundaries.

SUP: What qualities do you feel future leaders need to succeed in this increasingly difficult world and academia?

Raquel Corona and Nancy Alvarez: Flexibility, the ability to adjust to circumstances you could never see coming and utilizing your support network inside and outside the academy. Graduate school taught us that we never know what we may encounter and that we will need people in our lives to support us as we move through that.

Michelle Hall Kells: Again, I must look to my own experiences in the field and this recent research of the women of the Empire Zinc Mine Strike.  Their leadership inspired the iconic (only McCarthy –era blacklisted) film “The Salt of the Earth” which has been recovered and circulated globally since the late 1960s.  Efficacious leadership must be grounded in solidarity, community, dignity, and standing squarely in our home ground—in our “querencia.” I had the distinct honor of working with four amazing new leaders and graduate students in 2018 on the Salt of the Earth Recovery Project: Elvira Carrizal-Dukes, Kelli Lycke Martin, Zakery Muñoz, and Steven Romero. For Further Information See: 

Cristina Kirklighter: Courage and compassion come to mind for qualities of success.  Let me paraphrase Maya Angelou when she said courage is the most important virtue for if you do not practice courage, none of your other virtues will be consistent.  Although it is not an easy road to follow, you will be respected by many, and, most of all, you will respect yourself.  In these trying times, compassion is an admirable and necessary quality.  Compassion and knowledge are partners for the better we know others, the more compassionate we become.  Fortunately, for most Latinas, family and friends have instilled this in us.

SUP: What do you hope readers take away from this book?

Laura Gonzales: I hope the book sparks conversation about the diversity embedded within the label “Latinx.” I hope we continue having conversations about how Latinidad as a concept in itself can uphold white supremacy (see for example, The Black Latinas Know Collective). I hope the stories shared in this collection spark future connections, conversation, and change. 

Raquel Corona and Nancy Alvarez: Don’t be afraid to make your own path in graduate school and academia. You may very well be forging a path not yet created in an institution / system that doesn’t know how to acknowledge your existence within it. Finally, find YOUR PEOPLE. They may be Latinxs or not, but just find the people who will see you, hear you, and hold you as you traverse this journey through academia.

Michelle Hall Kells: The experience working with my colleagues on this volume and researching the Empire Zinc Mine strike over the past five years has been some of the most satisfying experiences of my professional and personal life. I am indebted to our courageous editorial team at Syracuse UP who did share our vision and finally brought this gorgeous collection of Latina stories, voices, reflections, and models of leadership to publication.

Cristina Kirklighter: The answer is simple—to better understand Latina emerging leaders.


Nancy Alvarez completed her PhD in English at St. John’s University and teaches first-year writing and developmental writing at Bronx Community College. Her research interests include writing-center studies, writing peda­gogy, digital literacies, language rights, and issues of access and equity for Latinxs in higher education.

Sonia C. Arellano is assistant professor in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Central Florida, where she teaches courses on feminist rhetorics and visual/material rhetorics. Her research focuses on textile projects that address social justice issues, particularly at the inter­sections of migration and death. Her current book project examines the tactile rhetoric of the Migrant Quilt Project, which uses quilts to memori­alize migrant lives lost while crossing into the United States. Arellano also engages in quilt making as a necessary part of her research. Her scholarship can be found in Peitho as well as in the edited collection Rhetorics Elsewhere and Otherwise: Contested Modernities, Decolonial Visions (2019).

Stefani Baldivia is an archivist in the Meriam Library Special Collections and University Archives Department at California State University, Chico, where she performs reference, instruction, and outreach activities. She estab­lished the Chico State Diversity Changemakers Oral History Project to illu­minate the history of Chico State’s diversity and inclusion efforts. Baldivia’s research interests include diversifying the archives, flattening barriers to information literacy, and preserving social justice efforts in Chico, Califor­nia, and beyond.

Blanca Gabriela Caldas Chumbes es una transnational indigenous/Latina scholar, catedrática en estudios de segundas lenguas y educación elemental en la Universidad de Minnesota–Twin Cities. She obtained su doctorado en la Universidad de Tejas in Austin en la especialidad de bilingual/bicul­tural education and Mexican-American/Latinx studies. Sus investigaciones están enfocadas en la preparación lingüística y académica y activista de future bilingual teachers, minoritized language practices y pedagogía crítica Freire­ana y Boaleana.

Raquel Corona completed her PhD in English at St. John’s University and is a full-time lecturer at Queensborough Community College within the City Uni­versity of New York system. Her research interests include Latinx literature, rhetoric, Black and Latinx feminisms, as well as the study of the Latina body in various media. Her dissertation is a rhetorical exploration of how trans­nationalism affects the dissemination and circulation of stories about the Latina body and sex.

Christine Garcia is an assistant professor of rhetoric and composition at Eastern Connecticut State University, Willimantic, where she teaches in the First-Year Writing and Freshman Experience Programs as well as courses in Chicanx and Latinx rhetoric and literature. She earned her PhD in rhetoric and composition from the University of New Mexico and holds both a BA and an MA in English language and literature from Angelo State University.

Genevieve García de Müeller is assistant professor and director of the Writing across the Curriculum Program in the Writing Studies, Rhetoric, and Composition Department at Syracuse University. Her research interests include examining intersections between race and writing program administration, critical pedagogy, the rhetoric of immigration policy, and the discursive practices of migrant civil rights activists. She has work in the WAC Journal titled “Inviting Students to Determine for Themselves What It Means to Write across the Disciplines” (cowritten with Brian Hendrickson, (2016). Her most recent project is a forthcoming book on the deliberative rhetoric of immigration policy.

Laura Gonzales is assistant professor of digital writing and cultural rhetorics at the University of Florida. She is the author of Sites of Translation: What Multilinguals Can Teach Us About Digital Writing and Rhetoric (2018), which was awarded the Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative / University of Michigan Press Book Prize prior to publication in 2016 and the Advancement of Knowledge Award by the Conference on College Composition and Communication in 2020.

Lorena Gutierrez is assistant professor of teaching in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside. She received her PhD in curriculum, instruction, and teacher education from Michigan State University. Her research highlights the ways Latinx migrant and seasonal farm-workers thrive in their educational pursuits in spite of the inequities they face in K–12 schools. In her dissertation, “‘Use My Name, They Need to Know Who I Am!’: Latina/o Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker Youth at the Interstices of the Educational Pipeline” (2016), based on a three-year ethnographic study, she examines the schooling experiences of Latina/o migrant farmworker youth in K–12 schools and in a high-school equivalency program in the Midwest.

Michelle Hall Kells teaches courses in rhetoric and writing in the Department of English at the University of New Mexico. Her research interests include public rhetoric (civil rights and environmental discourses), language diversity, sociolinguistics, and community writing studies. Kells’s scholarship centers largely on the public rhetoric of citizenship. Her most recent book is Vicente Ximenes, LBJ’s Great Society, and Mexican American Civil Rights Rhetoric (2018). Her previous book was Héctor P. García: Everyday Rhetoric and Mexican American Civil Rights (2006). She was the lead editor of the collected volumes Attending to the Margins: Writing, Researching, and Teaching on the Front Lines (with Valerie Balester, 1999) and Latino/a Discourses: On Language, Identity, and Literacy Education (with Valerie Balester and Victor Villanueva, 2004). Kells’s work has been featured in the journals JAC, Written Communication, Journal of Reflections, Journal of Community Literacy, Praxis, and Rhetoric & Public Affairs as well as in a number of edited books, including Cross-Language Relations in Composition (2010); Dialects, Englishes, Creoles, and Education (2008); TESOL Encyclopedia of English Language Teaching (2018); and Who Belongs in America? Presidents, Rhetoric, and Immigration (2006). She is currently working on a new book about women labor activists, environmental racism, and the landmark Empire Zinc Mine strike in New Mexico in the 1950s.

Cristina Kirklighter is a recently retired professor from Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi, and former editor of Reflections: A Journal of Public Rhetoric, Civic Writing, and Service Learning. She is the past cochair of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) / Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) Latinx Caucus (2009–14) and co-coordinator of the NCTE Writing and Working for Change Project, with a specific focus on documenting the histories of the identity-based NCTE/CCCC caucuses. With Diana Cárdenas and Susan Wolff Murphy, she co-edited Teaching Writing with Latino/a Students: Lessons Learned at Hispanic-Serving Institutions (2007), the first book focusing on Hispanic-serving institutions within a discipline.

Kendall Leon is associate professor of rhetoric and composition, with a specialization in Chicanx/Latinx/@ rhetoric, in the Department of English at California State University, Chico. Her teaching and research interests include cultural and community rhetorics, professional writing, writing program administration, and research methodology.

Aja Y. Martinez is assistant professor of writing studies, rhetoric, and composition at the University of North Texas, where she researches and teaches rhetorics of race and ethnicity, including the rhetorics of race within both Western and non-EuroWestern contexts. Her monograph Counterstory: The Writing and Rhetoric of Critical Race Theory (2020) presents counterstory as a method for actualizing critical race theory in the research and pedagogy of rhetoric-and-composition studies.

Cristina D. Ramírez is associate professor of rhetoric and composition at the University of Arizona, where she directs the doctoral program. She specializes in archival rescue and recovery of work by Mexican and Mexican American female authors. With Jessica Enoch, she coauthored Mestiza Rhetorics: An Anthology of Mexicana Activism in the Spanish Language Press,

1875–1922 (2019).

Ana Milena Ribero is a proud Latina, mother-scholar, and assistant professor of rhetoric and writing at Oregon State University. Her research and teaching focus mainly on the rhetorics of (im)migration, rhetorics of race, critical literacies, and women-of-color feminisms. Her book project explores “dreamer rhetorics”—the rhetorical productions of undocumented youth activism—during the Obama years. Her scholarship can be found in Rhetoric Review, Peitho, Performance Research, Present Tense, Decolonizing Rhetoric and Composition Studies, and The Routledge Handbook of Digital Writing and Rhetoric.

Mónica González Ybarra is assistant professor of bilingual education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Illinois, Urbana–Champaign. Her research examines the literacies and knowledges of Latinx/Chicanx (im)migrant young people through the use of Chicana feminisms, critical literacies, postcolonial and decolonial frameworks, and critical theories of race and citizenship. Drawing on scholarship across the fields of education and ethnic studies, her work is concerned largely with challenging and disrupting normative, colonial notions of knowledge pro-duction by centering the voices, experiences, and ways of knowing of youth of color. 


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