Owning Our Narrative: A Call to Build Community
By Sonia Zárate, PhD — SACNAS President
Introduction to a new Presidential Series on STEM + Culture Chronicle. Read on to find out how YOU can join the conversation.
The summer before first grade, my family would pile into our 1972 Plymouth Satellite Sebring and go to the realtor’s office. My dad had read an article in the L.A. Times that listed the best school districts in southern California and he wanted to move us out of East Los Angeles and into a zone with better resourced schools. We’d drive around various suburbs of L.A. as the agent showed us houses.
My sister and I were excited because the places we saw all had four bedrooms which meant that we would get our own rooms, but my dad wasn’t satisfied because none of the homes were in top-ranking districts. Weekend after weekend, he asked to see houses in specific neighborhoods only to be told by the realtor, “These are the homes we have, close to where you want to be.” Frustrated, my dad stormed us out of there.
I wondered why my parents were so upset. As immigrants or people with low socioeconomic status, you don’t always know you are being denied something. But my dad knew. He persisted and had us back in that office the next weekend. This time, with a newspaper clipping that included a listing for a house in Walnut within our price range. My dad told him, “You can show us this house or we’re going to find another realtor who will.”
We bought that very house and my siblings and I graduated from elementary, middle and high school while living there. I didn’t have the words for “redlining” back then, but if there was ever a feeling of not belonging, I was familiar with it from a young age.
As a Chicana, growing up in this new community, which, unlike East L.A., was predominantly white and affluent, signals of being different were all around me. Unlike my peers, I wasn’t allowed to go to sleepovers or see movies with friends (unless my parents chaperoned), and A/C was considered a luxury. On days when the temperature would climb into the 100s, we spent all day in the library, and I would read endlessly to pass the time. I read so much that I filled up dozens of sheets for the summer reading program! Those days spent reading helped me know myself and understand that my world was bigger than my little town. These experiences set me on a path of discovery that would lead to a career in science.
As a new majority student — formerly known as non-traditional — I started my undergraduate career at the age of 24 as a single parent. Bound by daycare hours, I worked hard to balance being a good parent and a good science student. But for the first two years, I felt that I had to keep my identities separate for fear that I would not be taken seriously. In reality, I was terrified of being stereotyped. While I never revealed my status to professors, I was fortunate to receive support from my research advisors. Their support helped me understand that my identities as a woman, mother, and scientist were not only congruent with a STEM career, but that they provided me a unique perspective that was valuable to science. In other words, this is when I began to understand that my intersectional experience was my strength.
It wasn’t until I walked into my first SACNAS conference that I first felt included in science. Being one of a few women of color in my discipline and a single parent, I had spent so much time and put in great effort to “fit in”. At SACNAS, I just “fit”. For the first time, I was able to just be a scientist as opposed to an underrepresented minority in science. Being in an inclusive space where I did not have to use energy to navigate the culture of science and of academia, I was able to reconnect with my love for, and curiosity about, science.
This feeling of belonging is what has kept me connected to SACNAS. First, as an emerging scientist that benefited from the inclusive SACNAS environment. More recently, as a Board member and now as President, where I work with individuals and institutions to cultivate inclusion as a strategy to increase the diversity of our STEM workforce and our nation’s scientific innovation and competitiveness.
During my tenure as SACNAS President, my priority is to broaden the discussion around belonging, intersectionality and inclusion in STEM within the SACNAS community and beyond through a series for the STEM + Culture Chronicle.
Admittedly, sharing this piece of my story required some vulnerability. Interestingly, it also brought me a sense of empowerment. I invite you to share your experiences as a way to authentically connect with one another and own our narratives.
Call for Community Discussion/Conversation
We’re making a call for submissions! If anything sparked for you here, please consider submitting an article. I’ll be curating this special Presidential Series on STEM + Culture Chronicle and look forward to hearing from you.
Calling all SACNISTAS across the education and career spectrum. Share your stories, perspectives, and solutions!
Articles should be written in an accessible, narrative based format. More details about our intention for STEM + Culture Chronicle here.
Pitches/abstracts should give us a clear idea of the featured topic (Belonging, Intersectionality, or Inclusion) you want to focus on and your proposed approach. We are accepting pitches for:
Profiles/Interviews/Q&As 500–1,000 words Personal stories and insights — 800–1,000 words Feature length articles — 1,500–2,000 words Short Stories — 500–100 words or less
(For feature articles, include data, sources, and relevant research that you will utilize.)
Pitches should be 150–200 words max. Submit pitches here!
Questions? Email the editor of STEM + Culture Chronicle.
- Belonging Pitch/abstract submission: August 1–15, 2019 Accepted articles due: October 30, 2019 Publication: December 2019
- Intersectionality Pitch/abstract submission: March 1 — March 15, 2020 Accepted articles due: April 30, 2020 Publication: June 2020
- Inclusion Pitch/abstract submission: August 1–15, 2020 Accepted articles due: October 30, 2020 Publication — December 2020
About Dr. Sonia Zárate, President of SACNAS
As the fourth woman to lead the organization in its 46-year history and the first President to have benefited from SACNAS since she was an undergraduate, she is committed to continuing to lead national efforts to diversify the STEM enterprise and work towards SACNAS’ vision of achieving true diversity in STEM.