Why Hispan-ish?

If you have made your way here, you are more than likely familiar with SACNAS, but what you may not be familiar with, is me. So here’s the 411. My name is Marissa Torres and I am a second year PhD student in biological chemistry who hails from the foothills of Northern California. No, not the California where it never dips below 70 degrees and the ocean is a reasonable distance away. But the California where all the residents say “hella” and if you didn’t know better, you would swear you were in some notoriously red state. What my California has in common with SoCal though, is that it all used to be a part of Alta California and has resulted in a mixed population of what I have come to dub “Hispan-ish” people; with me square among them. Why Hispan-ish? Why not embrace Latinx, Chicano, or just straight up Hispanic especially when I’m blogging for the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science? Well, because like science, it’s complicated. Like many Californians, I’m of Mexican descent and this has always been a part of my family and identity, but (and this is a big but) I’m also super white. Like, puts sweaters on her dog and goes camping every summer white. So I have constantly straddled this weird, uncomfortable, and possibly overly racialized line. I’m Hispanic enough that people call me “Ma-ree-sa” but when they take one look at me, I become “Muh-ris-uh”. I’m Hispanic enough to know what you’re saying in Spanish but not enough to be able to reply to you in the same language. I’m Hispanic enough for people to assume that when I mention how my Grandma used to clean houses for a living, they assume it was my Mexican grandma. (The joke is on them though, because none of my Grandmas are Mexican.) I’m Hispanic enough that my Dad will call and tell me he had mole at a new restaurant that tasted just like how Grandma Hope used to make it, but not enough so that in the same call he will ask ‘What’s a white girl like you blogging for a group like that?”. I’m Hispanic enough that when I look around my lab or class, I don’t see anyone like me, and I feel alone. I’m white enough though, that when I comment about these observations, I am met with “But why? You’re not like them.” So, I’m white enough to know that I walk through life with immense privilege, but like every other American, I’m the singular intersection of many different identities. This is why SACNAS is just so important, it gives representation to a diverse group of people who are united by three things. One: their ethnicity, two: their involvement in science, and three: their almost complete absence from the sciences. Despite Hispanic people making up about 16% of the population in the United States, the US Department of Education reported that between 2009 and 2010, on average, only 8% of people who received a degree in STEM were Hispanic.1 That percentage and representation continually decreases as the level of degree increases, with percentage of Hispanics receiving a STEM certificate being as high as 24% while the percentage receiving a STEM PhD is as low as 3%. This means the scientific community is missing out on input from a decent chunk of the population and perpetuates an obstinate, singular narrative in science. As any bioinformaticist worth their NaCl will tell you, only when a sample is representative of the population from which it was selected can you be sure that no confounding variable is preventing a true result. So, what was I actually trying to get across in these three rambling paragraphs? Science is imperfect. We are imperfect. But as scientists, we strive to make our world better and the best way to do that is by having our contributions heard and recognized. That is why it is so important that our stories as Hispanic and/or Native American scientists are told by us, and that is why a Hispan-ish biochem grad student is making sure to take time each week to tell her story.

Author: Marissa Torres


1. Overview of Hispanics in Science, Math, Engineering, and Technology (STEM): K-16 Representation, Preparation and Participation, July 2012.


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