Sally Casanova Scholar Marlene Andrade and the Power of Culture and Community in Environmental Justice
In her poem “La Cultura Con Conciencia Cura” (“The Culture With Consciousness Heals”’), Marlene Andrade, ’23 MA Chicana and Chicano Studies, writes that “our complex struggle as a people / will probably never change. / But we do have the ‘poder’ (power) and the magic / from our ancestors and ‘tradiciones’ (traditions) to thrive.”
A first-generation scholar from California’s San Fernando Valley, Andrade studies how communities of color utilize their cultural capital to engage in environmental justice. She is also a 2022-2023 recipient of the Sally Casanova Scholarship, a pre-doctoral preparation program offered through the California State University (CSU) system.
Andrade researches how communities of color — including Indigenous and Black populations — reclaim, create and occupy spaces of sustainability to resist systemic and environmental racism.
She first witnessed how structural and institutional inequity impacted access to healthy food and clean air while working for the Youth Speak! Collective in San Fernando, California, during her undergraduate studies at CSU Northridge. Many of the youth she worked with lived in close proximity to landfills, industrial businesses and freeway overpasses. Together, they advocated for better access to green space, improved air quality and other environmental issues.
“My experiences studying sociology and Chicana and Chicano Studies really played a big role in working with youths,” said Andrade. “It helped me see how people of color are racialized in society, especially youths of color. Working with youths empowered me to further my studies and to look at how their agencies are expressed through environmental justice.”
Andrade was attracted to San José State University’s Chicana and Chicano Studies graduate program by the work of Professor Julia Curry, whose expertise is surpassed only by her decades of service to the Chicana, Chicano, immigrant and undocumented communities at San José State and beyond. She credits Jonathan Gomez, Johnny Ramirez and Christine Vega, all assistant professors in the department, with additional academic and professional mentorship during her time at SJSU.
“It is an honor to pass on the faculty mentorship and resources that I received as a Sally Casanova scholar to Marlene, because I know that she is going to make a transformative impact as a future scholar, teacher and activist,” said Ramirez, a 2008-2009 Sally Casanova scholar and one of Andrade’s mentors.
“As a first-gen faculty [member] of color, I am honored and committed to support Chicanx/Latinx students in their journey to attain their goals and dreams of becoming a professor, especially in the field of Chicana/o/x Studies.”
Because more than one quarter of San José State’s full-time student population identifies as Hispanic, the university qualifies as a federally-designated Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI). As a student assistant supporting the Office of the Provost, Andrade credits Jonathan Gomez and Vice Provost for Faculty Success Magdalena Barrera to establish a digital counter-storytelling faculty learning community as part of the newly established HSI Institute.
“One of the goals of counter-storytelling is to showcase how students of color navigate institutions,” said Andrade. “By focusing on our cultural strengths and agencies, our counter-stories contest the mainstream deficit views on our communities.
“I look forward to working with Dr. Gomez and Dr. Barrera to see how we can be in community with faculty across disciplines to better support and serve students of color in their educational trajectories on campus and beyond.”
Andrade aspires to follow in her mentors’ footsteps by serving as a researcher, professor and leader who creates lasting relationships with her students who, in turn, positively impact their communities. Her journey is just beginning.