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First-gen Mexican immigrant reflects on her journey to a PhD

This fall, Angélica Amezcua will graduate from ASU with her PhD in Spanish ​​with a concentration in heritage language pedagogy and a certificate in computer-assisted language learning.

December 08, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2021 graduates.

Over 20 years ago, Arizona State University student Angélica Amezcua and her family emigrated from Jalisco, Mexico, to the U.S. so she and her siblings could continue their education.

“My parents knew that education is the key to many opportunities,” Amezcua said. “Therefore, they were willing to do anything possible to make sure my siblings and I received a good education, even if it meant leaving everything behind and starting a new life in the U.S.”

As she started to learn English, her Spanish literacy began to diminish due to a lack of language resources available. This loss of her native language has been a driving force for Amezcua, leading her to ​​become a lifelong advocate for bilingualism in academia.

For six years, Amezcua has been teaching Spanish to heritage languageA minority language learned by its speakers at home as children, but never fully developed because of insufficient input from the social environment. speakers. In her role as a graduate teaching associate in the School of International Letters and Cultures, she taught Spanish to both second language learners and heritage language speakers

While at ASU she also had the opportunity to collaborate with faculty and peers on a study on critical language awareness. The study set out to explore the development of critical heritage language awareness in the classroom by measuring the students’ level of awareness of key topics that are important to understanding the sociopolitical reality of Spanish as a heritage language in the U.S.

Amezcua has continued to conduct research of this nature in her new role as an assistant professor of Spanish and the director of the Spanish heritage language program at the University of Washington.

“I am proud that I was able to obtain this position and I am able to continue my research that examines how university Spanish heritage language courses can play an important role in promoting the use of Spanish in the United States, counteracting the devaluation of minority languages and contributing to narrow the Latinx student achievement gap,” she said. “Similarly important, I am proud that in this position I have the opportunity to work with first-generation students whose parents are also farmworkers just like mine.”

This fall, Amezcua will graduate with her PhD in Spanish ​​with a concentration in heritage language pedagogy and a certificate in computer-assisted language learning. She shared advice for students as well as lessons she learned through her Sun Devil journey.

Editor's note: Some answers have been edited for length and/or clarity.

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: At the time, the School of International Letters and Cultures had just hired Sara Beaudrie. She, along with other linguists in the department, opened the Spanish heritage language track in the PhD program. Therefore, the opportunity to work with her and complete a PhD with a focus in Spanish heritage language education is why I chose ASU.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I learned a lot about my potential, and I also learned to believe in myself. There were many times that I had let the imposter syndrome haunt me and allowed it to underestimate my potential. But throughout the years at ASU I have learned that this is a syndrome that I cannot get rid of, because it is not a syndrome, it is actually the reality of people of color like myself, particularly because the higher education system places many obstacles for people of color to overcome in their journey to achieve their academic goals. I have encountered many obstacles at ASU, but thanks to the mentorship I have received from faculty and the unconditional support of many friends and colleagues, I will be the first one in my entire family to obtain a PhD.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I reached this goal thanks to the mentorship and unconditional support of many professors at ASU. One is Sara Beaudrie — I still remember when I was in her bilingualism course my second semester at ASU, and she guided me to put together my first solo publication. Having this research published gave me the confidence to keep on going and understand that I also have insights to contribute to the field of Spanish heritage language. 

I am forever in debt with my other mentors: Katie Bernstein, Michael Gradoville, Ligia Bezerra, Alfredo Artiles, Marta Tecedor and Isabel Velazquez, for their suggestions and insightful conversations in the process of writing my dissertation. They pushed me to discover my potential as an educator and as a researcher. They always believed in me even when I doubted myself.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Never compare yourself to anyone; everyone is unique. Everyone is capable of completing anything. Everyone goes to their own rhythm. Understand that you are your own competition. Therefore, go at your own pace because only you know what steps you must take to reach your goals.

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