Symposium focuses on Latino research

ROCHESTER — The Latino Professional Alliance took a different tact in celebrating Hispanic Heritage this year.

Instead of hosting a cultural fair, the LPA turned to the academic community to offer presentations on local research projects about Latinos, said Natalie Martínez, the alliance’s cultural chairwoman.

"We found that there was not a lot of research," she added. "That was one of our biggest hurdles."

Martínez coordinated the Latino Cultural Symposium held Nov. 7 at the University of Rochester’s School of Medicine & Dentistry.

While the dearth of research was disappointing, Martínez noted that the discovery also serves as an opportunity to reach out to the Rochester community and make the connections that will lead to more research.

"This is just the beginning of this work," said Martínez, who is an academic adviser for the UR’s Upward Bound program. "I’m excited."

The research that has been conducted, though, is as diverse as the Latino community. Several professors and representatives from area organizations were on hand during the event to talk about their areas of focus from the resiliency of Latina students in overcoming violent situations to achieve future educational gains to the semantics of the Yucatec Maya language. Information also was available about Project HOPE and El Camino, which seek to improve the health of residents who live in northeast Rochester, and the university’s Center for Community Health.

Sandra Quiñones discussed her dissertation on how the meaning of being a well-educated person differs in the Puerto Rican and Anglo worlds. For her work, she interviewed and followed six teachers in the Rochester City School District — all of whom were born on the island or downstate New York. The one common factor among the teachers was that they had all been raised in Spanish-speaking homes, explained Quiñones.

"So they were all fully bilingual and understood the bicultural notion of being educated: behaving well, being respectful and how they treat their elders (with respect)," she added. "But in the English world, it’s about … academic success, being book smart."

Because of their backgrounds, those teachers were able to intertwine their bicultural knowledge in the classroom to the benefit of the students to help them learn as well as elicit proper behavior, Quiñones said.

Judy Marquez-Kiyama, an assistant professor at the UR’s Warner School of Education, said that the girls she interviewed as part of her research also echoed the sentiment of the value of being bilingual.

Using that knowledge to help Latino students is important, said Shalunda Junious, a URMC nurse whose husband is Puerto Rican. She has involved her husband’s family in helping the children learn Spanish and their Latino culture as well as encouraging them to take Spanish in school.

"I try to make sure they’re involved in both cultures," she said. "That’s who they are."

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