Urban Education Student and Women of Color Archive Founder Awarded AAUW Fellowship for ‘Searching for Mami & Abuelita’

Wendy Barrales (Photo courtsey of Barrales)

Wendy Barrales, a public school educator and a doctoral student in the Urban Education Ph.D. program whose work spans activism, art, and scholarship, was recently awarded a dissertation fellowship from American Association of University Women (AAUW). It’s a particularly meaningful award for Barrales, who is also the founder of Women of Color Archive (WOCArchive), a “storytelling project that seeks to preserve the stories of our matriarchs, femmes, and non-binary folks of color.”

Barrales recently spoke to The Graduate Center about the fellowship, meeting her “found” family in New York and at the GC, and the importance of centering her family’s stories in her work:

The Graduate Center: What does this award mean to you, in terms of furthering your project and recognizing your work?

Barrales: I’ve worked as a public school teacher throughout the majority of my time as a Ph.D. student, and although it’s been a beautiful process to learn alongside my students, I have felt incredibly overwhelmed balancing full-time work and full-time Ph.D. responsibilities. The AAUW fellowship is of great importance to me not only because of the financial support I'll have next year to focus on my dissertation, but also in the acknowledgement of my research. There have been many times I’ve had to justify the importance of ethnic studies, girls of color, art-based research, and feminist pedagogies, so this award feels particularly affirming.

GC: Could you describe your project, “Searching for Mami & Abuelita: Exploring Testimonio in a Women of Color Art Archive,” and what drew you to it? 

Barrales: This longing for my people’s histories and the practice of archiving is something I inherited from my mother, who has always made sure to document even the most mundane moments in our lives. Within my family there are no keepsakes, no heirlooms, and only a few photographs that remind us of who we came from before our abuelitas. My family came to the U.S. from México in the 1980s with very little money and no material things, but within their first year in the U.S. they put their money together to buy a video camera to document their new life in Los Angeles. This was a huge expense for them and an important resistance to the erasure of our experiences. An act that states and demands: We were here. And we are worthy of telling our stories. 

[My family has] been preserving our story for a very long time, without ever knowing we were archivists. I have so many memories of the Mexican traditions we kept alive and the complexity of our experiences as Chicanas, as newly arrived immigrants, as new “Americans.” Despite the pride I had in my identity at home, I rarely saw the matriarchs in my family represented in anything that I was learning in school. And yet, when [someone’s] mami and abuelita were highlighted in an article I was reading or if they were featured in a historical event, they were often shown as suffering or sensationalized victims of their trauma of their migration experience. Although that might be part of our story, we refuse to be remembered solely as victims. This project strives to show the matriarchs of my family and other women of color as multifaceted, complex, and worthy of preserving and studying.

GC: You're a scholar, activist, and artist. How are you combining these interests and ambitions in your work?

Barrales: It wasn’t until I took a class here at The Graduate Center with Victoria Restler (New Media Lab) and Professor Wendy Luttrell (Psychology, Urban Education, Sociology) that I really started digging deeper into my artistic abilities and art as a research method. As a culminating project for the course, I created a piece called primer país, a short film documenting the complexities of motherhood featuring audio from an interview with my abuelita. This piece inspired the high school ethnic studies course I co-created with my students and became a focal point for my dissertation, which is completely digital and will be housed on CUNY’s installation of Manifold, an open-source digital publishing platform. 

I’m curating my project with visual and aural artifacts at the center and text as a secondary supportive resource. By doing so, I seek to center the audience — my mother, grandmother, and former high school students — by providing a storytelling project that views their lived experience as legitimate forms of knowledge that are worthy of study. This is also part of my activism — to disrupt current structures that limit access to academia, dissertations, and research by creating an accessible, open educational resource as my dissertation.

GC: What brought you to New York, and to The Graduate Center?

Barrales: I came to New York in 2010 for a grad program at NYU, with the intention of moving back to LA within a year. NYU was a stark difference from my experience as an undergrad commuter at Cal State LA and I quickly felt out of place. When I began teaching in the Bronx, however, I found community in the families, students, and colleagues I worked with and began my teacher activism with the New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCoRE). I connected with folks in [The Graduate Center’s] Urban Ed program who were also part of NYCoRE, and was inspired by the critical work many doctoral students were involved in while continuing to work in the classroom, and I applied to the Ph.D. program. Since then, I’ve been humbled by the growing village of people that I call my “found” family, many of whom I met through The Graduate Center, including my adviser, Professor Ariana Mangual Figueroa (Urban Education; Latin American, Iberian, and Latino Cultures), who is a founding member of NYCoRE and has been instrumental throughout this process. This family makes New York feel a little more like home every year.

GC: What you do hope to do after receiving your Ph.D.? 

Barrales: I will always feel connected to teaching, and would love to continue working in K-12 classrooms in some capacity. I hope I can find a job where I am able to combine all of my passions: working with young people, teachers, creating ethnic studies curriculum, and centering my community through art-based digital storytelling. If I could work on the WOCArchive full time — that would be a dream! 

Submitted on: MAY 24, 2021

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