The National Coalition for Latinxs with Disabilities (CNLD, Coalición Nacional para Latinxs con Discapacidades) will be having their 2nd annual conference, Tearing Down Walls, Building Bridges: The Disabled Latinx Movement at the Ed Roberts Campus, Berkeley, California, June 16-17, 2017. StoryCorps will be recording oral histories with some of the participants on June 15 as part of the Disability Visibility Project™. I am giddy at the thought of all these new stories for our online archive!!
Here is my interview with co-founder Lisette Torres-Gerald. Some parts have been edited and condensed. –Alice
Tell me a little bit about yourself!
I am a cisgendered Puerto Rican Jersey girl who now lives in the Midwest, which has been an adjustment! I work full-time as the Assistant Director of the Cooper Center, a writing center at Nebraska Wesleyan University (NWU), and I am currently a doctoral candidate in the Higher Education Program in the School of Education at Iowa State University. In my “free” time, I am part of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) team, a NSF-funded program dedicated to the recruitment and retention of students of color in the sciences, as well as the S-STEM team, another NSF-funded program focused on students from low-income backgrounds. Both programs are at NWU, where I also advise an undergraduate multicultural student group called MOSAIC.
Outside of NWU, I am part of a team of scientists, science historians, educators, and science advocates who are trying to revitalize Science for the People, a radical science organization that existed from 1969-1989 and was dedicated to developing a progressive science movement. I have written about my former life as an aquatic ecologist in a book chapter titled “Tigre del Mar: A Boricua’s Testimonio of Surviving a Doctoral Science Education,” which can be found in the edited work Envisioning Critical Race Praxis in Higher Education Through Counter-Storytelling by my colleagues Dr. Natasha N. Croom and Tyson E.J. Marsh.
At home, I am a wife to a fellow academic (he’s a physiological ecologist) and a mother to a lovely, kind, and funny 3-year-old boy. My son is truly my joy and, here comes the cliché – I cannot imagine my world without him. I actually found out about my disability after giving birth to him.
After taking my beautiful C-section baby home, I began to feel pain in my hips. It got to a point where I would cry because I could not find a comfortable way to sit. I felt extreme fatigue, no matter how long I slept. The pain traveled to other parts of my body and I became more forgetful than normal. After visiting my general practitioner and a rheumatologist, I was diagnosed in the spring of 2015 with fibromyalgia, a chronic condition with no known cure. I am still processing what this all means for me, but one of my initial writings on this experience is a blog post for Write Where It Hurts called “Sacrificio.” I have written a book chapter based off of this post titled “Sobreviviendo Sin Sacrificando – An Intersectional Testimonio from a Tired Mother-Scholar of Color,” but I am currently waiting on the reviews. Thinking back, fibromyalgia was probably in my life as early as high school. Nevertheless, I would consider myself to be new to the disability community.
For people who are unfamiliar with CNLD, please describe the mission and your involvement with this organization.
I was blessed to receive an email from Katherine Perez, who is a doctoral candidate at the University of Illinois at Chicago and winner of the 2017 American Association for People with Disabilities (AAPD) Paul G. Hearne Leadership Award. Honestly, I am not sure how she found me, but I am so glad she did! She invited me to become a co-founder of an organization dedicated to the disabled Latinx community, which we later collectively decided to call the National Coalition for Latinxs with Disabilities (Coalición Nacional para Latinxs con Discapacidades, CNLD). From the beginning, we all agreed that we wanted our coalition to be inclusive, intersectional, and focused on the human rights of Latinxs with disabilities. So, our mission is to “work in solidarity to affirm, celebrate, and collectively uplift Latinxs with disabilities through community building, advocacy, protection of rights, resources, and education.” We are trying to foster a disability movement as well as acknowledge and embrace the complexity of identity within the Latinx community.
In terms of my involvement with CNLD, I participate on organizational conference calls and have been involved with the creation of the agenda for our 2nd annual CNLD conference – Tearing Down Walls, Building Bridges: The Disabled Latinx Movement, which will be held June 16th and 17th on the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, CA and is co-hosted with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF). I am also involved on our research committee, which currently includes Katherine Perez, Kristen Salkas, Maria (Conchita) Hernandez, and John Silvi. We have created a needs assessment survey that we hope to launch live on our website upon IRB (institutional review board) approval. We want to identify what the disabled Latinx community feels it needs and is not currently getting so that CNLD can better work with and for Latinxs with disabilities.
Continue onto the Disability Visability Project to learn more about CNLD and about Alice.