People of Color Are Scientists Too

Having the opportunity to participate in this year’s PAU conference in Mexico was an incredibly rewarding experience that I will forever be grateful for. I’ve traveled to Mexico over a dozen times to visit family and learn more about the country my parents call home. However, I’ve never visited Mexico in this capacity. I’ve never gone specifically to learn from and collaborate with other professionals in my field—professionals who look like me.

Birdwatching with the team. Look at the fog!

The experience of growing up in the United States as a first-generation Mexican-American is a harsh one. You’re taught from an early age that people who look like you aren’t interested in conservation; they can’t be real working professionals with the same legitimacy as their white counterparts; they cannot be scientists. This was my dream from an early age—to be a scientist. A dream that was all but abandoned in the fourth grade. I still remember the laughs and teasing I received from my white peers after our substitute teacher had us come to the front of the class to answer that same question all kids are asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My answer, of course, had been, “A scientist.”

Making bird masks with the kids.

While I am not quite there, and my goals have shifted, this experience reiterated what I have always known to be true. Mexicans and other people of color are scientists and we are making valuable contributions to the scientific and conservation community. These are contributions and tools that I can use in my own work and to the benefit of people here in the United States. I can only hope that my work as a community engagement coordinator can deliver the same message to our communities as powerfully as this experience has for me.          

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