Scholar Stories: Dra. Belem López

I am an assistant professor in the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies. I also hold courtesy appointments in the Departments of Spanish and Portuguese and Psychology. I’m a faculty affiliate of the Latino Research Institute, The Linguistics Research Center, and the Center for Mexican American Studies. Currently, I am a 2019-2020 Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow and Visiting Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education.

How do you use writing or art in your life?

As an academic, writing is part of my job and I try to write at least 30 minutes Monday thru Friday (sounds a bit boring). In terms of art, I have played the alto saxophone since I was 12 and was originally a Music Education major at UTEP before switching to psychology and linguistics. I do love to read young adult fiction novels (Angie Thomas’ The Hate You Give and currently reading On the Come Up). I enjoy doodling and drawing in my bullet journal both to keep track of personal and work goals. Drawing even if it’s terrible helps me relax and focus. Also, who doesn’t love colorful markers?!

What lessons/teachings from your family, home and/or community do you draw on in your teaching and/or scholarship?

Oh goodness what a great question, I think it would be easier to say what teachings/lessons do I not use in my teaching and scholarship. I’m a cognitive psychologist and psycholinguist interested in understanding the cognitive and linguistic (more recently emotional/social) outcomes of bilingual language brokering experiences (informal translation). As a daughter of Mexican immigrants, heritage Spanish speaker, first generation college graduate, and language broker, I use a lot of lessons and teachings learned from home in both teaching and research. I have translated and interpreted from my parents since I was a kid and they instilled the lessons of helping others, which I hope translates to my teaching and research. I see research as being important to helping others in both understanding a particular phenomenon (e.g., bilingualism, language brokering), but also helping folks in that community (e.g., gain an understanding of different bilingual experiences like language brokering).  

I think one of the most important teachings in my life has been from my abuelito Robe (Descanse en paz) who always told me to “Echale ganas, mija.” Anytime I felt doubt with school and the future, his answer was always echale ganas y enseñale a los pinches gringos como se hace. (Give it your all and show the gringos how it’s done.) Growing up in a small rural town in the Texas panhandle, this phrase helped me get through a lot of difficult times as child and adolescent. During graduate school this phrase came to be a constant reminder that my education was a collective experience with my family and community. When I felt like quitting my program (several times), I often turned to this phrase and on occasion call my Abuelito Robe for the reminder (although he unfortunately passed away a month before my PhD graduation, I know he was with me the entire way).

Also, mi mamá, mi Doña Lupe, is really one of the nicest and sweetest people. She is always trying to make people laugh by telling stories or jokes. As my first teacher, I use her example of kindness, patience, and compassion when working with others in the classroom, lab, or community.

What would you tell your younger self??

I would say that it is okay to be the weird nerdy band kid, be yourself, and be confident! I was a very shy and anxious kid, but once I was in high school and become a drum major, I developed a sense of self-confidence that changed the rest of my life. 

Advice for new scholars and/or teacher

Find your people! friends, colleagues, advocates, mentors, sponsors who value you, want to see you succeed, and will stand up for you along the way. Having someone you can vent with is important., having the person who will encourage you and supports you is important., having someone who advocates for you is important. Build your support system and support others!

Teachers, all students are different. Their life experiences are not uniform, be compassionate, understanding, and try to understand their experiences and how they may affect their learning. We cannot assume student experiences are uniform.

 Something else you want to share?

My therapist recommended The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and now I try to live by the 4 agreements. If you have a chance read the book, but here they are 😊

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t take anything personally.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.

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