Scholar Stories: Dra. Cati V. de los Ríos

How do you use writing or art in your life?

I don’t recall having a lot of books as a kid or in my household, but we were surrounded by my own family’s Chicana/o/x art, paintings, music, and oral literacy practices. My brother Pepe and many of my tíasand tíos (both in California and Chihuahua, MX) are artists and we grew up with their paintings surrounding us. My abuela Casilda was a música and she sang and played the guitar regularly for my brother and I, primarily Spanish nursery rhymes and corridos. Later as a high school student, teacher and graduate student, my relationship with writing was extremely difficult. It took a lot of mentors to help me overcome my fears and mistakes and find my own voice, cadence and style. This took years and included writing coaches, copy editors and writing bootcamps. Writing never came easily or naturally to me, it still doesn’t, but I have a team that encourages me to always write about my passions first, and especially about the approaches, curricula and frameworks that I wish I had had access to as a former Spanish, ELD and ethnic studies high school teacher. Looking back, I am most grateful to Dr. Gilda Ochoa who first encouraged me to start writing about my classroom practices as a teacher over a decade ago. If it weren’t for her love and support, and the ways in which she modeled community-engaged scholarship, I wouldn’t be who or where I am today. 

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

My childhood home and greater family’s relationship with literacy destabilized dominant understandings of “literate childhoods.” While I don’t recall having been read to a lot as a child, my home was abundant in sophisticated communication, politics, oral stories, musical literacies (corridos, rancheras, románticas), dancing (especially to Banda music), and Mexican art and film. Given my own family’s relationship to multimodal literacies, documenting Mexican and Latinx bilingual young people’s multimodal family literacy practices, especially those that have been overlooked by adolescent literacy researchers, has been one of my greatest research passions. 

What would you tell your younger self?

No one is disposable. You are more than your greatest mistakes and missteps and so are other people. We are all in the process of becoming our greatest selves. Be kind, gentle and compassionate to others and always to yourself. 

Advice for new scholars and/or teachers?

Relationships matter. Staying in touch with and supporting my former high school students, undergraduates and graduate students has been nourishing to my soul and has brought persistent joy. I try to continue to show up for them in whatever capacity I can and when they continue to call on me or invite me to their wedding or child’s bautizo, it means more to me than any  recognition or award.

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