Haverford Heritage: Five Questions for Lina Martinez Hernandez

Assistant Professor of Spanish Lina Martinez Hernandez draws on her Latin American and queer identities to inform her teaching and connect with students.

As Haverford’s offices and student organizations celebrate Latinx Heritage Month, members of our community share a little about what their heritage means to them and how they manifest it across campus. Assistant Professor of Spanish Lina Martinez Hernandez draws on her Latin American and queer identities to inform her teaching and connect with students.

What brought you to Haverford, Lina?

I came to Haverford in 2016, right after I finished my grad program at Penn. I graduated with my Ph.D. in Hispanic studies. It seemed like a good place, mostly because I had heard that people at Haverford were really interested in social justice issues. That’s something I’m committed to. 

I also really liked the fact that Haverford is a small school. In the Spanish department, where I teach, I knew I would have more freedom to decide how and what I could teach in my classes.

What is your Latinx heritage? What does being Latinx mean to you in your daily life?

Well, I was born in Bogota, Colombia. That’s where I did all of my school education, my college. It’s fundamental to who I am. I feel very Colombian, very much from Bogota, and very Latin American. It’s rooted in every single thing I do every day of my life. 

So my heritage is probably one of the most precious treasures that I have, knowing that I’m from a place that is so diverse and rich with knowledge, history, and culture.

In what ways do you express your heritage at Haverford, if at all?

I think most of the things I do at Haverford have that stamp of being Latin American or Latinx. And just to give a little bit of clarification, in some discussions, Latinx is used for people who are of Latin American ancestry but were born in the U.S. So for some people, I wouldn’t be Latinx, I would be Latin American, because there’s this distinction of your belonging and your relationship to the U.S. But, in any case, my background as somebody from Latin America is present in all of my classes. 

I teach Spanish classes where a lot of the content I bring to the class is original, natural content from Latin America. We do a lot of work with music and arts and performance, social movements. It’s very intentional because I want the students to know that Spanish is not just a language but a whole universe of so many countries that speak it and live in the world.  

In addition to Spanish classes, I teach classes like “Caribe Queer,” which students here take a lot because it brings together being queer and being from the Caribbean and being from Latin America. As someone who’s queer and Latin American, that intersection is very rich and very attractive to explore and use as a way to figure out who we are as immigrants and as Latinx people here in the U.S.

Can you tell us one thing about your heritage that is special to you, something that you can’t stop talking or thinking about?

I have a lot of phrases that are Colombian. It’s really funny to me that they come up in my family atmosphere here in Philly with my partner and my friends. If it’s with my partner, who’s from the U.S., I’m always teaching her Colombian sayings for every little thing that happens in our lives. 

If it’s with my friends who are Latin American and immigrants like me, then we’re comparing how they say things in their country. That colloquial language aspect is present all the time. It’s part of my sense of humor and it’s a part of my way of making a point of who I am.

You mentioned being queer. Does that part of your identity emerge in your work here? 

I think I express it in many different ways. I am very open, and I welcome entering students who share queer and Latinx identities with me. I’m very supportive and offer a space for students to feel like they can come and talk to me. 

The classes that I teach also have a lot of materials that come from dissident communities in Latin America that are usually not visualized. They’re not part of the canon. People don’t know about them that much. One of the projects that I lead at Haverford is a community-engaged project where we’re building political education materials for community instructors. We take a lot from pedagogies that are not mainstream. So we take a lot from the movements of popular education in Latin America but also from queer and feminist movements in the region. 

I also bring that as a way of saying, “Look. There are other people in other places doing these things differently, but everybody has the common goal of making the world a better place for everyone.”