Brown Futures: Helping Latinxs To Survive And To Thrive In The Pittsburgh Area

My name is Oscar Zapata and I am a second year Ph.D. student in the Department of Hispanic Languages and Literatures. Through theoretical frameworks drawing from cultural studies, ethnic studies, critical queer studies, and science and technology studies, my current research project is a multidisciplinary analysis of Chicano, Black and Latin American speculative fiction artifacts (e.g. films, literature, and graphic novels) as tools of decolonial and anti-capitalist struggle. I strongly believe in the power of migrant, people of color, and Global South narratives as speculative projects that can reimagine new futures, different forms of community, and more responsible interactions with our environment.

The past year, at the same time we were going through the worst global health crisis in contemporary history, the most important social movement since the Civil Rights Era arose in streets of the major cities in the US. The Black Lives Matter movement highlighted not only police brutality against communities of color but made evident the social inequities and structural racism present in our society. This experience made me question the relevance and scope of my research in relation to the community to which I belong.

Casa San José staff Covid-19 vaccination campaign

Migrant family and Claudia Sanchez, Health Care Navigator, during the Covid-19 vaccination campaign. Note: All the adults in the picture have been vaccinated. This photo is property of Casa San José.

As a result, and thanks to the help of the Humanities Engage Summer Immersive Fellowship Program, I have been working this summer as a fellow at Casa San José. Casa San José is a community resource center that advocates for and empowers Latinxs by promoting integration and self-sufficiency. This center has worked with the Latinx community in the Pittsburgh area for several years, helping Latinxs to navigate the health system, social services, and the legal system to survive and to thrive in this community. To accomplish this mission, it is crucial to find proper communication strategies that will promote the programs and activities provided for the members of the community, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. After discussion with Andrea M. Padilla-Herrera, Communications Specialist, and taking into consideration the needs Casa San José is facing right now, as well as my professional humanistic background, we decided to work together in a communications strategy and a social media marketing plan for the center.

Casa San José staff Covid-19 vaccination campaignCasa San José staff working on the Covid-19 vaccination campaign with Latinx communities. Note: All the people in the pictures have been vaccinated. This photo is property of Casa San José.

For these purposes, I have drawn on my editorial and publishing experience as Editorial Assistant for the Revista Iberoamericana, a journal published by the Instituto Internacional de Literatura Iberoamericana (IILI), based at the University of Pittsburgh. This academic journal, published in Spanish, Portuguese, and English, is one of the oldest publications on Hispanic and Latin American studies in the United States. Also, while completing my bilingual M.F.A in Creative Writing at the University of Texas at El Paso as a Fulbright scholar, I worked as an Editorial Assistant for the Revista de Literatura Mexicana Contemporánea, one of the most important academic journals in the U.S. focused on Contemporary Mexican Literature.

These editorial experiences have been extremely useful in the development of content and copy writing strategies on social media to expand the audience of Casa San José. Furthermore, my time at the border city of El Paso has been a particularly helpful, because I could see first-hand the complex and problematic consequences of foreign politics and migration policies for migrants.

By contributing to the work done by Casa San José, I hope to give back some of the knowledge I have obtained throughout my academic career. I also hope to put into practice the philosophical and social critical awareness generated from my research by contributing to and promoting community organization and support. As graduate students, we often do not engage with the local communities outside the university environment. Through the Summer Immersive Fellowship Program, I am trying to get closer to the needs of my community in the Pittsburgh area and to create ties between the academic institutions and local community activism.

Oscar Zapata
Hispanic Languages and Literatures
June 2021

Learn about all the Pitch Your Own Summer Immersive Fellows and Curated Immersive Summer Fellows and their experiences with their host organizations.