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Interview with Lindsay Pérez Huber, Ph.D. from California State University, Long Beach on Critical Race and Feminista Perspectives in Education, Racial Microaggressions, and the Experiences Undocumented Latinx Students

About Lindsay Pérez Huber, Ph.D.: Lindsay Pérez Huber is Professor in the Equity, Education and Social Justice (EESJ) Master’s program in the College of Education at California State University, Long Beach. Dr. Pérez Huber’s contributions to equity in education include her innovative use of critical race feminista and testimonio methodologies, her scholarship on racial microaggressions and microaffirmations, and her work with undocumented Latinx students in higher education.

Dr. Pérez Huber is coauthor of Racial Microaggressions: Using Critical Race Theory to Respond to Everyday Racism with Daniel G. Solórzano and co-editor of Why They Hate Us: How Racist Rhetoric Impacts Education with Susana M. Muñoz. She has published widely in leading educational journals such as Race, Ethnicity and Education; Qualitative Inquiry; and Equity and Excellence in Education, as well as law journals like the Charleston Law Review, the University of California, Los Angeles’ (UCLA) Chicanx Latinx Law Review, and the Nevada Law Journal. Dr. Pérez Huber was formerly Vice President for the Critical Race Studies in Education Association (CRSEA) and a Visiting Scholar at UCLA’s Center for Critical Race Studies and the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. She has also served as a Faculty Fellow for the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education and was a National Academy of Science Ford Foundation Fellow.

Dr. Pérez Huber received her Ph.D. and M.A. in Social Science and Comparative Education with a specialization in Race, Ethnic and Cultural Studies in Education from UCLA. She holds B.A. in Political Science and Chicano/Latino Studies from the University of California, Irvine.

Interview Questions

[] May we begin with an overview of your academic and professional background? How did you become invested in issues of social justice and equity in education, particularly as they pertain to critiquing racial inequities and generating opportunities for undocumented students, Latina/o/x students, and Communities of Color?

[Dr. Lindsay Pérez Huber] I grew up in two very different communities. I grew up in a working-class family in a city called Carson, California, here in southern California. My parents were service workers, and I was the oldest of three daughters. Carson is a smaller urban city within LA County that is about 15 miles south of downtown Los Angeles. It was and is a mostly working class, mostly Black and Brown community. My grandparents lived in a neighboring city to the west of us called Torrance, which was and is a mostly middle class, mostly white and East Asian city.

When I started school, my mom thought that I would get a better education in Torrance than where we lived in Carson. We used my grandparents’ address so I could attend schools in Torrance. It was a very big secret. We had many conversations about not telling people that we did not live in Torrance or where we actually lived. As a result of this, I always knew that the school that I was going to was not the school that I was supposed to be at. This feeling that I did not really belong there shaped my experience and education.

Then, when I got to middle school we moved, and I experienced another transition to a different community. We moved to a rural community in an area called Inland Empire, which is about 60 miles east of LA. This was at the end of my middle school coming-of-age, and I was beginning to notice how this community was much more politically conservative, much more white, and very different geographically than where I had grown up. Again, I felt out of place. I remember feeling the need to fit in, but never quite feeling like I did.

I was very motivated to leave and to go to college. I went to UC Irvine, which was about an hour and a half drive away. Before I even started the fall semester of my freshman year, I was invited to participate in a summer bridge program. There I learned what it meant to be at a research institution, what research was, and started to hear about what getting a Ph.D. and becoming a professor meant. That launched my interest in research and pursuing a career as a professor.

In the summer bridge program, they also told me about the McNair Scholars program, studying abroad in Europe, and all of these other undergraduate research programs that I did. I was very lucky to be pipelined into these programs that serve first-generation and working-class students. If it had not been for that, I do not know if I would have ever been exposed to many of these opportunities. I do not know if I would have ended up doing research or becoming a professor.

I also found ethnic studies as an undergraduate. Ethnic studies changed my life in the sense that it gave me an opportunity to develop a racial literacy and a critical consciousness that I did not have at the time. It allowed me to reflect on and understand my own experiences in education and to learn about the history of my community and the histories of other communities of color. My training in ethnic studies influenced and continues to influence the trajectory of my scholarship. All of these early experiences I had in education and the opportunities that I had as an undergraduate student were critical in shaping how I think about inequities, how I think about education, and how I think about race and racism.

[] Would you introduce us to how you define equity in your own research and practice? More specifically, how does your engagement with Latina/o/x critical race theory and Chicana feminism inform your understanding of equity in education?

[Dr. Lindsay Pérez Huber] I was introduced to critical race theory through a Summer Opportunity Research Program I did as an undergraduate, where I worked for a summer with Dr. Laurence Parker, who was at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign at the time. This was in the early 2000s, and he was working on one of the first articles about using critical race theory (CRT) in higher education. Still, I really did not begin my training with CRT or using CRT in my own research until I was a graduate student working at UCLA with Daniel Solórzano.

I think critical race theory and critical race feminista perspectives have certainly shaped my view of race, its intersections with gender, and how these positionalities mediate educational and life opportunities and outcomes. Much of my work has focused on women of color, specifically Chicanas and Latinas, and how they encounter, negotiate, and resist the interlocking systems of white supremacy and patriarchy. When it comes to equity efforts, I center a structural analysis of inequity to understand how our education systems, as a reflection of broader social institutions, were not created for communities of color. My understanding of equity is grounded in the belief that we must create strategies that disrupt institutional racism to create greater opportunities for equity that will ultimately move us towards racial justice for communities of color.

[] Two central theoretical contributions of your work have been the development of the methodologies of testimonio and critical race feminista analysis. Would you discuss these related methodologies and how they inform how you study educational inequity and resistance?

[Dr. Lindsay Pérez Huber] Testimonio is an intimate and urgent form of public storytelling that has a long history in Latin American human rights struggles dating back to long before we have been using testimonio as a methodology in education and in academia in general. It follows a long tradition of storytelling by communities of color that has endured for centuries.

I began theorizing testimonio as a research methodology when I was a doctoral student because I felt that the qualitative methodologies that I had learned in my methods classes were not quite doing justice to the stories of the undocumented and U.S.-born Chicana and Latina women that I was engaging with in my dissertation work. I saw testimonio as a humanizing form of research methodology that would help me to work collaboratively with the women in my study to theorize their experiences.

Testimonio breaks away from the notion of the objective researcher and acts as a decolonizing methodology. Critical race feminista methodology is a broader umbrella term to describe methodologies like testimonio that are grounded in critical race and Chicana feminist perspectives. In terms of inequity and resistance, this work collectively moves towards the goal of reclaiming erased histories and experiences. It is guided by community and justice-based praxes. In particular, Chicana feminist perspectives and critical race feminista approaches highlight the inextricable link between the mind, the body, and the spirit in advocacy work and the need for healing in justice work. These are some of the lessons that I have learned from these methodological approaches to equity and resistance.

[] One major thread of your work has been the study of racial microaggressions, which is the subject of your recent book Racial Microaggressions: Using CRT to Respond to Everyday Racism. Would you provide us with an overview of your work on racial microaggressions in educational contexts and discuss how critical race theory offers valuable tools for perceiving and confronting this issue?

[Dr. Lindsay Pérez Huber] That book was coauthored with Danny [Daniel Solórzano], who, as I mentioned, was my dissertation chair when I was a graduate student. We continued to work together on our research after I completed my doctorate. Danny, along with others at UCLA like Dr. Walter Allen, were already doing work on racial microaggressions, and they helped inspire that trajectory of my research.

In Racial Microaggressions, which was published in 2020, we built on the decades-long work of Dr. Chester Pierce on racial microaggressions. Pierce first coined the term back in the 1970s in his research on everyday racism in the lives of Black communities. In the book, we talk about how racial microaggressions are verbal and nonverbal assaults that are directed toward People of Color. They are often subtle, automatic, and unconscious, but they are also layered. They can be based on a person of color’s race, but typically refer to intersections of race, gender, class, sexuality, immigration status, language, phenotype, et cetera. The third component of racial microaggressions, which we learned from Dr. Pierce, is that there are cumulative psychological and physiological effects that take a toll on People of Color when they experience these assaults every day.

In the book we describe how People of Color experience microaggressions, and we provide a framework to understand the different types of microaggressions and their different contexts. We also offer that there are both immediate and cumulative effects of this everyday racism and explore the different ways People of Color respond to it. We use this framework as a scaffolding throughout the chapters in the book to understand how People of Color experience everyday racism along these four components: types, causes, effects, responses. We were also very intentional about being representative to show how racial microaggressions can happen across communities of color. We consider how everyday racism shows up in the experiences of Latino communities, Black communities, Native American communities, and Asian American communities.

The study of racial microaggressions from a critical race theory perspective is distinct from other studies of racial microaggressions that do not use a CRT framework, because CRT allows us to center the experiences of People of Color. Some other studies of everyday racism like scholarship on implicit or unconscious bias focus on the perpetrators of everyday racism. If we are studying microaggressions from a critical race theory perspective, we are focusing on the impact that everyday racism has on the Person of Color who experiences it, rather than the intent of the perpetrator.

[] In this book and elsewhere, your work on microaggressions has also explored the political potential of “microaffirmations” in contrast to the damaging impact of microaggressions. Would you introduce us to the concept of “racial microaffirmation” and its importance, perhaps drawing on your coauthored publication “Theorizing Racial Microaffirmations as a Response to Racial Microaggressions: Counterstories Across Three Generations of Critical Race Scholars”?

[Dr. Lindsay Pérez Huber] Thanks for that question and for acknowledging this piece in particular. This publication was really special for me because it was coauthored with my oldest daughter, Layla. At the time she helped write this, she was in about eighth grade. She’s 20 now and in her first year of college. When we were writing this, she was much younger and developing her own critical consciousness about race and racism. We were actually working together on identifying racial microaggressions in children’s books based on her own experience of reading a book and seeing a very racist portrayal of a Mexican bandit. I talked about that in an earlier piece, and we started having more conversations about microaggressions.

That led to our piece examining children’s books, and then we began presenting our work. First, we were invited by my colleague to present to her class, and then it was at academic conferences like the American Educational Research Association (AERA), the Critical Race Studies in Education Association (CRSEA), and others. We were preparing for one of our presentations on racial microaggressions for the children’s book project, and my daughter said, “You know, conversations about microaggressions are always so sad. When we’re talking about racial microaggressions, maybe there’s a more positive or uplifting way we can end our presentation.” I asked, “Like what?”

She told me that she was reading a book called Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan. It is a great book about a little girl who is growing up in Mexico. She is very wealthy, but then a series of tragedies happen to her and her family. They end up losing everything and becoming migrant workers in central California. Layla said, “When I think about microaggressions it makes me feel really sad, but when I think about examples like this, it makes me proud. It makes me feel good.” At the time Danny and I had been discussing the concept of the microaffirmation. I shared that with her and she suggested we call it a racial microaffirmation.

We returned to my colleague’s class and presented her example of Esperanza Rising as a racial microaffirmation. We began to work on our definition. In the piece that we wrote together, we defined a microaffirmation as a response to a racial microaggression: as a subtle verbal or nonverbal strategy that People of Color can engage with to affirm dignity, integrity, and shared humanity. We drew from a work of Henry Louis Gates Jr., who does not use the term microaffirmation but describes moments of shared cultural intimacy between People of Color. We use this language of “cultural intimacy” to show how these moments allow People of Color to feel acknowledged, respected, and valued in a society that perpetually seeks to dehumanize them through the everyday indignities of microaggressions.

Our definition has evolved a little bit. In a recent piece I have been working on, I am using a critical race feminista perspective to theorize racial microaffirmations. This allows us to think about how microaffirmations can become embodied — the ways that they affect our minds, bodies, and our spirits. It is a powerful study that one of my former graduate students helped me and Daniel Solórzano with. We explore how healing is one component of what racial microaffirmations can do when shared between People of Color.

[] You are also editor of the recent volume, Why They Hate Us: How Racist Rhetoric Impacts Education. Would you provide us with some background on this collection and discuss the diagnosis you give in its conclusion that our contemporary political and educational context is afflicted by a “racism pandemic?”

[Dr. Lindsay Pérez Huber] I co-edited this book with a close colleague of mine, Dr. Susana Muñoz. We wanted to bring together important research that was documenting how the racist rhetoric of the Trump administration was directly influencing the experiences of students of color from K-12 to higher education.

We started the project right before the 2020 Presidential Election, after seeing some extremely concerning violent things happening in public schools and in higher education that drew on the racist rhetoric that was being used by that administration. We wanted to show how this impacted not only our students but also our faculty, staff, and campus communities. That was the goal behind editing that collection of contributed chapters. There were several amazing scholars doing work to document these effects, and we wanted to publish this book to showcase that.

In the last chapter, we concluded the volume by discussing what we called the “racism pandemic.” By the time we were writing that chapter, we were in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and beginning to see the drastic consequences of COVID-19 for Communities of Color. The most disenfranchised communities were struggling to get access to the vaccine. The disproportionate impacts of hospitalization, sickness, and death in Black and Brown communities were a reflection of a legacy of racism and white supremacy.

Then, in the summer of 2020, we saw the eruption of anti-racist movements marked by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other innocent Black folks. It was this confluence of events that we termed the racism pandemic. The term describes the racism that we see manifest in the disproportionate numbers of People of Color, mostly Black and Brown folks, getting sick and dying from COVID, as well as in the larger struggle for racial justice happening in the summer of 2020.

We called for a few things in that chapter as a way to address this racism pandemic. We wanted to leave readers with some kind of hopeful direction for moving forward, despite the really difficult time that we were going through as we were writing the conclusion of this book. We talked about institutional accountability and having institutions recognize that racism is a problem. We called for institutions to recognize that combating racism was in the scope of their responsibilities. We talked about how important it was to decolonize education and educational spaces. We also talked about using ethnic studies as a model for what institutions and schools can do.

Finally, we wanted to have a humanizing, actionable goal. Faculty of color are typically the go-to people for anything related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). DEI work disproportionately rests on the shoulders of People of Color in educational institutions, whether that is students, faculty, staff, or administration. We talked about how all faculty, teachers, administrators, and staff can be trained to engage in equity efforts so that it is not solely the responsibility of the People of Color within those schools and institutions. Those were a few ways we offered to resist the racism pandemic.

[] Previously, you served as Vice President for the Critical Race Studies in Education Association (CRSEA), and you are currently Visiting Scholar at the UCLA Center for Critical Race Studies (CCRS). Would you tell us a bit about the CRSEA and the CCRS and highlight some of your work with them?

[Dr. Lindsay Pérez Huber] I will start with the Critical Race Studies in Education Association (CRSEA). I began my involvement with CRSEA as a graduate student. It was such an important space for me. Our first conference for CRSEA was in Chicago around 2008. I believe Danny [Daniel Solórzano] told the students about it and encouraged us to go, engage, and present our work.

We did, and it was just an amazing space of community. It was other critical race theory scholars and students who were there to support our work, not challenge it and question it, which was happening in some other spaces. It was a place where we could flourish. I think you could call it a space of microaffirmation in the sense we discussed before that has become so important to my work. When I was an Assistant Professor, the opportunity arose to join the leadership team. I became Vice President when our President was Dr. Mark Giles.

It was a full circle moment, where I was able to take a part in the leadership of an organization that was so important to me as a graduate student. I saw it was an opportunity to center and forefront the graduate students who are part of the organization. We did some fundraising to get travel funds so that graduate students could come to the conference. We had a mentorship program for our grad students, where we matched students with senior scholars in CRT. We also continued the Derrick Bell Legacy Award program, which recognizes senior scholars in our field that are doing career-long work committed to CRT in their scholarship and their praxis. My leadership in CRSEA became an opportunity to give back to an organization that has been so important to me.

The Center for Critical Race Studies (CCRS) at UCLA tries to uplift and highlight scholarship on critical race theory and education specifically. One of the important things that they do is publish a series of policy briefs on important topics in critical race theory and education. I got involved with the CCRS when Daniel Solórzano invited me to write one of these policy briefs on racial microaffirmations. This became another space of community. It gave me the sense that we were doing this work as a collective. You can go and find some great policy briefs at the CCRS that have been published on important empirical, methodological, and theoretical contributions to critical race theory in education.

[] Based on your research and experience, do you have advice you would give to scholars, educators, or administrators seeking to advance educational equity through their own work?

[Dr. Lindsay Pérez Huber] One thing that was so important for me was doing this work in community with others. Working towards equity, disrupting institutional racism, and thinking about what justice looks like within our spheres of influence can take a toll. My peers, my mentors, and my students really need each other. As faculty, we also need to support the next generation of students doing this work. That is what sustains us: it is our relationships together. We need to pay attention to our physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing to ensure that we can continue to work toward equity and justice for our communities.

Thank you, Dr. Peréz Huber, for sharing your insight on equity in education, exploring your use of critical race feminista and testimonio methodologies, introducing us to your work on racial microaggressions and microaffirmations, and more!