who do I come from?

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Me with my paternal grandmother, Josephine.

My name is Daniela Peñaloza Jiménez, the middle name being my mother’s maiden name, and the last name being my father’s. I’m a second generation latin@-American woman, the daughter of a high school history teacher and a former Spanish-language television journalist.

My father, the educator, was born to a Cuban mother and a Mexican father, who met at the USC Graduate School for Education. Oscar, my grandfather, had emigrated from Sonora, Mexico as a young man, a refugee displaced by the Mexican Revolution. He settled in Los Angeles with his family, and was teaching a course on educational administration when he met Josephine, my grandmother, who was his student. Josephine (or, Nena, as I knew her) had left Cuba in 1924 at age 12, at her family’s insistence that she receive a secular education—something that was not possible beyond the primary grades in Cuba at the time. Oscar and Josephine raised my father in an environment of appreciation and celebration for their shared cultural heritage. There are photographs of my grandparents’ trips to Mexico City, where Josephine would study folkloric dance and music at the UNAM and Oscar would take Super 8 video footage of bullfights. Josephine attended UCLA for her bachelor’s degree, and rose steadily through the ranks of public education positions, first as a music and Spanish teacher, later a principal for Hamilton High School, and ultimately serving as a superintendent for the Los Angeles Unified School District. She is the first Latin@ woman in history to serve in this capacity. Here is her obituary from the Los Angeles Times.

Their son, my father, Carlos, has been a teacher in Los Angeles for over 30 years. He received his bachelors and masters degrees from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and that remains the furthest from L.A. that he has ever resided. He was an early developer of Mexican American / Chicano Studies, contributing to the literature of the discipline with a textbook titled “The Mexican American Heritage.” In keeping with his parents’ struggle for shifting the focus of education to be multiethnic and cross-cultural, Carlos has taught Mexican American Studies and Advanced Placement United States History, earning the Yale Educators Award for excellent in teaching. Recently, he developed a U.S. History and Popular Culture Course that emphasizes the mixed heritage of U.S. pop culture icons, and works to demystify the logic and landscape of  U.S. cultural references.

He met my mother, Virginia, in Zihuatenejo, in the Mexican state of Guerrerro, in the mid-eighties, when she was working for FONATUR, a Mexican tourism company. She was born in Mexico City, the seventh of eight siblings, and had recently graduated from UNAM (the United Autonomous University of Mexico). Her mother, Flora, was the matriarch of the household, while Raymundo, a warm, bohemian man, owned and operated a textile factory in the city. Virginia studied media communications at the School of Journalism at UNAM, one of the only women among her siblings to graduate from University. After a couple of years of transnational courtship, my mother moved to Los Angeles and landed a job as a field reporter for the Spanish-language television network Telemundo. She covered Cesar Chavez’s leadership in the farmworker rights movement, and even interviewed Dolores Huerta, a prominent community organizer that worked closely with Chavez. The early 90’s are recognized for the explosion of Spanish-language mass media, with my mother riding the wave of its ascendency. After Telemundo, she transferred to Univisión, where she continued covering stories from the field. She ended her journalism career at Univisión after being disillusioned with the working conditions and overwhelming demands of the network. She worked for the U.S. Census in 2010, coordinating community partnerships with cultural organizations in order to ensure accurate counts. Currently, she is beginning to write a thesis for the UNAM about the relevance of a media journalism education to practice in the field.

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