Fellows | 29 April 2021

Working with Senderos, THI Public Fellows are making a difference in our community

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This year, The Humanities Institute (THI) is supporting three students (one graduate and two undergraduates) to work with Senderos, a local nonprofit that focuses on promoting Latinx culture and history and fostering educational opportunities in the Santa Cruz Latinx community. In their different roles, THI’s Public Fellows are working with Senderos to strengthen the networks and resources that play a pivotal role in providing critical services to many in our community. The organization offers youth and adults tutoring and scholarships to promote biliteracy, biculturalism, academic skills, and higher education. It also hosts dance and music programming, putting on showcases at different events and festivals throughout the year. Since its founding by two sisters, Fe Silva-Robles and Nereida Robles Vasquez, both born in Santiago Laxopa, Ixtlan, Oaxaca, Senderos has established an important presence in Santa Cruz, teaching Latinx culture and history through artistic expression, supporting academic success, and building cross-cultural connections locally and abroad.

Kelsey Sasaki

THI’s Public Fellowships are providing students with an opportunity to connect their Humanities scholarship with Senderos’ projects in our local community.  Kelsey Sasaki, a PhD Candidate in the Linguistics Department at UC Santa Cruz, is currently working on her dissertation and serving as a THI Year-Long Public Fellow. In this capacity, Sasaki is working with Senderos to support the  organization’s broad array of programming . “My responsibilities fall into two basic categories,” says Sasaki, “administrative support for Senderos, and language materials management for Nido de Lenguas, a collaboration between Senderos and the UC Santa Cruz Linguistics Department, that shares and celebrates the indigenous languages of Oaxaca. Those are both fairly wide umbrellas, though! Just a few of my tasks so far have included grant research, purchasing musical instruments (exciting for this former band geek!), and creating online versions of the Nido de Lenguas games.” 

Sasaki is also helping guide the work of two undergraduate THI Public Fellows. Yatziri Arias Torres is a fourth-year double major in Latin American & Latino Studies and Politics. As an undergraduate Public Fellow, she is the Assistant Program Coordinator of ¡Adelante Santa Cruz!, Senderos’ scholarship and academic support program for future first-generation college students. Alongside her Public Fellowship, she is also a mentor in the Corre La Voz program, which began a partnership with Senderos this year. This program serves Latina/o 4th and 5th graders at Bay View Elementary and is led by UC Santa Cruz undergraduates, offering academic mentoring to develop multimodal literacies. In addition, Torres is a Co-Chair of UCSC’s Sabrosura Dance Troupe, which has performed at a variety of Senderos events. On top of her extensive mentoring experience, Torres shares her personal experiences as a first-generation college student, giving ¡Adelante! students valuable insight into both the challenges and successes they may face in college. According to Sasaki, Yatziri is a vital part of the program: “From successfully moving the program online to providing personal outreach to the ¡Adelante! students and their families, Yatziri is an invaluable part of ¡Adelante!.”

Mikayla Falk

THI undergraduate Public Fellow Mikayla Falk is a third-year Literature major. She is a lead Language Education Developer for Nido de Lenguas. Falk’s work as a THI Public Fellow has been instrumental in adapting Nido de Lenguas’ language-learning materials for the online world. With her impressive versatility and energy, she has advanced several projects, mostly centered on Santiago Laxopa Zapotec. Among these are a “Word of the Day” Instagram series, the development of  a printable memory game package (complete with mini-lessons about the language and its speakers), and an interview series in which speakers of Oaxacan languages share the ways in which their language shapes their experiences.

Reflecting on her fellowship with Senderos, Falk, says that: “Working as a Language Education Developer has allowed me to help present an indigenous language to the public by creating content to spread knowledge and understanding of Zapoteco de Santiago Laxopa.” Falk, a first-generation student, describes how the project reflects her broader intellectual interests: “Through my writing, I strive to communicate the importance of representation for the Chicanx community and bridge the gaps of dysphoria that separate the self from the other.” As a literature major, she works in literary analysis with an emphasis on cultural and feminist perspectives, also writing poetry and narrative prose. According to Falk, this fellowship has allowed her to use her linguistic skills to work with UC Santa Cruz linguists and Senderos. She adds that: “Being able to independently create learning materials so audiences can easily learn Zapotec has been fulfilling work that allows me to be immersed in a beautiful culture and learn about incredible people.”

Speaking about the importance of the undergraduate Public Fellowships, Sasaki says that: “I’m grateful that THI opened these undergraduate positions for Senderos, and even more grateful that Yatziri and Mikayla are the people I get to work with. Even in this extra-challenging year, they have poured—and keep pouring—enormous creativity, energy, and passion into their work as Public Fellows. (Also, they are both interested in working for Latinx-serving (nonprofit) organizations like Senderos in the future.)” THI is proud to play a part in supporting community-engaged public humanities work like that done by these fellows. Such opportunities are relatively rare for undergraduates, and would not have been possible without the generous funding of the Helen and Will Webster Foundation.


The 2020-2021 Undergraduate Public Fellowships are generously supported by the Helen and Will Webster Foundation. The 2020-2021 THI Year-Long Graduate Public Fellowship is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Expanding Humanities Impacts and Publics initiative.