As we continue to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by shining light on those who contribute towards our community, we must not forget the successes being achieved by the disadvantaged younger generations; they are the ones who will continue to confront ever-evolving political and social issues.
Jonathan Peraza is a graduate school student at Georgia State University and an Emory University alumnus. He serves as a Fulbright ETA Fellow in Guatemala for 2019 where he is assisting with English classes, conducting research about race and racism in Guatemala, and studying Central American migrations and social movements.
Jonathan’s identity is that of gay and Central American. He had to overcome belittlement and bullying over his ethnicity and homosexuality throughout his academic career. In middle school, he had a difficult time finding social groups as he felt that he did not fit in with Latinx or other groups, all of which displayed homophobic aggression. Inevitably, this treatment led to depression and anxiety as is often the case with bullying. Through perseverance and a commitment to do better, he was able to overcome those early years of set-backs, however.
After moving to Atlanta in high school, Jonathan developed an interest in teaching as a way to combat socioeconomic and racial inequities. He witnessed teachers lowering their expectations for their minority students, and he wanted to combat this dangerous ideology. Jonathan wanted to become a teacher who cares about his students’ successes and well-being both within and outside the classroom.
During his senior year of high school, Jonathan received the Gates Millenium Scholarship to attend Emory University where he intended to pursue a degree in English and Educational Studies. However, upon taking classes in Sociology, Ethnic Studies, and Gender/Sexuality Studies and becoming involved in social justice activism like the Black Lives Matter and other racial and immigrant justice campaigns, Jonathan became empowered to analyze schools as institutions and realized that his voice would be most powerful as an educator, scholar, and a community organizer. Jonathan hopes to use his Master’s degree in Social Foundations of Education to implement cultural history and political education programs at the community level using multicultural and popular education models. Jonathan intends to further his education and community outreach by pursuing a Ph.D. in Sociology. His doctoral degree will enable him to teach and conduct research about race and racism, migration, education, and social movements to university students and youth. These programs will serve to increase political efficacy in younger generations and make sure each student reaches their potential to make positive changes for themselves and others.
Jonathan has been the recipient of several prestigious awards including the Gates Millennium Scholarship, Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, Fulbright ETA Fellowship, and two Emory NAACP Image Awards. He credits his success in large part to his single mother who has spent her entire life working long hours and suffering from exploitation, humiliation, and abuse to ensure that her children grew up in better conditions than she had. He is also thankful for his various mentors, especially his Black and Latina female professors, who invested time, energy, and resources for his growth as a scholar, educator, and activist. Jonathan provides these words of wisdom to all those with similar backgrounds: “Learn your history, embrace your culture, and take pride in your identity. Once you know who you are and are empowered in it, it is your duty to help empower somebody else.”