Aura Jirau

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1. Please explain what you do for a living.

Currently I am a full-time graduate student funded by the University of Pittsburgh. Before becoming ABD, I worked as a teaching assistant for Pitt’s Department of History. I have been researching my doctoral dissertation full-time in Puerto Rico since July 2017. Currently I am finishing gathering newspaper sources and oral history interviews before moving back to Pittsburgh to begin writing the document itself, which I hope to defend by Spring 2020.

2. How important in your identity is being Latino/a?

The label “Latina” took a new meaning once I moved to the US mainland. As a Puerto Rican woman who grew up in the island, I was unaccustomed to the way race worked in the everyday lives of US-Americans. I am white-looking, but other traits like my accent when speaking English and the ways I interact with others makes them racialize me as something other than white. Identifying as Latina has helped me understand that differentiation and to integrate myself into a community with similar experiences.

3. Is there something that you particularly value of your nationality or of being Latino/a?

I could not be prouder of being Puerto Rican. As shown in the aftermath of Hurricane María, we are a resilient people who come together and help each other out to move beyond the conditions set by our colonial status. Puerto Ricans are very mobile, and we find ways not only to come together as a community no matter where we are, but to support the island from whenever we are. We are also some of the best cooks in the world, have you ever heard of Mofongo?

4. Have you been treated differently because of being Latino/a (in the workplace, in public settings, etc.)? If so, can you describe a situation?

I found Pittsburgh to be a very welcoming city. Though the Latino community is small, most of my experience has been positive. I did experience discrimination once at PennDOT, when an employee did not file my change of driver’s license because of it being Puerto Rican. Though frustrating, Pittsburgh’s Port Authority remained my main form of transportation and graduate school kept me busy enough to keep me from following up. I later found out that the ACLU investigated the issue. I hope to be able to finally solve the issue when I return to the city.