Margarita Azmitia answers 5 questions from the We Are Human campaign

This month, we chose Margarita Azmitia as our featured PACH member. Margarita Azmitia is a Professor of Psychology at the University of California Santa Cruz. Learn more about Margarita and read her responses to PACH’s We Are Human questions below.

Margarita (right) with her mother

How does your work foster a common humanity?

Through my research, teaching, and service I try to foster connections and acceptance of multiple identities and encourage careful attention to perspectives that differ from one’s own. Through my work with undergraduate and graduate students, I mentor them such that they can work as a team and research close relationships, emotional support, identity intersectionalities, and academic outcomes. I am active in the first generation student initiative at the university as well as in organization that serves former foster students who come to the university funded by Paige Smith scholarships. Often, these young adults feel isolated at the university and conflicted between their family, school, and financial responsibilities. Supporting them increases their sense of belonging as well as helps them know that there are people in the university who are invested in their success. I also participate in the slug stories initiative, a collection of hundred of digital stories/videos of undergraduate students at UCSC which allows them to express themselves and reflect on their life pathways as well as develop empathy for others.

What is one of your favorite childhood memories and why?

One of my favorite childhood memories is going with my parents and sibs to the Sunday soccer game at the stadium in Guatemala city. My parents rooted for different teams, so we (my 6 sibs and I) had to sit between them as they screamed for their respective teams. Depending on who won, we would have to comfort the other parent. I looked forward to these Sunday outings because the soccer stadium vibrated with cheers and complaints (we all thought we were better players and umpires than those on the field, of course), we got to eat wonderful junk food like oranges and mangos with chili and lemon and roasted corn slathered in sour cream and parmesan cheese, and hang out together as a family. My dad worked a lot so weekends were family time. I miss both of my parents, who have passed on, so find myself thinking a lot about my childhood memories with them.

What is one of the best things that has ever happened to you and why?

There is no question that one of the best things that has ever happened to me is adopting my two daughters, one from Guatemala where I am from and the other from San Mateo California. Maria-Andrea and Carmen are the lights of my life and I feel privileged to be their mother. My life after we became a family completely changed—there are a lot of joy and challenges and I would have to say that it now is never boring.

Whom do you trust the most and why?

This is a very complicated question. I am not particularly religious (lapsed Catholic) and yet, have to say that I trust God because I am sure God has a good plan for us. I trust my family and close friends because they have been there with me at the best, and especially worst, times of my life. And I am learning to trust myself…most of the time.

What do you fear the most in life and why?

In the current political climate in the U.S., Guatemala, and other parts of the world, I fear that we have lost our way, life has become cheap, and there is less compassion for others, especially the disenfranchised. I fear climate change. Basically, I am afraid of the world that our children will inherit, and yet, their activism gives me hope.

What do you most desire in life and why?

I hope my children will continue to be wonderful human beings—caring, responsible, and invested in relationships and the world. Parenting is not easy, and parenting adopted children can be challenging because there is a sense of abandonment my kids constantly fight as they learn to trust others and themselves. My Latina and African American daughters experience racism and discrimination when they least expect it, and because I can pass as white, I find myself constantly worrying about their safety; their resilience and continued hope in the future humbles me, and I hope they never loose this strength and faith in the future and continue their activism on behalf of inclusiveness and fairness.

More about Margarita

Margarita Azmitia grew up in a large family in Guatemala. She came to the U.S. to attend college in North Carolina and obtained her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology at the University of Minnesota. Since 1989, she has been at the University of California in Santa Cruz. Her research, teaching, and service focus on understanding developmental transitions and adjustment in adolescence and emerging adulthood. Her particular focus is on the role of friendships, families, and educational institutions in identity intersectionalities, educational pathways, and mental health in ethnically and socioeconomically adolescents and emerging adults.

Margarita with her two daughters (and daughter’s boyfriend)