Bringing culture to the classroom

Many Americans, including Angelita Rovero, have had their identities centered around a generic stereotypical label—one often including a hyphen.

African-American. Asian-American.

The names have become too general to describe someone’s culture.

Rovero, who is both Mexican and Jewish, felt like she was in a divide between these two identities.

Now, as a Chicano Studies professor, Rovero teaches students that they do not have to label themselves with broad strokes, such as Hispanic, simply because they come from a Spanish-speaking country.

“Why don’t you just say a country of origin that you come from?” Rovero said. “Everybody else does it. The German’s gonna say they’re German. A Spaniard’s gonna say they’re a Spaniard. Somebody French is gonna say they’re French and what the hell’s wrong? Of course. Say you’re Mexican. Say you’re Salvadorian. And carry that with pride.”

Rovero is the first full-time hire in the Chicano Studies department. She said she couldn’t believe that she got the position.

“When they called me for the job, I was crying,” Rovero said. “I remember in the middle of Target. I was like, ‘Oh, my God,’ because this is what I wanted, and to be home, in a place that I didn’t have a safe place for myself. And so I’m just grateful to be here.”

When Rovero was attending Pierce, she said she felt outcast because the student body was not diverse and because faculty members did not seem approachable.

Now, she is amazed at how diverse and supportive the campus is. She is working on expanding the Chicano Studies department and she also set up the MEChA club, which promotes cultural awareness on campus.

Rovero said it is important for her to teach Chicano Studies because Mexican history has been taught from the perspective of colonizers, who depicted indigenous Mexicans as savages. She said she is passionate about teaching the material correctly.

Before working in education, Rovero was doing bone marrow drives in her community. She got local radio stations to come to these events, which got her a job at hip hop radio station Power 106. 

She went from doing bone marrow donation drives to founding Wish Upon an Angel, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes to terminally ill children. She created this organization in honor of two young boys. Mario Molina was diagnosed with leukemia at age 2 and passed away in 1999 at age 5 because of complications with a bone marrow transplant. 

Kyle Rodas was diagnosed with leukemia at age 3. Despite his recovery, he developed brain cancer at age 14. He was granted a wish by an organization when he was 3 and was no longer eligible for another wish. Rovero took it upon herself to arrange for Rodas to meet his favorite celebrities. One celebrity who was not on the list was actor Danny Trejo, who reached out to help and continues to help Rovero to this day.

“I want to do so much, but I’m limited in what I can do,” Rovero said.

At the same time, she was teaching at the Los Angeles Unified School District. She briefly taught elementary school, then middle school for 16 years, then high school at Canoga Park High School. 

She said teaching college was the game changer for her. Before Pierce, she taught at East Los Angeles College and California State University, Northridge.

But Rovero never thought she would be in education. While attending CSUN, she was on academic probation. She said she felt lost until she took her first Chicano Studies class. 

“I take a class, I find out who I am,” Rovero said. “And then I’m like on the Dean’s list. It was this idea that I’ll never forget — the feeling where I felt a sense of empowerment, that you can do anything.”

She wants to have that same effect on her students.

“To quote America Ferreira, ‘your identity is your superpower,’” Rovero said. “That’s your strength. So how could you go wrong?”

Dean of Student Engagement Juan Carlos Astorga said Rovero is the “essence” of the Chicano Studies department and is dedicated and engaging when teaching her courses. 

Astorga said what he admires most about Rovero is her humility and her positive outlook on life.

“As overwhelming as life gets, it’s an opportunity to say, ‘Well, what’s the teachable moment here?’” Astorga said. “That’s really what Angelita has taught me. How do we look at things from a new lens so it’s not from the perspective of deficit, but opportunity.”

Astorga said he has witnessed the lasting effect Rovero has on her students.

“She can believe in a student when they don’t believe in themselves,” Astorga said. “And she can give them motivation to continue through it all, to find that resiliency, embrace the struggles that they’ve gone through and then grow and to become the people that they were meant to be in this world.”

One student whose life was changed because of Rovero is CSUN student Martha Robles.

Robles took one of Rovero’s classes at Pierce when she was feeling lost. She was no longer playing softball, her life’s passion, and she did not know what she wanted to do.

“It was love at first sight, having a teacher there that looks like you, that spoke like you, that reminded me of my tías and my mom,” Robles said. “Ever since the first class, she really hit home with me.”

Robles attended underfunded schools growing up and was told she wouldn’t amount to anything. She said she felt wrong about who she was, but she became grounded in her identity when she joined MEChA and took Rovero’s class.

“She made me believe in myself,” Robles said. “She’s telling me things that no teacher, no professor, has ever told me. I can still go to college, and I can still finish at a four-year and I can still do all the things that everybody else has told me I couldn’t do for XYZ reasons. And so for the first time I’m hearing somebody in the academic realm telling me these things and it ignited within me a fire.”

Rovero still keeps in contact with Robles, as she does with as many of her former students as she can.

“I treat my students like my kids, even some of them that are older than me,” Rovero said. “It doesn’t matter. They’re my kids at that time. I tell them once you’re with me, you’re with me for life.”