Mount Holyoke student honored as a Latina Future History Maker

Mount Holyoke student Naomy Poot Ibarra is working to center their family’s Indigenous Maya heritage.

When Naomy Poot Ibarra’s father was a child in Quintana Roo, Mexico, he witnessed his father and other relatives communicate in Maya, the Indigenous language of his family. But his father, Poot Ibarra’s grandfather, intentionally never passed the language on to his children. “My grandpa chose not to teach my dad and aunts their Indigenous language because that would’ve meant they experienced discrimination,” they explained. “He made the decision not to teach them so they wouldn’t be subjected to the same treatment he experienced growing up.”

Now a sophomore at Mount Holyoke, Poot Ibarra is learning Maya, their family’s native language, decades after their grandfather made a conscious decision not to pass it down to his children. Their reasoning: It’s part of who they are that’s integral to what they want to do next, and they refuse to let the language end with her grandparents.

As a first-generation student whose parents are Mexican immigrants, Poot Ibarra originally wanted to study politics in college and become a lawyer to help people like her parents navigate America’s difficult and often unjust immigration system. Then, halfway through their first year, they took a class through the Five College Consortium that completely changed their perspective.

Now, they’re majoring in politics, minoring in gender studies and working toward a certificate in Native American and Indigenous Studies. And they were recently honored as a Latina Future History Maker by Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE).

This shift began with a class at Smith with Loretta Ross, an activist who coined the term “reproductive justice.” They found themselves wanting to learn more. The next class they took was Indigenous Women with Manuela Picq at Amherst College, a class that Poot Ibarra said was life-changing.

“[Indigenous Women] changed the trajectory of my life. It taught me that we need to put Indigenous issues at the forefront. They are the earth and water protectors,” they explained. “Centering women, gender and analyzing white imperialism in Latino Americas align with everything I stand for. So putting my major and certificate together felt like my life’s calling. I pivoted from wanting to be a corporate lawyer to wanting to teach and be a scholar who centers the experiences of Indigenous women.”

During their first two years at Mount Holyoke, Poot Ibarra found themselves wondering what it might be like if someone who looked like them taught classes about Indigenous women in Mexico and beyond. It’s that question that has served as a North Star as they pursue their degree and future career opportunities. They have spent the last two years heavily engaged with HOPE, attending conferences and receiving mentorship from HOPE staff. Working with HOPE has allowed them to interact with lawmakers of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in Washington D.C. and write op-eds about the importance of voter engagement in Latino communities.

It’s these opportunities that encouraged Poot Ibarra to not only be a voice for their community but apply to be a Future History Maker at the beginning of 2023. According to HOPE, Future History Maker honorees “foster a unique spirit of passion, possess a vision that brings communities together or chart a new path of discovery. As ‘Future History Makers,’ these Latinas strive for excellence and deliver their best efforts toward being positive role models and creating change.”

Poot Ibarra was chosen for their essay, which opened with them introducing themselves in their native tongue and their dreams for the future of their community in America. “Historically, the American Dream for immigrants has been to go to college, gain financial security and become a homeowner,” they explained. “But it should be so much more than that. For me, it means immigrants are free from the fear of being deported or harassed. It’s the opportunity for them to build a life in this country that is sustainable for generations while also being able to share and preserve their culture in their new home.”

In May they will be honored for receiving this award at a HOPE ceremony in New York City.

Now halfway through their time at the College, they’re blazing their own trail and redefining what it means to be a first-generation college student and a person with Indigenous Maya roots. Poot Ibara explains that immigrant families in America can often be traumatized by all it takes to survive in this country. They believe they are ending that trauma by going to school and gaining access to as much knowledge as possible to change their family’s trajectory. “When I graduate, my family will have gone from being farmers with limited access to education to having a college graduate in just two generations,” they say.

Upon graduating, Poot Ibarra plans to pursue her Ph.D. in international relations. From there they hope to become a researcher and professor at an institution where they will have the opportunity to center not only the things they’ve learned in their coursework but the language, traditions and stories they’ve gleaned from their living family and ancestors.

“Mount Holyoke has only five Indigenous students. We are the ones who are defining what it means to be Indigenous students attending a predominantly white institution (PWI). I’m part of the Zowie Banteah Cultural Center, where we center being in community with each other and creating spaces for ourselves. I want to continue to actively decolonize these PWIs, like the one I’m at,” they said. “I’ve sat in so many classes where white scholars are the ones teaching, but what if these courses were taught by someone with Maya heritage? Imagine how much differently we’d view and learn about these cultures if they were taught through an Indigenous lens. That’s what I’m aiming to do.”

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