PROFILE: PLU Professor Connects Latino Students to their Heritage



Emily Davidson, professor at PLU, is teaching a class of heritage speakers about words native to specific Hispanic culture. Photo by: Mallorie Ballard

Professor of Hispanic studies, and former graduate at Pacific Lutheran University, designed a course series that connects Latino students enrolled in PLU to their heritage culture. Her personal passion and Latina identity fueled her to create these classes, with the intention of assisting and celebrating the minority Latino community. Emily Davidson was hired on to the PLU staff three years ago to take the lead in creating the heritage speakers course series that is now offered.

According to the census in 2000, 7.5 percent of Washington state is Latino American. Yet, in 2008 Latinos were no longer considered a minority in Franklin and Adams counties with the Latino percentages of 59.3 percent and 54.1 percent. Davidson explained how she felt the Latino population in Washington state was not being properly represented. She said that forming this course would bring representation to the Latino students and give them a sense of security in who they are and where they came.

“I wanted it not just to be a language course,” Davidson said, “But for it to be an opportunity to explore identity, Latino identity, in the U.S. and what it means to be a Latino.”

Davidson expressed her relation to the students of whom she designed the class. She was born in San Francisco to a Panamanian mother and a Cuban-American father, which provided her with an understanding of what it was like to grow up a Latina in the U.S. However, as a child, Davidson knew little of her Latina heritage and was limited in her Spanish speaking abilities.

“In the language classroom,” she said, “I always felt like I could get by, but that I never really understood my language and its grammar, I felt sort of like an imposter.”

As a child, Davidson said she felt embarrassed because she could not speak Spanish well. She was able to fully understand the language, however, she lacked the ability to respond in Spanish. Davidson and her family would make trips to Panama to visit family, yet she said she was constantly disappointed and discouraged when she could not communicate with her grandma. It wasn’t until her senior year of college that, after she had taken Spanish and Hispanic studies classes, she was able to go back to Panama and talk with her grandma.

“I had improved so much that I was able to ask her questions about her life and that was really beautiful,” she said.

Many years after that experience, Davidson discovered her passion to teach. She explained how her desire was to give students that same opportunity to grow and develop their culture as she did. Davidson had a deep personal attachment to her teaching, which she used to become an effective professor.

“I wear my heart on my sleeve,” she said. “And so everything I’ve studied and been motivated to learn about comes from a really personal place.”

Tatiana Iglesias, a second-year student at PLU currently in Davidson’s heritage course, spoke about how much she was impressed with the class. She mentioned how it inspired her to pursue a degree in Hispanic studies.

“As a class in whole,” Iglesias said, “I think it is a great way how she is opening up a class to students who all have the same common level in Spanish and who share the same background.”


Professor Emily Davidson and Tatiana Iglesias a second-year student at PLU interacting in the classroom. Davidson is teaching her heritage speakers class about the reasoning behind Spanish stem changing verbs. Photo by: Mallorie Ballard

Davidson’s goal in teaching her students, she said, was to bring awareness of their culture and heritage. She said she wanted to show them that who they are and where their families came from matters. She explained how her desire was for her students to feel proud of being a minority.

“Language and identity are inherently connected.” Davidson said, “Your language is who you are. And sometimes our identities are bilingual”.

Categories: Academics, Other, Parkland, Profile, Profiles

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