Two of Doris Namala’s greatest thrills are experiencing students’ enthusiasm about her lessons that challenge European-centered perspectives of Mexican history, and knowing her former students who now teach are relishing the same experience in local schools.
Namala, a colonial Latin American historian, is well respected in California State University, Dominguez Hills’ (CSUDH) History Department for her bold and creative approach to integrating her research into student learning. That admiration has garnered her the 2018 Catherine H. Jacobs Outstanding Faculty Lecturer Award, an honor that acknowledges non-tenure track lecturers who have “demonstrated excellence in teaching effectiveness and overall contribution to the university.”
“It was very humbling to accept the award. This university has a strong mission toward student success and learning, and lecturers are a big part of that,” said Namala, who has been teaching at CSUDH since 2009. “It really helps to have an amazing and supportive History Department. I have been very fortunate to be able to incorporate my native language-driven colonial Mexican research into my teaching here at CSUDH, and my students have responded with such excitement to it.”
We argue that indigenous women were powerful, yet exploited players in all European conquests across the continent, and seek to remember and re-integrate them back into history where they belong. –Doris Namala
Namala received a Ph.D. in colonial Latin American history from UCLA in 2002. Her dissertation is based on the writings of an early 17th-century Nahua annalist of Mexico City, and delves into questions of indigenous identity at the center of Spanish rule in the mature colonial period.
According to Namala, Mexican and much of United States history has been taught from the Eurocentric and male-dominated perspective that originated from Hernán Cortés, the Spanish conquistador who conquered Mexico.
Namala’s Senior Seminar students are studying the history of Los Angeles, and engaging in research through the CSUDH University Archives. She is also launching a research project centered on the historical Pueblo de Los Ángeles—known today as Olvera Street—which was founded in 1781 that will be incorporated into her senior seminar. She will examine the relationship between the local Tongva (TONG-və) populations and the settlers from New Spain who lived and worked in the region until Mexico became an independent nation in the 1820s.
In her First-Year Seminar course, Namala encourages students to “replace the cardboard caricatures” that indigenous people—women in particular—are often reduced to with much more interesting and factual real-life stories. The course explores two indigenous women in particular, Malintzin and Pocahontas, during the time of the European conquests of their respective homelands, Mexico, and the Chesapeake.
“These women were agents who shaped history, but are not remembered in that way, and only a handful of such women are remembered by name today,” she said. “Now, we argue that indigenous women were powerful, yet exploited players in all European conquests across the continent, and seek to remember and re-integrate them back into history where they belong.”
The impact of Namala’s teaching is moving beyond CSUDH to former students who are now teaching and shedding light on long-disregarded perspectives about U.S., Mexican, and Los Angeles history for their K-12 students.
Alumnus Scott Aquiles (’15, B.A., History, Chicana/o Studies minor) was one of her students who now teaches 9th grade ethnic studies, 7th grade world history, and 6th-9th grade English language development at Horace Mann UCLA Community School in South Los Angeles, where he grew up.
“I had never been taught much about Latin America or Mexican history until I was in college. Dr. Namala taught me to think differently, and always encouraged me to do more research and explore my own curiosities about my culture,” said Aquiles. “Now, as an ethnic studies teacher, I’m experiencing the importance of what she taught me, particularly the women’s perspective and influence on Mexican history, which I emphasize for my students. It was also interesting to learn from Dr. Namala about how the United States impacts Latin American countries, which I also teach to my students, especially my English-language development class.”
The work of educators like Namala and Aquiles is also impacting how Latin American history is taught statewide. As minority communities and their political and social stature continues to grow in California, the demand for more ethnic studies programs in college and the teaching of more accurate history in K-12 schools is growing as well.
Last year, California’s popular 4th grade mission building project became history itself. It was replaced by lessons on Native Americans, Chinese immigrants, and the diverse cultures that settled the state. The Los Angeles Unified School District has also integrated ethnic studies into its high school curricula.
In addition to being a trailblazing lecturer, Namala enjoys developing and participating in extra-curricular activity with her students, which includes taking them on academic fieldtrips to places with abundant local history and culture on display, such as Olvera Street, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach. She also co-mentors the CSUDH’s History Club and the campus chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, a national history honors society.
Namala is particularly proud of helping launch the e-journal Toro Historical Review in 2016, which she now manages and produces with her students and colleagues in the History Department.
“The journal is so inclusive and has been such a wonderful experience for me. Every faculty member in our department who has a student featured in the journal contributes to the introduction,” said Namala. “So along with becoming published writers before they graduate, our students are also learning about publication production, and are part of the review process. It’s a really exciting time for us all, and I look forward to many more years of engaged teaching and learning at this university.”