Ph.D. student from Mexico earns the 2022-23 Crossing Latinidades Mentorship program and research fellowship
Read about Aldo Barrita’s journey in academia and the importance of scholarship opportunities in his life.
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From bartender to paralegal, Aldo Barrita did all kinds of jobs before he decided to pursue higher education. Born and raised in Mexico City, he moved to the United States at the age of 16, where he would soon learn what being an immigrant meant.
Besides the cultural crash, he had to take additional English classes to be able to learn the language and finish high school. After graduating, he decided to enter the job market to make a living.
A few years later, Barrita realized he wanted to pursue a paralegal degree, so he enrolled in a community college close to his house in Santa Ana, California. When his ‘student identity’ came back to him, Barrita made a big switch: transitioned to a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Although he wasn’t sure about the future, he knew he wanted to pursue more than just an associate’s degree.
He then transferred to the University of California Berkeley, where he lived for two years, managing the challenge caused by the distance from his family and partner who were in Southern California. After graduating in 2017, he decided to take a break to see what he wanted to do next.
For two years, Barrita worked at a rehabilitation center for substance use, where he had the opportunity to work in the field and be exposed to psychiatry/psychology as a hands-on experience. Quickly, he discovered that clinical psychology wasn’t for him. He was much more interested in social justice factors and inequities and as he kept reading more about it, he discovered social psychology.
Today Barrita is a fourth-year psychological and brain sciences Ph.D. student at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas who recently earned the 2022-23 Crossing Latinidades Mentorship program and research fellowship, which comes with $30,000 plus tuition. This adds to the extensive list of scholarships and awards Barrita has earned throughout the years that have supported him as a Latino in a difficult field.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” he said. “This is a brand new fellowship program that was put together by primarily Latinx studies experts and professors.”
Barrita explained that his understanding of the fellowships is that the people who initiated it saw how Latinx students were getting accepted in graduate programs but weren’t finishing their dissertations. The fellowship came to provide not only financial support, but also a network of experts and people students could identify with.
“It [the fellowship money] allows me to basically have the double of what my regular stipend would be like here at the University of Nevada,” Barrita added. “It makes a huge difference for me and I don’t have to hustle to survive. It gives me more time to focus on my research.”
Barrita’ project focuses on racial microaggressions: how racism and attacks are normalized in everyday conversations and exchanges, specifically towards Latinx immigrants who are first generation. Throughout the process of acculturation, adaption and immigrant identity development, people learn to become immigrants.
“There is a lot of research about it in a systematic way, but not as much about everyday exchanges,” Barrita added.
The topic chosen by Barrita came to him little by little; as a queer Latino immigrant, marginalization is part of his everyday experience, he said. Initially, he was working on how discrimination affects the Latinx community in general, but he thought it was too broad.
“It is important to go deeper in research and tell stories that weren’t being told,” Barrita added. “There is something unique about first generation immigrants who are being marginalized and oppressed.”
Barrita’s list of scholarships and awards is sizable and he believes he wouldn’t be where he is today without them. The financial support he has received was essential to be able to focus on studying. During his second and third years as a Ph.D. student, Barrita was able to almost duplicate his income by adding up scholarships that varied from $500 to $1000. Without them, he would probably be distracted trying to get income to pay rent and buy food, he said.
Almost a professional in applying to scholarships, he described it as his part-time job. His advice to people is to apply to all opportunities that may apply to them. Organization is also a key component.
“The maximum they can say is no,” he added. “Apply to enough opportunities and some will hit.”
Finding them is also part of the job. Depending on the field, associations help with providing exclusive opportunities. Barrita highlights that even though sometimes there is a member fee to be paid, it can be considered an investment. It is important that each student evaluate if it is worth it or not.
Google and Twitter are also platforms that Barrita uses when searching for scholarships, but specially for the second one, it is essential to be strategic with the people you follow — focus on people you like the work or who post opportunities, Barrita said. Looking at people’s cover letters and resumes if possible is another way to find out about scholarships you may never heard before.
Today, working as a mentor for undergraduate students, Barrita gets to meet many first generation Latinx students — to whom he is never hesitant to share his knowledge with. He also celebrates how students can see themselves in him — an experience that Barrita barely had.
“It reinforces my idea to stay in academia despite its challenges and problems,” he said. “It is an opportunity to mentor the next generation of students, and help them believe it is actually possible.”
Barrita notices how most of his students don’t know how to get into graduate school, and how financial barriers are something very tangible for many Latino families. The sense of going into debt scares off Latinx students from pursuing education, he said.
When asked if he had faced any challenges for being Latino in higher education, Barrita answered “the entire time.” At community college he remembers that he and other students had to take jobs while in school to be able to survive. Because of that, when Barrita was applying to transfer for his bachelors, he didn’t have any extracurricular activities.
As for UC Berkeley, which is very social justice oriented, he had a lot of support for his marginalized identities, one of them being Latino, Barrita said. However, he highlights how the academic environment is still extremely white.
Another struggle that he has experienced is representation. The lack of Latinx professors in his department is something that he has noticed since the beginning of his studies. Counting one Latinx professor in community college and one advisor of color at Ph.D., Barrita said he knew he was coming to a very white cis environment — but he is not ashamed of his heritage.
“I have a strong accent," Barrita added. "And I embrace my accent, my roots and my background.”
At the end of his conversation with Al Día News, Barrita wanted to thank his husband Gustavo Cruz Garcia for his support in the past 13 years. In addition, he thanks his parents Gaudencio Barrita y Sara Ocampo, family and friends for the continuous support in his goals and studies. Latinx students like Aldo, need an entire community to be able to survive in academic spaces in the United States.