Center for Access & Attainment > About > Student Profiles > Paulina Nava

Paulina Nava

"The arts are very liberating for me and I love performing."

"I hail from Elgin, Ill., a northwest suburb of Chicago. I grew up in a bilingual environment — both my parents are from Morelia, Michoacan, in Mexico. A lot of my family is in the U.S. due to the Bracero Immigrant worker program of the 1930s and 1940s. This was a part of American history I never knew about until I started taking Latin American and Latino Studies classes at DePaul.

"I attended public schools in Elgin, including Larkin High Visual and Performing Arts Academy for high school. The academy had different arts-related components such as music, dance and art. I participated in the drama academy and spent most of my high school years performing, directing, writing scripts and getting exposed to stage makeup and film. I took creative writing all four years and worked on the school literature magazine as well. Throughout high school, I told myself that no matter what, arts would be an active part of my professional development and career aspirations. My family was always very supportive of me and my artistic endeavors.

"I considered studying theatre for undergrad, but I knew I liked books a lot and my grades were great, so I decided to do something that would allow me to spend a lot of time in libraries instead. I also feared becoming a tokenized person of color in theatre productions, and the lack of representation of people of color in media made me lose interest in becoming a professional actress. I have always been attracted to the busy lure of the city — as a suburban kid I knew I wanted to leave the suburbs after high school. So I pushed myself really hard and earned scholarships to make higher education a possibility for me."

"McNair has helped me consider graduate school as a serious possibility."

"I am very proud that I was selected for the Arnold Mitchem Fellows program my sophomore year. I received a certificate in qualitative research through the program that qualified me to organize and transcribe focus groups. It gave me confidence and exposure to ethnography, focus groups and context analysis research. In spring quarter 2014, I put these methods in use through an independent study under Dr. Bill Johnson-Gonzalez about people of color creating alternative media as a form of cultural resistance.

"After the Mitchem Fellows program ended, I was encouraged to apply to the McNair program. McNair has helped me consider graduate school as a serious possibility. I had never thought about getting a PhD — it was not something I knew much about and I didn't know people of my own background who were interested in getting a PhD. I am the first one in my family to even consider the PhD track. Even so, the McNair staff remind me that I have what it takes to continue to do research and succeed in higher education.

"I got a sense of what I wanted to pursue for graduate study in an art history class with Dr. Delia Cosentino. There, I was introduced to the word Chicana/o and feminist Chicana/o art. A Chicana/o is a Mexican-American who rejects this hyphenated identity and all Anglo associations in order to reclaim their cultural history in America. In hearing that definition I thought to myself, 'Whoa… I am a Chicana/o!' I related to the activist struggles of Chicanas/os against patriarchy, homophobia and racial discrimination and started to see Chicana/o art as a form of activist art loaded with popular culture and Mexican and indigenous references.

"I never would have imagined my love for art and alternative media could be explored through a graduate degree. McNair has helped me overcome my fear of pointing out social inequalities and empowered me to realize that my brain, vision and creative educational background are a voice worth expressing through scholarship. I am very grateful for the McNair program fostering this cultural interest in me."

"I hope to establish myself as an activist archivist in the city of Chicago."

"This summer I will participate in the Academic Research Consortium program at the University of California-Santa Barbara. UCSB is widely known for their Chicana/o studies program and I am honored to spend a summer soaking in all I can while exploring their Chicana/o studies library and archives.

"In the future I hope to establish myself as an activist archivist in the city of Chicago and help document alternative media made by people of color in the Midwest. I consider myself an art-punk librarian. I have a passion for helping people find resources and art, especially if it reaffirms their identity. It is important to have places for artistic expression and I would love to help make an impact in the community of Pilsen where I live. Most importantly, I want to help establish some sort of mentoring program for Latina students to do research regarding the Latina experience and history in the Midwest, especially Latina cultural history."​