Mentoring Girls to be Rebels: Learning Public Scholarship from a WOC Girl Studies Lens

By Imagining America | September 15, 2016

By Yessica Garcia Hernandez, a Doctoral student in Ethnic Studies at the University of California, San Diego and a 2016–2017 Publicly Active Graduate Education (PAGE) Fellow. This PAGE Blog Salon explores themes of intersectionality and public scholarship, important topics of the upcoming Imagining America national conference, Oct. 6-8, 2016, in Milwaukee, WI.

I am Chicana/Californiana
My parents are from Guanajuato, Mexico
Grew up in Long Beach, California (AKA Playa Larga)
I am a Feminist
Rasquache Doc. Filmmaker
& paisa girl scholar

I fell in love with the field of girl studies in the Spring of 2015, after I had taken a class with Dr. Jillian Hernandez, titled “Girls and Sexuality: Moral Panics, Pleasures, and Perils.” In this class, I learned about Dr. Hernandez’ public work with an all-girl organization titled Women on the Rise (WOTR). In 2004, she had helped establish this organization at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Miami, Florida. Women on the Rise, is a gender-specific outreach project that presents the work of contemporary women artists to girls and young women throughout Miami-Dade County. They strive to engage girls in critical dialogues about gender, social relationships, and expressive culture through hands-on art projects, visits to exhibitions, and meetings with noted women artists.


Fig. 1: Women on the Rise , sexy artwork being created, 2012

Through her class and work with WOTR, Dr. Hernandez taught me that succeeding as a public scholar in the field of girl studies meant working collaboratively with girls, community members, and artists. Girls always come first. Girls are theorists, organic intellectuals, and creative geniuses (Brown, 2013). Our number one rule to succeed as girl studies public scholars is to stop policing their sexualities, fashion, body image, consumption, and instead learn about their struggles. We fail girls when we come in with savior complex mentalities. They. You. & I. Don’t need to be saved. Girls need to be respected and celebrated as they are.

#AsiSoyYo. Our success will come from mentoring girls to be rebels. To use art as a vehicle to express themselves. Since Dr. Hernandez’ course, I have moved from the theorization of girlhood to collaborating with them. And I must say that I love it!


Fig. 2: Soy Yo Artwork by Maria Camila Farelo, 2016

This Fall, the Tijuana-San Diego borderland is my new site of public scholarship. I am currently a mentor with Las Fotos Project, a non-profit organization that introduces girls to the method of photography as a tool for self-expression, identity, and culture. Las Fotos exchange program focuses on building transnational connections between girls from Tijuana, Mexico; Los Angeles; and Venezuela. The girls use photography and the digital space to foster dialogues about girlhood in the borderlands. Rebecca Maria Gold, the teaching artist for the exchange program has created a curriculum that asks girls to theorize about their quotidian lives, pleasures, futures, and dreams. What does it mean to survive the borderlands, live sin fronteras, and be a crossroads? Are amongst some of the feminist questions girls will embark as they take and discuss their photographs this semester.


Fig. 3: Las Fotos Project Summer of Self-Care, 2016

I am also co-collaborating with Dr. Hernandez and my colleague Leslie Quintanilla, to establish the Rebel Quinciañera Collective, an all-girls outreach program in San Diego that focuses on girl empowerment using art, music, and film. We named the project Rebel Quinceañera Collective in order to represent the vision of teenage girls as agents of social transformation, producers of knowledge, and creative genius. Our goal is to create a space for girls to both embrace and critique the meanings of culture, gender, race, and ethnicity that they navigate in their lives.

What I love about working with Las Fotos and the Rebel Quinciañera Collective, is that our conocimientos- gut knowledges as Gloria Anzaldua calls them- are valued and welcomed. We all learn from each other. I do not have to separate my working class and transnational identities from my public scholarship or mentorship. Instead with praxis as our goal, the personal is always political. What I am learning is that becoming a public centered girl studies scholar while in a R1 institution can be very challenging. Particularly because these institutions seem to center publications, awards, grants, and evaluations. I feel very fortunate and am so glad to be part of the Imagining America and PAGE fellow community so that together we can challenge and change how universities evaluate the success and failures of public scholars as ourselves.


Anzaldúa, Gloria. Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality. Edited by Ana Louise Keating. Duke University Press, 2015.

Brown, Ruth Nicole. Hear our truths: The creative potential of Black girlhood. University of Illinois Press, 2013.

Hernandez, Jillian. Aesthetics of Excess: The Art and Politics of Black and Latina Embodiment. Book Manuscript Forthcoming.