Margarita Berta-Ávila

Sacramento Poderosa 2022

“Great moral courage is required to voice our dissent against educational policies and practices that betray students from oppressed communities, rendering them disposable and expendable.” –Antonia Darder

Dra. Margarita Berta-Ávila’s conviction to fight for racial/social justice has been unwavering for the past 28 years. She is a proud union organizer with the California Faculty Association (CFA), and currently holds the following positions: Sacramento State Chapter President, CFA Vice President of Chapter Presidents – North, and Bargaining Team Member. In addition, Dra. Berta-Ávila is a Professor of Education at Sacramento State University. Dra. Berta-Ávila received her doctorate in International and Multicultural Education in the School of Education at the University of San Francisco. She completed her baccalaureate with a major in Chicana/o/x Studies from the University of California, Davis and pursued a Master’s in Education and earned her teaching credential from Claremont Graduate University. Dra. Berta-Ávila’s scholarly work is in the areas of participatory action research, critical pedagogy, anti-racism/social justice education, and the role of Chicana/o/x educators in the field. She has published multiple books including an edited work with Dr. Julie Figueroa and Dr. Anita Tijerina-Revilla titled Marching Students: Chicana/o Activism in Education, 1968 to the Present. Together with Dr. Jennifer Ayala, Dr. Julio Cammarota, Dr. Melissa Rivera, Dr. Louie Rodriguez, and Dr. Maria Torrre, Dr. Berta-Ávila edited PAR Entremundos: A pedagogy of the Americas (2018). Currently, you can find Dr. Berta-Ávila actively testifying at the State’s capitol, organizing on campus and in the community with respect to access, equity, and justice in education for Ethnic Studies, bilingual education, BIPOC students, undocumented students, and/or other marginalized communities. Dra. Berta-Ávila proudly serves on the Executive Board at Sol Collective as President.

Dra. Margarita Berta-Ávila is a self-identified Xicana from El Salvador and Perú. She was born in Los Angeles and grew up off of Western and Fifth Street (Downtown) for approximately eleven years of her life, in a one-bedroom apartment which she shared with her mother.

As a single parent, Dra. Berta-Avila’s mother worked hard to make sure Dra. Berta-Ávila did not go without the essentials. Her mother promoted “education” as a pathway to future success and endeavors. Because her mother instilled in her feelings of hope, possibilities, and excitement that come with going to school, Dra. Berta-Ávila entered the first grade ready to excel. However, what she expected from school and what she actually received were completely different.

During her first year of college at the University of California, Davis, when Dra. Berta-Ávila attended her first Chicana/o/x Studies course – it became clear to her why the latter expectations differed so much. This class was her first with a professor of color but most importantly someone that looked like her – Dra. Adalijiza Sosa-Riddell. As the semester progressed, Dra. Sosa-Riddell explained how the majority of us who represented various ethnicities had been denied the opportunity to understand Chicano/Latino reality in the United States and around the world. The act of denying that reality and history perpetuated a division of power and privilege. Dra. Sosa-Riddell explained that the arena in which division manifests itself is generally in the schools, in the subject matter presented, and in the expectations held. Black, Indigenous, Students of Color (BIPOC) are expected, whether told directly or not, to deny their identity, deny their language of origin, and take on the language, culture, and values of the United States.

A veil of a false reality (Freire, 1970) was lifted and Dra. Berta-Ávila forged ahead to claim her voice. She began to experience a process of conscientization, which integrated reflection, dialogue and action/transformation. Dra. Berta-Ávila began to view schools as a political arena, an arena where she could make an impact and counteract the false reality imposed upon children of color, specifically Xicana/o/x-Latina/o/x youth. This awakening led Dra. Berta-Ávila to become a K-12th teacher. She entered the profession as a conscious Xicana to intentionally counteract the oppressive practices and institutionalized beliefs confronting Xicana/o/x-Latina/o/x. Based on her own experiences and those of countless others, Dra. Berta-Ávila’s goal was to offer an alternative perspective that fostered a sense of self, voice, empowerment, and understanding of anti-racism/social justice within the context of the curriculum presented in schools.

Teaching provided Dra. Berta-Ávila an opportunity to work towards political and social change with Xicana/o/x-Latina/o/x students and their parents. However, she quickly realized that the impact she hoped to make would be far more difficult and challenging to obtain than anticipated. Lack of confidence by school administration and staff in Dra. Berta-Ávila’s ability to teach, led to actions being taken to silence her voice. What Dra. Berta-Ávila viewed as necessary for the personal and academic growth of her students, was completely ignored by school administrations. Dra. Berta-Ávila further came to understand that the school system was a micro picture of a macro societal structure that embeds historical oppressive practices to create inequities. Understanding these obstacles did not hinder her from working. Dra. Berta-Ávila’s righteous anger and frustration strengthened her commitment as a critical Xicana educator. For eight years Dra. Berta-Ávila organized with parents, community members, and other Xicana/o/x educators to seek educational equity and racial/social justice for Xicana/o/x-Latina/o/x youth. Dra. Berta-Ávila empowers a new generation of youth that is critical of mainstream narratives which belittle their communities, and equipped with historically accurate and uplifting curriculum and encouragement.