Alumni Spotlight

Jorge Moraga

Jorge Moraga.On the last day of President Obama’s presidency, Jorge Moraga defended his dissertation in front of life-long friends, inimitable mentors, and colleagues to earn his PhD in American studies. Shortly after, he began a tenure-track position at California State University, Bakersfield in fall 2017. Since then, Jorge has taught more than 500 students, helped to revive the ethnic studies subject code for CSU, created new courses for students—in particular, “Introduction to Ethnic Studies” and “Introduction to Latinx Studies”—and he is excited to represent his arts and humanities faculty colleagues as an academic senator starting August 2021. In addition to service and teaching, Jorge has continued the research agenda examining Latinxs across US sport media that he began while at WSU. Among his recent works are: “Reading Fernando Valenzuela and Fernandomania: Broadening American-ness One Pitch at a Time” (book chapter in J.N. Rosen and L.D. Alexander (Eds)., The Circus Is in Town: Sport Celebrity and Spectacle, University of Mississippi Press, in press); “Daniel D. Villanueva” (encyclopedia entry for American National Biography, 2019); and “On ESPN Deportes: Latinos, Sport Media, and the Cultural Politics of Visibilities” (Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 2018). Additionally, he penned a public essay on the value and need for Ethnic Studies across Kern County, titled “Beyond Just Diversity: Using Ethnic Studies as Portal for Peace in the Central Valley” for Bakersfield Life Magazine. Currently, he is finalizing “On ‘Riverboat Ron’: A critical reading of Ronald Eugene Rivera, American brownness, & Latino masculinities in the NFL” (article for special issue of Critical Coach Studies edited by D.J. Leonard and C.R. King, forthcoming) before returning to work on his first book, Latinas and Latinos across American Sport Media, 1990-2020 (under contract with the University of Arizona Press).

When not in Zoom meetings, prepping for class, writing endless emails, working on scholarships, or developing a Latinx studies BA degree program proposal, Jorge relishes spending time adventuring with Zulema Garcia (WSU alumnus, Molecular Biosciences, MS, 2015), who is a physician associate at the local community hospital. When Zulema does not have to pull back-to-back-to-back, 12-hour shifts, they often find refuge starting new home projects or getting out of town. From backpacking the Sequoias to hiking across Yosemite’s waterfalls to early morning runs with canine running friend, “Frankie,” to lazy mornings with little gray tabby cat, “Jimmy,” Jorge and Zulema remain blessed to have met each other on the Palouse and are making the most out of Bakersfield where they now enjoy careers near family and friends in the heart of California.

Alejandrx Martinez

Alejandrx Martinez. Alejandrx Martinez graduated from WSU in fall 2018 with a minor in comparative ethnic studies. She is extremely grateful for the classes she took at WSU and the things she learned as they helped ground her in her beliefs and aspirations today. Since her time at WSU, she has entered a master of arts degree program in American studies at the University of New Mexico. This program has taught and opened her to radical futures of Indigenous feminist communism for the liberation of all peoples and for Land Back and the future of this planet.

She is greatly inspired by the ProletarietFeminist, and The Red Deal: Indigenous Action to Save the Earth by the RedNation. She has learned from both the texts made available to her in graduate school and her community involvement, and she has learned to give her time to mutual aid and to her comrades in Albuquerque. Her research interests and focus are grounded in abolition. Specifically, she focuses on the exploitative conditions of prisons, and the sex trade. She looks at a future without exploitative conditions of prisons, and labor with an emphasis on materialism, queer studies, disability justice, communism, and women’s liberation. She recently finished a paper for her “Politics of Care” class that she hopes to bring to the American Studies Conference of 2022.

Alejandrx also just started studying for the LSAT and hopes to apply for Law school as a means to further the liberation of domestic workers, prisoners, and sex workers in an effort to contribute to the fight towards abolition. As a master’s degree student she hasn’t felt like she has been able to give much, but she hopes to be able to give her time and all that she can for freedom movements soon. She anticipates graduating with her master’s degree this fall.

In her downtime, she plays with her chihuahua, “Croissant,” and watches movies and plays video games with her partner. She tries to take care of her mental health by caring for her plants, baking, and reading for fun. Her most recent book recommendations are Curative Violence: Rehabilitating Disability, Gender, and Sexuality in Modern Korea by Eunjung Kim and Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko.

Benjamin Herculano Martinez

Benjamin Herculano Martinez.In May of 2011, Ben graduated with his BA in comparative ethnic studies and another BA in social sciences. While at WSU, he was part of the student mentor program associated with the Chican@/Latin@ Center. He was involved in the C.A.S.H.E. conference as workshops chair, and maintained involvement with a variety of organizations through the student cultural center. He helped to start the Multi-Culturally Affiliated Student Organization (MASO) and to create a student magazine. One of his crowning achievements at WSU was assisting as a student mentor with the first “Las Memorias” play created by the then VP John Fraire.

After graduation, Ben started a food truck specializing in Mexican/American fare, called Flaco’s Tacos, and it became a favorite among those “in the know.” He later worked in the oil fields of Oklahoma and North Texas before stints working for his family’s trucking business, an egg farm, his own trucking business, and BNSF Railway. Currently, he is a manager at the same egg farm where he worked a few years ago.

Ben’s life has held many opportunities, and he feels fortunate to have been able to battle systemic prejudice where it occurred. Whether giving voice to the oppressed or helping the closed-minded learn something new, Ben attempts to merge the academic and “blue collar” worlds. Using the lessons learned at WSU, he has spiritually as well as cognitively transformed into a justice-seeking, community-loving, family-oriented individual.

He currently lives in Pasco, Washington, with his partner/wife/better half and their three beautiful children. He works as a liaison between upper management and his team members, many of whom are immigrants from Central and South America. His Spanish is getting better and he is able to help with English acquisition in return.

Jansen VanderMeulen

Jansen is originally from Burlington, Washington, in the Skagit Valley, where he grew up picking and checking strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries alongside Spanish-speaking Mexican migrant workers.  He started at WSU in 2012 and immediately chose Spanish as his major, graduating in 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts in each of Spanish and Philosophy Pre-Law.  After WSU, he went to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville for law school and graduated in 2019.  He spent a year as a judicial law clerk on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho (where he managed to sneak down to Pullman for a few Cougar football games!) before getting married to his law school sweetheart and moving to Washington, D.C.

Now Jansen practices law with the firm of Latham & Watkins, LLP in D.C.  Latham is enormous—the firm has over 2,500 attorneys worldwide—which gives Jansen the chance to be at the heart of fascinating complex litigation.  He also maintains an active pro bono practice focused on representing Spanish-speaking clients.  Currently, he represents a Spanish-speaking Central American victim of sexual exploitation who assisted in the prosecution of her victimizer and now seeks legal status in the United States for herself and her minor daughter.  Along with a few other attorneys, he has assisted his client in earning necessary certification of the crime she suffered, compiling documentation of her identification and victimization, and telling her story to the U.S. government in a coherent and compelling way.  His client speaks only Spanish, so his Spanish-language abilities are critical to her success.  He also represents a group of mostly Spanish-speaking tenants in the execution of a settlement agreement with their landlord to rehabilitate and renovate their old apartment building.

He is able to assist these clients in need because of the Spanish-language skills he learned at WSU.  He came to Pullman with an interest in Spanish, but with just a couple of years of high school training.  In his words, “‘he Spanish faculty at WSU pushed me hard to be fluent in Spanish, demanding no less of me as a non-native speaker than they did of my native-speaker classmates and giving me a broad Spanish education that included literature, film, and political nonfiction.  Thanks to their efforts, I now have the chance to help Spanish-speaking clients navigate an often labyrinthine legal system.  I will forever be grateful to the WSU Spanish program.”