My name is Alexandra Garza and I was a student of Ileana Jiménez’s at Elisabeth Irwin High School (LREI). Before I was a student and now friend of Ileana’s, I had only known her contagious laugh heard frequently throughout the hallways. As time passed, I saw her at school assemblies encouraging students to get involved in various panels, lectures, and discussions on race, class, and gender. For some time, I’d been interested in joining these discussions Ileana so passionately advocated. I took my curiosity into consideration when selecting courses for my junior year. I was definitely lured in by Ileana’s passion. I decided to jump into the conversation head first by signing up for Ileana’s literature course, Fierce and Fabulous: Feminist Women Writers, Artists, and Activists. Aside from the fantastic title, I had a feeling this class could change my entire life.
Before I knew it, the summer whizzed by and it was my first day of eleventh grade. The college process was beginning, and not having a clear idea of what I wanted to study, I planned on taking an array of courses that year. Even so, I was nervous about entering Ileana’s class when I received my schedule. As a junior, it was slightly daunting to be in a class with seniors, as my school has mixed grade electives. Yet, Ileana, with her booming voice, warm smile, and passion towards her craft and her students, made sure everyone felt welcome and involved.
In a society where feminist educators are often associated with higher education, Ileana introduced my high school classmates and me to feminist authors and icons such as Sojourner Truth, Mary Wollstonecraft, Judy Chicago, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, and Alice and Rebecca Walker, to name a few. Most of us juniors and seniors barely knew anything about the groundbreaking women listed above before taking this course. One of Ileana’s greatest gifts is her ability to apply history, no matter how far back in time, to our lives as young women and men of the 21st century. Throughout the course, we were all eager to voice our opinions and share our experiences battling the stereotypes and prejudices we face on a daily basis along the lines of not only gender and sexuality but also race and class. My peers and I were encouraged to define feminism for ourselves based on the literature we read, the art we saw, and the feminist conference at Columbia we attended titled “What is Feminist Politics Now? Local and Global.”
I emerged from Ileana’s class unafraid to stand up against sexism and misogyny, and became increasingly more self-confident. In the midst of the college application process and still eager to immerse myself in more feminist literature and theory, I was inspired by Ileana to add her alma mater, Smith College, to my list. After completing another course of Ileana’s, titled Toni Morrison’s Beloved: Memory, Imagination, and the Narratives of Slavery, which consisted of myself and five other young women, I longed for more of the challenging and stimulating discussions Ileana led us through. I knew I would find that at Smith. After unwavering support from and tireless work alongside Ileana, I was accepted to Smith College’s Class of 2014. I am eternally grateful to Ileana for giving me the fantastic opportunities that not many young women have: a devoted teacher and nurturer focused on empowering her students through feminism.
Alexandra Garza is entering her first year at Smith College. Her guest post is a part of an ongoing series on the impact of teaching and learning feminism in high school.