Multicultural Roots Project

The Multicultural Roots Project was created to increase visibility for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) in Sonoma County, with a particular focus on Santa Rosa; and to recognize, through historical stories from BIPOC, contributions and impacts that have shaped Santa Rosa and Sonoma County. Working with local historians and community partners, Community Engagement staff gather stories and facts about local BIPOC leaders, as well as historical events and places that have shaped Santa Rosa and Sonoma County into what it is today. Each month, we will share five of these stories with the public through multiple communication channels, including the City’s website, social media and this newsletter.

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Aug 16

Laura Larque: Teaching to Inspire Curiosity, Inclusivity, and Engagement

Posted on August 16, 2022 at 11:28 AM by Kevin King

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“I’ve always been the kind of person [to say]: I didn’t come this far not to do it.” — Laura Larque  

Professor Laura Larque has worked in higher education for over 20 years. The first and only in her family to go to college, Laura never imagined she would become a professor, yet she has had a successful career for decades, challenging and shaping young adults of Santa Rosa and beyond. Her journey to her current career wasn’t clear cut though. From travelling and settling in a new country, to having to learn a new language and overcome misinformation, Laura worked hard to become the well loved and respected professor she is today.  

Born and raised in Mexico City, Laura lived in the vivacious city until early adulthood. The youngest of six, Laura grew up in a big family. The importance of learning was something instilled in Laura from a young age through her parents. Although neither of her parents attended college, they were very engaged with social-political issues of the time and shared those ideas and passions with their children, teaching them how to be engaged and curious. When it came time to consider college, Laura knew she had wanted to attend, being the first and only of all her siblings. With the encouragement of her parents and inspiration from the Mexican Student Movement of 1968, Laura went to college. She attended the prestigious University of Mexico (UNAM) where she earned a Bachelor’s in Sociology. 

After college, Laura moved to El Salvador. Her boyfriend (soon to be husband) at the time had found a job there, and Laura was seeking something new, so decided to go along with him. Together they lived in El Salvador, where he taught at a local elite high school and where Laura worked in a tannery. This was a great time of transition for Laura, not only moving to another country, but this was her first time living somewhere rural. Laura and her boyfriend rented a little chalet on a mountain coffee plantation, which had beautiful views of a lake, but the catch was you either had to drive or climb to leave. Laura remembers falling many times on her way down.  

Laura lived in El Salvador between 1979 and 1980. It was a great adventure, but there was also a revolution occurring, so it was a turbulent and dangerous time as well. The government was killing people, especially workers. No longer able to renew their permits, and with growing danger, Laura and her then-husband decided to move to the United States. Laura agreed but refused to go undocumented. During this time, it was easier to get your papers, and in a week Laura’s papers were fixed. In less than a month she had her residence card. Laura also believes that because she was married to a white man it made a big difference in her experience with immigrating to the U.S. 

Laura and her then-husband moved to Santa Rosa, California, as his family was here. Laura quickly settled in and began working two jobs. She worked in a women's clinic and at an organization called Women Against Rape. At both her jobs, Laura provided a myriad of services, including abortion and other medical services, as well as counseling and support to women who had been raped. She also provided programming to schools to teach children how to speak up if they are being abused or see abuse. Laura says, “I have always been a bit of a revolutionary so [they] really fitted me perfectly. And I really liked these two jobs.” Eventually, Laura and her then-husband divorced, but she had decided she loved Santa Rosa and wanted to stay. By then Laura was 30 years old with an established network of friends and community and a secure job.  

It was also during this time Laura decided to start taking English classes at the Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC). Laura began working for SRJC’s Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) and it was a coworker here that recommended Laura seek an equivalent U.S. degree to the ones she had earned in Mexico. Laura had this prestigious education that was not being utilized here. Laura took her transcript to a counselor that unfortunately misguided her telling her that her education in Mexico would not be honored here. The counselor also told Laura she would have to restart college and couldn’t seek a Master’s program out. Laura did not understand the U.S. educational system and did not know all the complexities of getting her degree revalidated. Ten years after hearing this discouraging and false news, Laura met a counselor at Sonoma State University (SSU) who told her that her degree would be accepted; she just needed to bring her paperwork. This allowed Laura to finally begin her graduate degree.

In 1990, Laura began her Master’s Degree in History at SSU. Also during this time, the SRJC and SSU had a joint internship program that allowed students to be mentored by a professor in their filed. Laura applied and was one of the few chosen to partake. She was paired with an instructor at the SRJC that she followed and learned from for a semester, and the following semester she had the opportunity to teach the class herself. Although Laura was nervous, she says “I’ve always been the kind of person [to say]: I didn’t come this far not to do it.” Laura did just that and began teaching. The following semester she was teaching her very own course in the history department and never left. Laura also worked as an adjunct professor at SSU for about six years. 

Her favorite part of the job is creating a curriculum that's going to make a difference in the student's lives. Laura values culturally relevant and sensitive curriculum, and strives to highlight non-Eurocentric history, “when you develop a curriculum that pedagogically is inclusive and creates an atmosphere in which every student feels valued, then you are doing your job and that is the most satisfying aspect of my work.” In contrast, the most challenging aspect of being a professor is trying to implement transformative change within the educational structures that exist. Whether it is hiring or retaining more faculty of color, it can really be a challenge to instill lasting structural changes. 

After over 20 years teaching higher education, Professor Laura Larque still has a passion for education and shaping our future leaders. As an educator of color, Professor Larque has been able to bring a much needed prospective and is determined to create inclusivity both in the classroom and in history. She has always had a passion for learning and wants to inspire that curiosity and drive in her students, through engaging them in relevant, inclusive, and untold histories. In her spare time, Laura enjoys tending to her garden and engaging with her neighborhood community.  

Laura Larque was interviewed by Daniel Chaparro, Community Outreach Specialist, and Madelynn Cox, Community Engagement AmeriCorps VISTA.  

To learn more about this story and the important work of Professor Laura Larque visit the links below.   

 References: 

 SRJC Stories: Laura Larque