The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Planting seeds of change: DePaul’s New Latin American and Latino Studies Professor highlights environmental racism

Ariana Vargas
Dr. Yoalli Rodríguez-Aguilera, assistant professor of DePaul University’s Latin American and Latino Studies department, teaches their class on May 15, 2024.

DePaul’s Latin American and Latino Studies department welcomed assistant professor Dr. Yoalli Rodríguez-Aguilera last September, a graduate from The University of Texas at Austin. Rodriguez-Aguilera said they weave their dedication towards decolonization, intersectional feminism and environmental regeneration into their fellowship research and classroom experiences.

“I felt a welcoming environment in the Latin American studies department and their Vincentian mission of social justice aligned with my own politics,” said Rodriguez-Aguilera of the time she visited the campus during the hiring process. 

In this Q&A, Rodriguez-Aguilera discusses their environmental advocacy and social justice they bring to DePaul students. 

What kind of issues does your work address? 

I work on issues about environmental racism in Mexico and Afro-Indigenous communities in Oaxaca, Mexico. I’m currently writing a book arguing racism in Latin America, specifically anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism. Afro-Indigenous women in the Chaco lagoons are fighting toxicity and pollution and how their relationship to land and water is ancestral knowledge. I’m trying to document how they’re trying to protect it as another holistic form of existing in this world. 

What kind of classes do you teach at DePaul?

In my first quarter, I taught about the U.S. and Mexico border. In the second quarter, I taught about myths and conquests in Latin America, like a precolonial history, and how colonization is still impacting us in Latin America. Then, there was a Latin American music class, which was very nice. Students and I were discussing nationalism, racism, class, and hetero-patriarchy in Latin America and its relationship to music as a form of resistance. This quarter, I’m teaching a class called “Gendered Territorial Land in Latin America” where we analyze different environmental struggles in Latin America. 

Students in Dr. Yoalli Rodríguez-Aguilera’s class listen to lecture and answer questions on May 15, 2024. Rodriguez-Aguilera is an assistant professor of DePaul University’s Latin American and Latino Studies department. (Ariana Vargas)

How do you include intersectionality in your classes and work?

I’m a queer person. I identify as nonbinary, so I embody that. What I teach in my classes is that before colonization, there were multiple genders in Latin America, but fully accepted and integrated as part of everyday experiences in Indigenous communities. You have Muxes, which is a community in Oaxaca that is another gender within the community. We have different examples of how the gender spectrum has always been a part of the history of Latin America and pre-colonial history and how this gender imposition was a colonial imposition.

What is ecocide? What role does colonialism play in it?

Ecocide is the killing of our ecosystem. In coastal Oaxaca, Mexico, bodies of water are at risk of dying because of pollution and toxicity. There’s a lot of use of pesticides in agriculture, but the fact is also that the lagoon is dying due to state and transnational companies exploiting nature. They don’t care that Indigenous communities worry about the water being polluted and that it’s their primary source of living. At this point, it’s a violation of human rights, a right to a healthy environment, and a right to a job that sustains your life. 

I see here in Chicago how we have water contaminated with lead in Little Village. We have this outside food desert. Gentrification as well. It’s another form of space and colonialism.

How do you incorporate these ideas into your classes? 

In my classes, we’re always talking about colonialism and the relationship between our bodies and land. Why is it important to think about the environment? What are the contemporary consequences of racism and colonialism? I think overall, the subjects of my book are always very present in my class for an intersectional analysis. Something else I want to make clear to students is why we are living in the current situations we’re in. What are some forms of resistance being made by Indigenous people, communities of color, working-class people, queer and trans people? For me, it’s very important to center these experiences in all my classes.

What values do you bring to DePaul University? 

I think some are caring and solidarity. I think as educators, we have the responsibility to care for our students beyond their homework and grades because we’re all human. Pedagogically, it’s having a lot of empathy, solidarity, and care in the classroom.

Outside of DePaul, you’re a DJ. What is that music scene like in Chicago? Do you have any music recommendations? 

There’s a big Latinx DJ community so we know each other and support each other. We play together and it has been a great experience. I would recommend Combo Chimbita, which is a Colombian band based in New York. They’re currently doing a U.S. tour. Their music is really beautiful and really powerful. 


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