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WWU / Fairhaven College of Interdiscipinary Studies

Quote: As a Chicano it was also profound to be able and invited to touch the human fabric of a diverse people and to see how their stories, written and unwritten, weave into my own. - Alberto Mejia

Alberto Mejia

Program Director at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center

What made you decide to concentrate on American Cultural Studies?

American Cultural studies was a compelling path of study because it pushed the boundaries of traditional fields of study that interested me- including political science, anthropology, economics and sociology.
Specifically I think that ACS approach emphasizes powerful and often under-investigated aspects of scholarship in these fields such as the perspectives and narratives of the people and communities usually typified as subjects. Also ACS explored interdisciplinary & culturally relevant forms of criticism and intellectual inquiry. Finally, I think that ACS offers a set of tools that situates the learner as a competent agent of positive change in the contemporary, real life context of layered & intersecting social forces.


How did you choose your career/field?

I feel as though my life path, my passion and continuous learning revolves around facilitating physical and ethereal spaces for people to authentically express themselves and authentically connect to other people.
Years of community activism, organizing, and youth work preceded my current position as a Program Director at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center. Following undergraduate studies I worked as AmeriCorps volunteer, a hip-hop teaching artist, and a case manager for youth in crises. Motivated to grow as a more knowledgeable and effective advocate – I applied and was accepted into the Daniel Evans School of Public Administration in fall of 2007.  After focusing on community economic development and nonprofit management, I graduated in June of 2009 - accepting a position as Program Director at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center.
During these experiences/experiments, I began to feel deeply that making positive change required more than any ideology or institution could offer, it requires compassion and a commitment to transformation on the personal to cultural levels. Through art and culture we invite people to engage the world the around them in the context of their own evolving and unique identity. People and especially youth, develop ways to self –actualize and think and critically that don’t involve people telling them who they are or how they should feel (or not feel).  In essence I chose this career because I feel that arts and cultural work at the community level present the most personal and empowering option to engage people in positive social change.


What kind of training, licenses, and education were required?

Professional youth work training, non violent communication,  cultural competency training, group facilitation  community organizing and canvass work, event planning, policy development and analyses, economics and statistical analyses,  budget and financial planning, grant-writing, board development and leadership.


What kinds of prior experiences were essential?

I think engaging in diverse settings of social change work was critical. Moving through the work as an artist, volunteer, direct action and agitation, program staff and now administrator – have helped me see the strengths and weaknesses between each approach, and more importantly helped me develop the tools and language to innovate ways to connect people across these approaches to collaborate in powerful ways.


What other attributes (personal or otherwise) were essential?

Passion has got me in hot water on many occasions. However I think more often than not, the passion to speak, to act, to ask questions allowed me to learn that I had more to learn – it also helped me determine if the path I was on was right for me. In reflection, I believe that I am at my best when my passion comes from a base of compassion.  I think people engaged in social change often overlook the need to constantly cultivate compassion and genuine love for themselves. 


Reflecting on your time as a student, what was the best/most important/influential part of your experience?

The most important and influential singular experience was a nine-week trip to Mexico as part of the Fairhaven summer course Contemporary Culture of Mexico. The trip was an amazing and grounding journey through the physical and historical terrain of Mexico. As a Chicano it was also profound to be able and invited to touch the human fabric of a diverse people and to see how their stories written and unwritten – weave into my own.


What advice would you give to entering or current students?

I would look deeply into what you truly love, and what makes you passionate. Look at it down into its patterns and atoms. Then lift your eyes from the microscope, and be patient with yourself, as you then look for how that beauty can be re-articulated, seen and shared with the people and world around you. 
On a more technical level -
  • Take a class that scares you and work hard at it.
  • Dialogue: step up if you don’t talk enough – step back if you talk too much.
  • Dance, eat and sleep well,
  • Get out and explore the beautiful place you live! Learn about the indigenous peoples of the Northwest; come to know Nature around you.


Please describe a typical day for you.

There is no such thing as typical day here! On any day I might be meeting with an artist or arts organization about a potential or existing program/project collaboration, leading staff through a session of strategic planning or thinking, hosting a community event or dialogue,  or cultivating grant opportunities and relationships with funders. There is also a lot of collaboration with community based groups, non-profits, city offices in creating community level initiatives in community building and cultural arts.  The less glamorous work includes a lot of emailing, and management of data.


What does the future hold for you?

Art. Love. Compassion. Community.


American Cultural Studies

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