New Mexico is a land rich with history, full of multifarious cultures, peoples, and identities. This undeniable truth made Albuquerque and The University of New Mexico an ideal setting for the annual Critical Race Studies in Education Association (CRSEA) Conference.

Recently, scholars, activists, students and community members gathered at UNM’s main campus to discuss and explore issues, challenges and concepts related to race, ethnicity and social justice. This year’s conference theme – Land and Knowledge: Indigeneity, Survivance and Healing – pushed some of New Mexico’s unique history and present-day realities to the forefront.

Valerie Guerrero, a doctoral student at the University of Utah and member of the CRSEA, attended and presented at the conference for the third time.

“I think this year we’ve really gotten into some complex and layered issues related to colonialism, and how it continues,” Guerrero said. “This year’s conversations are really pushing against what we might sometimes assume Critical Race Studies investigates. I feel like we’re doing so much more to be intersectional.”

During a session on The History of Race in New Mexico, panelists and authors Laura Gómez (“Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race”), John Nieto-Phillips (“The Language of Blood: The Making of Spanish-American Identity in New Mexico, 1880s-1930s”) and moderator Margaret Montoya began by telling personal anecdotes that called attention to the nuances of complex identities. From growing up Mexican and struggling against an Irish heritage, to wrestling with Spanish language suppression both inside and outside the home, Gómez and Nieto-Phillips illustrated the importance of scholarly examination of race and ethnicity, and how it translates into the realities of everyday lives.

Dawn Demps and Carrie Sampson, a doctoral candidate and assistant professor, respectively, at Arizona State University, both felt the significance of connecting with fellow scholars.

“This is my first academic conference, so I think everything is amazing,” Demps said. “Being around other scholars that are doing the same type of critical work around education is really important.”

Sampson agreed. “The best part of this conference is the ability to connect with other critical scholars and have some honest conversations and dialogue about our work. Conversations about how to navigate and be part of the (academic) institution in a way that honors the work we’re doing around equity.”

The event brought speakers, panelists and attendees from around the country to participate in these crucial discussions. Conference organizers ordered 300 nametag lanyards for registrants and ultimately sold out. Volunteers stepped up to create numerous makeshift string lanyards, so every attendee could display their nametag.

When asked what makes the CRSEA Conference such a compelling experience, Christine Vega, a doctoral candidate at UCLA and frequent conference participant, explained what drew her back time and again.

“I get to see my mentors and my femtors, I feel comfortable enough to bring my family – my son and my partner, who is also a doc(toral) student,” Vega said. “It’s good to see people you don’t get to when you’re so busy, and hear where they’re at in their progress, their thinking, their dissertations and publications… it’s like a really powerful family reunion.”

For more about the Critical Race Studies in Education Association and their annual conference, visit the CRSEA website.