Sometimes happiness is mixed with sadness. At least that was the case for Glenda M. Flores.
In June the USC College sociology doctoral student headed to Mexico with her family to attend her grandfather's funeral. After arriving, she took a moment to check her e-mail and was greeted with a wonderful surprise.
A committee of the American Sociological Association (ASA) had sent a message stating that her research had won an award, the Latino/a Sociology section’s Cristina Maria Riegos Distinguished Student Paper Award.
“It was bittersweet,” Flores said. “I was really happy about the award but at the same time … it was tough.”
And there was another surprise yet in store.
She later received the electronic newsletter of the ASA’s Race, Gender, and Class section — and noticed her name listed as an award winner. A second message would soon confirm that the same piece of scholarly work had earned her the section’s Graduate Student Paper Award.
During the ASA conference in August, Flores found that she was invited to give an acceptance speech for the Riegos Award. At first taken aback, she said what came naturally.
“I just said, ‘I dedicate this award to my abuelito.’ And then I sat down. I was sort of overcome.”
The research that brought her to that heartfelt moment is entitled “The Paradox of Race at the Workplace: Latina Teachers Navigating Racial/Ethnic Tensions and Opportunities on the Job.” Flores, a former substitute teacher who was born and raised in Santa Ana, Calif., designed this study to inquire about race relations at the workplace in her own community.
Her research examined workplace relations in Santa Ana elementary schools, comparing schools where the faculty were predominantly Latina with schools where Latinas are a numerical minority working among a majority of white teachers. She interviewed Latina teachers and observed interactions in teachers’ lounges.
Flores described teaching in that area as traditionally “a white woman’s occupation.” She pointed out, though, that a growing number of Latinas are joining the profession, a trend that dovetails with demographic projections of the graying Baby Boom and the accelerated growth of the U.S. Latino population.
She found that the Latina-predominant faculties tended to cultivate greater collaboration among all teachers and that there was more division — even outright hostility — between ethnic groups at the schools with predominantly Caucasian faculties.
“My ultimate conclusion,” she said, “is that there’s a paradox of race at the workplace, where Latina teachers self-segregate out of comfort and safety, and to prevent them from racial injury.”
Flores credits her mentor, College sociologist Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, with first suggesting that she study Latina teachers. It was also Hondagneu-Sotelo who nominated her study for the ASA awards.
“Glenda Flores came into the program with insider knowledge about Latina teachers in predominantly Latino schools,” said the professor of sociology, “and once she got the right theoretical and methodological tools in her hands, she just rolled up her sleeves and worked tirelessly on this project.
“The result is a very professional paper about an important topic that others have ignored,” Hondagneu-Sotelo continued. “Glenda is very talented and this national recognition certainly bodes well for her career.”
Her protégé, who chose to attend USC because she wanted to work with Hondagneu-Sotelo, returns the praise in equal measure.
“I’m really grateful for all the help and the guidance that she’s given me,” Flores said. “In more ways than one. Not just in my pursuit of the Ph.D., but also in my overall development as a scholar.”
Continuing her focus on the education profession in Southern California, for her dissertation Flores plans to investigate race relations between black and Latina teachers in Compton and between Asian-American and Latina teachers, possibly in Alhambra.
According to Flores, there aren’t many studies focusing on interracial relations between women in the professions — most studies in the area focus on low-skill jobs. Additionally, very few look at Asian-Latino relations.
So how does the young scholar feel about her opportunity to break academic ground?
Confronted with that question, Flores paused for a moment, then replied with a laugh: “I better do my study right. … It feels great to be at the cutting edge of research.”