UNI welcomes Vanessa Espinoza


Espinoza is a Iowa Hall of Fame honoree and author planning to speak Oct. 7. 

UNI’s College of Humanities, Arts and Sciences and the Department of Languages and Literatures will welcome guest speaker Vanessa Cueponi Cihuatl Espinoza to campus for an upcoming speaker session in honor of Latino Heritage Month. 

Espinoza, a UNI alumna and Iowa Latino Hall of Fame inductee, will speak on campus at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 7, in room 220 of the Schindler Education Center. The event will also be carried on Zoom. 

“I spent some of the best times of my teaching career with Vanessa. Her research as a McNair Scholar advanced studies on the college experiences of Latinx people, and engaged important conversations about Latinx students at UNI. Also, I was able to work with Vanessa and a group of actors to create plays based on testimonies of immigrants living in the Midwest to bring their stories to light and seek justice. We made two trips to the U.S.-Mexico border, and even filmed some scenes for a movie! Vanessa has always dedicated her intelligence and creativity to social change, and we have all benefited from her commitment to the community.”  expressed Dr. Jennifer Cooley, associate dean and professor in UNI’s language department.

Vanessa Cueponi Cihuatl Espinoza is a first-generation immigrant student who was the first to be inducted into the Iowa Latino Hall of Fame for Latino youth leadership. Espinoza earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish Teaching from the University of Northern Iowa, and went on to earn a master’s degree in Student Affairs Administration from Iowa State University. After working at the University of Iowa’s Center for Diversity and Enrichment, she is now teaching in the bilingual program at West Liberty High School.

Vanessa was a true pioneer and a leader during her time as a student at UNI. Her frustration with taking a standardized Spanish as a second language test, coupled with her desire to improve her written skills, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

 Seeking a solution, I proposed teaching the Spanish for Heritage Speakers course in the spring of 2013. Vanessa was among the students who had the privilege of taking the first section of that class in our university’s history, which has been offered every spring since then. It is thanks to the drive of students like Vanessa that the LatinX community has received more and more recognition from UNI.”  expressed Dr. Juan Carlos Castillo, UNI language faculty professor.

During her visit, Espinoza will speak about her work as an advocate, teacher and writer. She will also discuss her recent essay, “More than a piece of paper” /”Más que un pedazo de papel,” published in the 2020 anthology “We the Interwoven: An Anthology of Bicultural Iowa,” about the growth of Latinos in Iowa. 

The event is free and open to the public.