Introducing Mónica Espaillat Lizardo

Mónica is a direct-entry Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Toronto’s Department of History and the Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies, and Instructor ABD at Arizona State University’s School of Historical Philosophical and Religious Studies. Her current project examines the construction of Dominican citizenship with attention to its racial and gendered aspects. The project examines the construction of a shared social identity via the sanctioned and prohibited uses of national patriotic symbols, and the resignification of geographic spaces important to the construction of Dominicanidad. Her desire to create accessible (un)learning spaces, particularly for students marginalized by the education system, motivates her work as an educator.

Q: Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born in the Dominican Republic, but my family moved to the U.S. when I was still very young (6 years old!). I grew up undocumented within a family and community of similarly undocumented migrants. I experienced firsthand the ruptures, tensions, and possibilities of the ‘American dream’ that so many families like my own risk their lives to reach. Due to my undocumented status, I was unable to continue my education in the U.S. after high school. I returned to the Dominican Republic for a year during which time I was accepted to the University of Toronto. I came to Toronto never having visited the city/country and specifically selected New College because it housed the Equity Studies (now CSES) program. In my undergrad at UofT, I specialized in history and majored in Equity Studies/CSES. The synergy between the two programs was exciting – the content and skills I learned in the programs allowed me to think more critically and creatively about both.

I continued my education at the University of Toronto Department of History as a direct-entry Ph.D. student. I will be defending my dissertation this winter (Winter 2023). I’ve just begun a new teaching position as Instructor ABD at the Arizona State University, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies where I will be teaching Latin American and Caribbean history with an emphasis on gender, sexuality, citizenship, and the de/construction of the nation-state in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Q: What drew you to CSES?

I was drawn to CSES because of my personal background. The idea of coming together to think alongside folks interested and invested in equity was exciting! CSES felt like a place where I might learn how to turn my broad aspirations of making the world a more just place into tangible practice. What I received was that and so much more. My first year in the program was a challenging one; the more I learned about the histories/structures/processes of dispossession, the more enraged I felt. Yet, learning about histories, reading narratives/experiencing the art/stories of resistance, revolution, and liberatory world-making was quite literally life-changing – it allowed me to imagine my own future, and broader collaborative futures in ways I had never imagined. CSES gave me the intellectual tools with which to define and refine my political commitments, as well as offering examples of how those might be put into practice. The generosity and creativity of CSES educators, students, and community members were energizing and infectious!

Q: Tell us about the work that you do. How has CSES/ES influenced your academic, professional, and/or personal journey? What are some accomplishments or achievements that you are most proud of?

Being a student of CSES allowed me to think more expansively about history as a discipline, a practice, and a political tool. I am thankful to have been introduced to the work of BIPOC, feminist, queer, disabled, migrant activists, and scholars. Their ideas have allowed me to build an analytical tool kit that thoroughly shapes my approach to research and historical production. For example, in addition to using the sources and archives most traditional to the discipline of history (written records, material/physical remnants of the past), the knowledge I gained in CSES attuned me to the importance of diversifying the concept of an archive, of troubling the very idea of legitimate evidence, and of remaining aware of how structural power informs our ability to both know and narrate the past. In my work, I think alongside scholars I was introduced to in CSES, like Jose Esteban Muñoz. Muñoz’s ideas regarding “ephemera as evidence” is central to my dissertation’s analysis of the racial and gendered construction of citizenship in the Dominican Republic. The way I do history, and the way I teach it are thoroughly shaped by the knowledge I gained and the training I received at CSES.