From the Hood to a Graduate Hooding and Back
I grew up in a predominantly Black and Latinx neighborhood in South Los Angeles known by the community as “The Jungles.” Many of my friends were—and continue to be—lost to jail cells, state violence, and/or pushed out of the educational system. My younger brother and I often talk about the many times we “fit a profile” on our way to and from school, the random searches on our high school campus, and how hyper-vigilant we still get when we interact with police officers. While we use humor to cope with these larger systems of inequality, we are aware that our experiences are indeed a reflection of the consequences of racialized, class-based, and gendered inequalities that continue to impact our South LA neighborhood. Now, as a Ph.D. student in sociology, my work grows out of an interest to push us beyond research on the punitive punishment of Black and Latino youth towards frameworks of empowerment via grassroots youth organizing and community based organizations.
Growing up I was often told that education was my ticket out of the hood. Yet, this never set well with me. As James Baldwin writes, “It is your responsibility to change society if you think of yourself as an educated person.” To me, this means that no BA, MA, or Ph.D. is a one-way ticket out of the hood. Instead, these degrees are a set of tools that I can use to challenge the injustices that my community faces. This, for me, takes multiple forms. At times, it is organizing and taking to the streets. Other times, it is teaching first generation college students from the hood in sociology undergraduate and graduate courses. This is why I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in sociology. I aim to be a professor who provides undergraduate and graduate students sociological tools to develop and understanding of social change and social justice.
My own journey to sociology and college is quite interesting. The summer I graduate high school, the first thought that crossed my mind was getting a job. I did that. I worked at a 99 cents store for two months until my dad woke me up one day and said (in Spanish), “I know you applied to college. Let’s go check out one of the schools that accepted you.” At the time, as a first generation student, I had no idea had to enroll in courses or confirm that my FAFSA was submitted correctly. Yet, my dad drove me to Cal State LA and we both walked into different offices with many questions about enrolling (well, my dad did all the talking haha!). With his limited English, he asked about my admission and signing me up for orientation. That day, I walked out with an orientation date set. When the orientation date came, he dropped me off at Cal State LA with enough money to pay for tuition for one quarter and said, “go pay for your classes, enroll, and we will eventually figure out the rest.” Imagine my surprise when I showed up to the cashier’s office and they told me my tuition was covered. I had financial aid! Three years later, I enrolled in a sociology elective titled “Class, Race/Ethnicity, Gender.” This class changed my life. This was the first time I was provided the sociological tools to frame my experiences in South Los Angeles in a structural context. After a couple of stints in K-12, and a BA and two MA degrees later, I am now working to become a Latino professor that fosters a sense of community for the growing number of Black and Latinx students entering universities.
While this is only a tiny glimpse into my life, I share it in order to give you one piece of advice. That is, stay grounded in who you are, where you come from, and who walks with you. The hood, my parents, my brother and sister, and many others in my community have taught me to be a better scholar, person, and community member. The streets taught more about society than any book ever will. For that, I will always be in debt and will continue to forge ways to remain committed to my hood, Black and Latinx youth, and movements moving us closer to liberation. Always lift as you climb!
Uriel is South Los Angeles native and current third-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Informed by what he witnessed growing up in an under-invested and over-policed Black and Brown neighborhood, he is a sociologist of race, gender, education, and youth social movements. His work examines the organizational, cultural, and intersectional programming that shape the political and racial identity and masculinity of Black and Latinx young men in a coalition of 9 community-based organizations. Moreover, he explores the strategies that Black and Latinx youth activist adopt in their efforts to decriminalize youth of color. Uriel received a Bachelor and Master of Arts in sociology from California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) where he is currently an instructor. In addition, he is a Project MALES Graduate Scholar at the University of Texas at Austin, a 2019 American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education Graduate Fellow, and graduate student researcher with the Student Success & Equity Research Center at UC Santa Cruz. He sits on the board of the Pacific Sociological Association, and serves on the American Sociological Association’s Latinx Sociology Section Council. Uriel’s work has been published through USC’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity and the Association of Mexican American Educators Journal.
Uriel Educational History:
2008 - HS Graduate, Los Angeles Unified School District
2012 - BA in sociology, California State University, Los Angeles
2016 - MA in sociology, California State University, Los Angeles
2018 - MA, University of California, Santa Cruz
In progress - Ph.D in sociology, University of California, Santa Cruz
Connect with Uriel:
Uriel Serrano (LinkedIn)