As we kick off our Latinx Heritage Month blog series, we’re shining a light on Lissette Zurita! Part of our current cohort of East Harlem Teaching Residents, Lissette divides her time between EHTP, our Scholars Elementary II charter school, our elementary after-school program and the Hunter College School of Education. Though very busy, we were able to grab this East Harlem native to learn how we had the good fortune to recruit her to our team.
“What captivated me most about the Teaching Residency is its focus on East Harlem,” she says. “I am very passionate about seeing change in my community; as a Latinx teacher, I feel the need to empower scholars and ignite their critical thinking skills. I want them to start questioning their surroundings in order to fight against racist norms they see in their community.” In short: “ I want children to feel invincible.”
Zurita became a teacher because of deep-seated concerns over the low educational standards for children of color. Growing up, she witnessed power struggles between teachers and students; the teachers’ failed attempts at maintaining control only led to her peers feeling enraged and disconnected. This will not happen in Zurita’s classroom. “I want to inspire my students to think that their goals are attainable, and therefore seek to best prepare them for the future,” she says.
Although Zurita says celebrating Latinx Heritage Month is “extremely fulfilling,” she didn’t always embrace who she is. “For a long period of time I used to compare myself to my white counterparts and think of myself as less,” she says. “I idolized Eurocentric features and wanted to assimilate to the American lifestyle. I look back and it still saddens me … Today, I am proud of my Mexican roots and the traditions that are held within my culture and my household.”
These traditions were reinforced as she grew up in a loving home with her parents, four siblings — and tamales at every celebration. A graduate of Lehman College, where she got her bachelor’s degree in Sociology, Zurita takes the time for non-academic pursuits. Although she jokes that she’s no professional, Lissette enjoys to dance! To celebrate Latinx Heritage Month, she challenges everyone to try her favorite Mexican dish: Pozole.