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César Chávez Cultural Center 35th Anniversary: Interview with Dr. Silvana Gorton (Served 1998-2000)

Marko Corona, Graduate Intern
January 04, 2021

"A Legacy of Paying it Forward"

Former Directors Series

Interview with Dr. Silvana Gorton

MARKO: Please give us your name and tell us where are you from?

DR. SILVANA GORTON: My name is Silvana Gorton, when I was a UNC undergraduate my name was Silvana Diaz, and then as a graduate student my name was Silvana Carlos.

MARKO: Are you an alumnus of UNC and if you are, what did you major/minor in? Do you have other degrees and what institutions are they from?

DR. SILVANA GORTON: I am an alumnus of UNC. On May 11, 1991 I received a BA, I double majored in psychology and sociology and on August 8, 1998 I received the Ed.S. in school psychology. I was also conferred the PhD at the University of Colorado in Educational Leadership and Innovation on May 17, 2008.

MARKO: How long did you serve as César Chávez Cultural Center Director?

DR. SILVANA GORTON:  I served as the director of the César Chávez Cultural Center for two years: the 1998-1999 school year and the 1999-2000 school year.

MARKO: How would you describe your role and the challenges presented to you there?

DR. SILVANA GORTON: Since the CCCC was such an intricate part of my experience at UNC as an undergraduate and graduate student, and then in the role of director, my perspective was grounded in the commitment that had been modeled for me for nearly the entire existence of the CCCC. When I became the director, it was my honor and responsibility to carry forward the vision and to realize the goals of the courageous and august visionaries that preceded me. Starting with Dr. Frank Lucero, the Center’s first director, each succeeding director worked to expand and elevate the vision of the CCCC. The Center was a place I cherished because of the positive difference it made in my life, so I worked with a great and authentic sense of love and commitment toward ensuring that the CCCC would continue to ensure the academic and social success of students, and to expand the outreach of the CCCC as an indispensable Hispanic/Latinx/Chicano culture resource center for the broader UNC and Greeley community. Some challenges: the importance of the CCCC was not always appreciated, and for several years the idea of collapsing all of the cultural centers into one was considered. Thankfully this was never realized.

MARKO: What is the grounding value/belief that helped guide your work there?

DR. SILVANA GORTON: I was fortunate to succeed an amazing mentor and role model, Vicki Leal-Larsen, who was the Center’s director during most of the years I served at the Center (graduate assistant from 1994-1998) in the role of assistant to the director. Vicki realized a vision for the Center as a critical contributor to the UNC campus and community of Mexican/Latinx/Hispanic culture through art, literature, history, dance and music, language, and establishing intentional opportunities for students to develop leadership skills, to gain a depth of social and cultural experiences and overall to leave UNC with a culturally enriched academic experience. This guided my service to the CCCC toward further elevating the importance of the Center and ultimately to spotlight the value of Hispanic/Latinx/Chicano students as indispensable members of the UNC student body. One aspect that I am very proud of is the role of collaboration that I engaged in. At that time, the Center staff and students worked closely with other resource centers and community organizations. The outcome of newly established/strengthened positive networks benefitted students in several ways. For example, several students, including CUMBRES students, became aware of and involved in the Colorado Association for Bilingual Education (CABE).

MARKO: What would you like to share regarding that period of time in your life?

DR. SILVANA GORTON: That period in my life provided me the opportunity to grow as a leader, to develop my skills as a higher education administrator, to deepen my sense of self as a Latinx/first-generation/bilingual and to continually engage in improving as a mentor and role model. I experienced a full range of emotions: happiness, fear, excitement, self-doubt, pride and resilience. At that time in my life I was grateful to have a CCCC family that offered support, trust, lively discourse and diversity of thought, humor, empathy and above all love and acceptance rooted in a common vision with Trish Escobar as my most trusted friend and confidant.

MARKO: This year, on September 3, we celebrated the Center’s 35th Anniversary and the chosen theme was “A legacy of paying it forward” – what does this mean to you?

DR. SILVANA GORTON: I’ve always held as a central tenet in my own professional practice the belief that I stand on the shoulders of those who dared before me. While my success is the result of my own persistence, commitment and grit I never, for a moment, forget that I am a beneficiary of the dreams and sacrifice of many others who wanted to effect positive impact. I strive each and every day, in both personal and professional contexts, to be a courageous, caring, empathetic and persistent champion for the betterment of Hispanic/Latinx/Chicano causes. My life has been enriched with opportunities to directly serve and support students, educators and school leaders; and I’ve been successful because I had amazing and caring mentors such as Dr. Genie Canales, the first Latina/Chicana graduate professor I ever had.

MARKO: What was your proudest moment/accomplishment/memory of your time there?

DR. SILVANA GORTON: I had several accomplishments during my tenure as director:

  • 1998-1999: UNC Student Representative Council, recognized for support and commitment to diversity
  • 1998, 1999, 2000: Women’s Resource Center Outstanding Woman recognition
  • 1998: Academic Achievement of Latino Students recognition
  • 1999: Baha’I Vital Soul Award
  • 2000: Unity House recognition

The CCCC was so central in my growth and development that it is truly impossible to choose one or two moments that helped shape my values and beliefs as a professional and leader, but I will share two.

One proud accomplishment was my role in the innovative establishment of the Unity House. While I understand that the Unity House was not sustained by UNC for the long-term, during the pilot year I had the opportunity and privilege to have positive impact on an incredible group of students who lived the mission of Unity House – to promote unity through cultural understanding and appreciation and enhance UNC’s commitment to diversity and leadership. In one of the Unity House newsletters (March-April 2000), I am described in this way: “Silvana provided us with tools to become better leaders. She encouraged us to look within ourselves and find congruence in all aspects of our lives.” I am proud that I had this impact.

Another innovative effort at UNC that brings me pride is my role in the CUMBRES program. As a bilingual myself, the establishment of a program to intentionally recruit and then strategically support Latinx students to become bilingual educators was absolutely amazing and it was a great honor to be a supporter and resource. My fondest recollections are about my service as mentor to several CUMBRES students.

Each and every day I felt pride in the student staff and student participants at the CCCC. I saw the future with the most positive hope and anticipation because each day I was a witness to the growth and development of a group of smart, talented, caring, innovative and authentic people who would soon make the world a better place! Decades later, my hopes have been realized as many CCCC students have established themselves as successful and effective educators and leaders in their own professional careers. This also is a source of great elation for me!

 Cesar Chavez Cultural Center 35 year anniversary

Celebrate the 35th Anniversary of the César Chávez Cultural Center