A Closer Look with Alvaro Huerta
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
POCIG Edward Blakely Award
Alvaro Huerta, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Alvaro Huerta is “an exceptional individual,” one of his recommenders wrote. The recommender continues, “I believe he meets and exceeds the criteria of the Blakeley award.” His accomplishments are encyclopedic.
In keeping with the ideals of the Blakely Award and POCIG, Prof. Huerta has been an unrelenting advocate for diversity in the field of urban planning. He encourages young people of color, especially from working class backgrounds to pursue advanced degrees to become urban planners. One of his recommenders described Prof. Huerta as “one of the most vocal figures who has challenged racist and sexist posts and actions on PLANET and other forums.”
His prodigious efforts and dedication have been recognized. He has been the recipient of the Ford Foundation Diversity Pre-doctoral Fellowship; Frederick A. Cervantes Graduate Student Premio: Best Graduate Student Paper, National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies; and the Planning Leadership Award--Advancing Diversity and Social Change in Honor of Paul Davidoff from the American Planning Association.
All of his recommenders mentioned his humble beginnings. Growing up poor, he spent his first four years in a Tijuana slum and afterwards in an East Los Angeles housing project. Yet, Huerta has not only persevered but excelled. As mentioned, he has done distinguished work for an assistant professor. Also unlike previous Blakely awardees from R1 research institutions, he has been committed to scholarship, the classroom, and grassroots activism while brilliantly balancing a teaching university’s requirements. He is truly deserving of the Blakeley award. He has made a huge contribution to the field of urban planning and the wider community.
ACSP recently connected with Alvaro to find out more about this accomplishment.
How did you feel when you won the award?
I must say that I was happily surprised when I first learned that I won the Edward Blakely award for advancing the cause of social and racial justice in urban planning. While my colleague and friend Dr. Gerardo Sandoval invested the necessary time to nominate me and secure letters of support, when it comes to any award, fellowship or position, one never knows about the outcome—unless the fix is in.
Given that I’m one of the few Chicanas/os to hold a Ph.D. in urban planning (UC Berkeley) and tenure-track or tenured faculty position, I felt both humbled and honored to receives an award that is directly linked not only to my academic research and planning practice, but also to my lifelong work as a former community organizer and son of Mexican immigrants.
Actually, this award reminded me of the time when the American Planning Association awarded me a similar, national leadership award: Advancing Diversity & Social Change Award in Honor of Paul Davidoff. Given that both Edward Blakeley and Paul Davidoff hold special places in the field of urban planning, I can’t say enough about how I’m now linked via these awards to these key figures in a small way. In fact, while completing my M.A. at UCLA, where I first read Davidoff’s classic article on advocacy planning, I quickly realized that I selected the right field to study.
Who do you want to thank, if any?
Thanking individuals in this particular case (e.g., when receiving an award) usually poses a problem since it’s common for significant individuals to be left out. For example, during the award ceremony, I did make sure to thank former advisors/professors from both UCLA and UC Berkeley. Later that night, I realized that I left out key people.
Thus, apart from thanking all of my former advisors/professor from both universities, among other institutions, who played a key role in my academic training, I want to thank them. They know who they are! Also, I take time to thank everyone directly related to this award, included the recommender, those who wrote letters of support, committee members and my colleagues at Cal Poly Pomona. Moreover, it feels great to be part of ACSP, where so many great individuals work tirelessly on behalf of the public good.
More specifically, I want to thank (not in ranked order) five people in particular. First, my later parents, Carmen Mejia Huerta and Salomon Chavez Huerta, who always believed in me and never said “no” to anything that I wanted to explore in life. While vilified by millions of Americans (i.e., the deplorables), my Mexican immigrant parents are my heroes. Secondly, I want to thank the late Kaye Bock. Kaye was a student-affairs officer at UC Berkeley’s Department of City and Regional Planning. Like we would say in the barrio, Kaye always had my back! Thirdly, my wife Antonia Montes, like my late mother, is a key reason why I’ve succeeded in the academy and life, thus far. Without her, I would still be stuck in a non-profit cubicle with limited opportunities. Finally, given that my entire academic career has revolved around the needs of my son Joaquin, I want thank him for being my inspiration and motivation to always be on the move.
What inspired you about this project?
As the product of a Mexican slum (Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico) and American barrio (Boyle Heights in Los Angeles, California), not long after being accepted to UCLA as a freshman, I’ve always been interested in key issues related to race, class and social/economic inequities in the U.S. and beyond. Thus, researching and writing—as a student and scholar—about these key issues have been directly linked to my professional interests and personal/familial background. For example, I not only study poverty, I’ve lived it. Also, when I conduct research about immigrants and the informal economy, I always think about the days my father took me (and my brother Salomon Huerta-internally acclaimed artist) to work as teen day laborers or the over 40 years that my mother toiled as a domestic worker. Moreover, when I write social commentaries about police abuse in the inner-cities, I think about the time when a police officer or cop pulled a gun on me. My crime, as a 16-year-old kid: teaching myself how to drive.
Currently, I’m working a few scholarship projects. One is a second book project on Latina/o immigration in the U.S. Another is a third book project for a major academic press on Mexican immigrants and their social networks in the informal economy. Lastly, I’m working on one journal article (review and resubmit) for an academic journal.
Overall, apart from my scholarship and teaching duties, I’ll continue to advocate for the interest of los de abajo / those on the bottom.
Huerta is an assistant professor with a joint-appointment in Urban and Regional Planning and Ethic and Women’s Studies at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He holds a Bachelor’s in History (UCLA), Master’s in Urban Planning (UCLA), and PhD in Urban Planning (UC Berkeley). Full Bio
About ACSP Awards
Each year ACSP is proud to honor faculty and students who have distinguished themselves or made major contributions to the academy or to the profession via outreach efforts, public service or for service to ACSP, the Academy, or the profession. A complete listing and history for all awards can be found at www.acsp.org.
This achievement award will be given to a worthy honoree who has supported the cause of social justice, particularly in urban planning or development, for communities of color. It is in honor of Edward Blakely, who has offered extraordinary service as both scholar and practitioner following examples from his family, including in particular his father Edward Blakely, his mother Josephine Carter Blakely, and all of his uncles and aunts and cousins who lived and worked for social justice in communities of color, particularly during the years of legally-enforced racial segregation.