By Katelyn Lugo '16, '18G

Since 2008, this Latin American history specialist has engaged Nazareth students through interactive classes and opportunities to conduct first-hand historical research in the Rochester community.

Why history matters

"We're getting fed so much information that we need to cross-reference and check because a lot of it is simply not true." Studying history provides the skills to sort through and critically analyze sources to get the best information.

"History provides a platform for becoming civically and globally engaged by teaching you how to develop empathy and understand your roots, thereby affecting your identity and relationships." Harsh times in history can be depressing, but also, says Córdova, "The resiliency of the human spirit and the ability to somehow emerge from horrific or inhumane acts of the past mostly intact and able to contribute and do good things is inspiring."

Why Latino history matters

"Latino" is not a race, which causes the subject to slip from today's racial conversations, says Córdova, but Latinos are the largest minority group in the United States. "In order to understand the changing fabric of U.S. demography, you need to understand the history of the relationship between Latin America and the United States," she says.

Córdova points out that the first Latinos in the U.S. weren't immigrants at all. "The U.S. border moved south, as a consequence of war, into what had been Mexican territory. So the border moved over the people and not the other way around." Also, Spanish was the first European language spoken on this land, by people who came from Spain, well before English was.

Hands-on work builds resumes

Córdova provides students with hands-on opportunities to immerse themselves in Latinx history through class assignments, internships, and grant-funded projects — including an oral history project she and Spanish Professor Hilda Chacón spearheaded with the Rochester Public Library. In the course ¡Presente! Histories of Latinos in the U.S., students interview Latinos from the Rochester community about their lives. These oral interviews are archived on, managed by the Rochester Public Library. The website includes a collection of Latinx-focused lesson plans for grades 1-4 and 7, all linked to common core standards. These lesson plans, created by students from Naz, provides teachers with everything they need to give a fully detailed lesson on Latinx history.

How do you help students become changemakers for societal good?

"I try to expose students to different realities and perspectives from the past. When confronted with something new and unfamiliar, we can see ourselves with more clarity and make more intentional choices about what parts we wish to affirm and what parts we wish to stretch and change."

Courses I teach

  • Challenging "Normalcy": Disability Studies, Neurodiversity and Activism
  • Atlantic World
  • Violence and Honor in Colonial Latin America
  • Liberators, Dictators, and Sell-Outs in Modern Latin America
  • Social History of Medicine and Disease in the Americas
  • ¡Presente! Histories of Latinos in the U.S.
  • Crime and Deviance: Histories of Social Control in Latin America
  • Social Studies Curriculum and Methods for Middle School and High School
  • Myth-Making and the Spanish Conquest

"I like my courses for different reasons. I love Atlantic World because I'm so comfortable with it now. It's the one I can joke around and have the most fun with. I love my upper-level courses because that's when I really get to sink my teeth into what my own content-level passions are."

Walk in their shoes

Córdova teaches interactively with primary sources, poems, music, and other tangible items that "allow you to travel in time and space without leaving your seat." She likes to make students "read, listen, discuss, and process the material."

"Historians are constantly trying to walk in the shoes of others. That's when you begin to understand the dynamics of the past, not just the isolated, empirical facts on the page."

"Effective teaching is about developing relationships with your students. By the second week, I know my students' names. I quiz myself and study outside of class." Córdova wants students to feel comfortable talking to her and approaching her individually. She says Nazareth's small class sizes enable this and result in meaningful learning opportunities.

What most students don't know

"We [Naz professors] really are proud of our students. And it's a very emotional moment when you see them crossing the stage at commencement or you read the paper that you know kept them up many nights. We beam with pride when we see our students succeed."

Isabel Cordova

Confidence in Naz

“My son started off at a different school doing environmental engineering. It was a wonderful school, but he soon transferred to Naz and graduated in music composition and horticultural therapy. He ended up exactly where he needed to be and was able to merge his seemingly distinct interests in ways that were difficult elsewhere. I had enough confidence in Naz to send my one and only child here.”

Fast Facts

  • Born in Spain to Puerto Rican parents
  • Raised between Brooklyn, N.Y., and Puerto Rico
  • Was a public school teacher in Puerto Rico for nine years
  • Shares expertise with the community in multiple ways, including contributing a 5-page essay of historical background about Latinx people (see page 12) in the program book for Geva Theatre Center's 2021 production of "Where Did We Sit on the Bus?" and being a panelist for a community discussion of the play.
  • Board member for the ¡Soy Unica! ¡Soy Latina! Rally (conference) through Latinas Unidas
  • Editorial board member of Rochester History Journal
  • Book: Pushing in Silence: Modernizing Puerto Rico and the Medicalization of Childbirth. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018) Awarded National Women’s Studies Association 2018 Gloria Anzaldúa Book Prize for groundbreaking transnational feminist scholarship.
  • Advisory board member, Anti-Racist Curriculum Project
  • Enjoys dancing, yoga, live music, and going to the gym

“She’s very approachable. For her classes, she makes you fill out a form [about your personal life]. She wants to get to know you on a more personal level and understand the reasons behind why you might be stressed out. I think her son coming here gives her a different perspective. Students have a lot of work to do and she understands that. Other professors assign a lot of work, while she is aware that you have other things to do as well.”

— Anabel Torijano ‘17, Spanish major with a minor in history

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