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SACNAS: Our colorful conference

Samuel L Díaz Muñoz's picture

“De colores, de colores
Es el arco iris que vemos lucir.”

-Mexican folk song

< Much may be lost in this translation, which is why SACNAS and CienciaPR exist. So scientists can communicate in our way. Nevertheless, attempting translation to be inclusive ;) >

I came down the escalator and saw the mass of people. Thousands. Four thousand to be exact. I was in awe. All these people were interested in helping minority scientists of all colors. This conference was not just an array of myriad skin tones, but also backgrounds, cultural traditions and science.  

But why exactly does science have to be colorful? Facts don’t change, right? Science is certainly universal and facts are facts. But science is a human enterprise and the research that is done –and importantly, that which is not done– has to do with culture.

If we want all colors in science, our people have to have science that is relevant to their culture, that attends their needs, that inspires them. We understand how important passion is in science and how are we not going to provide inspiration for young scientists. Like a young scientist who told me about the legend of a volcano in her poster. According to the native lore the volcano’s lake turned red in certain occasions. She was researching the biological and physical mechanisms underlying the color change. At a very early stage in her scientific career, this researcher displayed an easy sophistication with the complementarity of her cultural mythology and science. There was no contradiction and her culture served as inspiration. In the eyes of this young scientist, the passion for science shone. We owe her a scientific community that creates spaces so that this flame does not die down.

It’s our duty to create these spaces because others before us have suffered a path through science where they have had to open all the doors. I overheard two students in Raymond Rodriguez’ Keynote: “Holy shit that's Rodriguez from the pBR322 plasmid. The R is for Rodríguez”. I did not know this. I did not know that a latino (two in fact, the other one was Bolívar) was responsible for developing one of the key tools of the molecular genetics revolution (article cited 5824 times). But when our students learn these facts, they know it can be done. They have a model. Like the recipient of the SACNAS Distinguished Award, María Cristina Villalobos. Now tejana girls from the Rio Grande Valley that are daughters of immigrants (and all latinas for that matter) know they can become leaders and work at the very highest levels of mathematics.

Without this meeting, many would not know of each other. Would not see these role models. They would not see all the colors of science. For many SACNAS becomes more than a professional network, a family.      

Onward familia. Together with all colors shining.

[*I deeply regret not recalling the details of this encounter. I searched in archived programs and did not find this young scientists’ name. This text was written in 2013, and published in 2019 with minor modifications. It is as relevant today as it was then.]