Born in San Sebastián, Spain, a coastal town in the northern Basque Country, UW-Green Bay humanities and global studies professor Cristina Ortiz grew up over the past 12 years of oppression Francoist dictatorship.
During the dictatorship, she learned about the importance of the human sciences and artistic expression: “Because of the censorship during the dictatorship in Spain, certain books were banned, deemed ‘dangerous’ for their content, so if my mother wanted to read one of the censored books, she would send me – as a child – to a friend’s house, and this person would wrap the book in newspapers to hide it, and I would take it home, pretending that I was only carrying a newspaper so as not to not be caught by a police officer,” Ortiz said. “This situation made me extremely curious about books. Why were they banned? Why was a dictator so afraid of words? The situation instilled in me the curiosity and the desire to read and discover what was so “dangerous” in the books.
In 1975, Franco died, and there was a feeling – increasingly infectious – of hope and freedom. Ortiz was 12 years old. And the artistic revival that followed began to shape his curious mind. There was “music and pop bands, and rock. You know, everyone had something to say. And finally, it was the freedom to express these things.
For Ortiz, it was time to search for answers. Answers to what was happening in Spain, answers she sought in history books and literature. And having more questions than answers, Ortiz naturally gravitated towards studying philosophy during her undergraduate years.
But his passion was literature. So when someone said to her, “’You know, in the United States, you can get an allowance, then you can take a literature course,’” she replied, “They will pay you to read? What do I have to do!”
And so, after earning his undergraduate degree, Ortiz, with teaching aspirations, left Spain in 1987 to pursue graduate studies in the United States at the University of Cincinnati. There, she was able to indulge her passion for literature: “The library was incredible for me as a Spaniard. And the fact that you can grab the books. You know, you didn’t have to ask someone to pick up the book you wanted. . . . And I think, ‘Wow! I’m at Disney World,” Ortiz said.
In this library, she continued to cultivate her love for critical reading, artistic expression, and philosophical inquiry, which in 1993 laid the educational foundation for her teaching career at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
Ortiz didn’t choose Green Bay for its notoriously cold and snowy winters, however. “There was something about Green Bay, and most of all what I really loved was the university and the people I met on my visit to campus when I came – and the students,” she said. “There was something about this place that I said, ‘Yeah, this is the place. I see myself here.“
However, when Ortiz first arrived in Green Bay, she began to think of herself as an outsider. “There were no Spanish speakers,” she said. “That awareness of not being able to be who you are because of cultural differences and language limitations was striking in those early years. The limits imposed by the language are very difficult.
Throughout her 29 years as professor at UW-Green Bay, she has witnessed the diversification of the city. “Today there is a very large Spanish-speaking community and Hmong, Somali and Afghan refugees,” Ortiz said. “The world has caught up with Green Bay, and Green Bay is also catching up with the world.”
Despite this progress, however, Ortiz maintains a growth mindset and uses his early experiences in the city to help other minority groups and people of color create a more tolerant and loving community. “I’ve seen Green Bay leap forward. But there are still things to do. As we become more diverse, there are many more things to do.
Ortiz continued, “When I came here, I experienced a type of community that was maybe a little more closed off to people who weren’t born or raised or have their roots in that particular community. So because having been through that, I’m doing everything I can to make the community a place that respects, accepts people from diverse backgrounds. Professor Ortiz is a two-time recipient of the Outstanding Women of Color in Education Award for her contributions to advancing equity and inclusion for people of color within the University of Wisconsin system.
Ortiz encourages his students to express their ideas and recognizes the importance of diversity of thought in his classes. Especially since she spent her early years in a social context where books were banned, universities and professors threatened, journalists killed; in a social context where she was confronted with questions such as “Why do dictators, the first things they want to control are books, ideas, universities? »
She challenges her students to think critically and always cultivate their curiosity, and encourages her students to become leaders in their communities. “I tell my students, ‘Use your time in college to listen to the part of you that wants to write and read and think and question,'” Ortiz said. “‘Never forget that side of you that tries to express something unique, different.'”
Professor Ortiz enjoys playing her part in the University’s mission to develop future leaders: “I am very, very happy, when I sit on committees, when I work with the city, to be sitting side by someone who a few years ago I was a student in one of my classes and now I am a community leader,” she said. “Nothing is more rewarding. I can’t think of anything better for a teacher. It’s excellent. That’s the role of the university. The university has played, plays and must play the role of serving to train future leaders.
“I love my job, the students,” she says.
Story by Jonah Rogers, May 2022 graduate
Photos: University marketing and communication