By ERIK MEDINA
In the desert and concrete beyond Interstate 10 on the south side of Tucson, you’ll find a punk rock historian at Pima Community College’s Desert Vista Campus.
Alisha Maria Vasquez, born in Tucson on Nov. 5, 1984, has lived in the city her entire life.
“I’m a bubbly, punk, Chicana krip,” she says.
Krip, a term for anger, reflects her feeling about being born with short-leg syndrome.
She had her first surgery at age 5, and endured another 20 surgeries over the next 10 years.
However, Vasquez says her disability is a part of her character.
Vasquez witnessed her parents’ divorce at age 10 and stayed with her mother. She says her family didn’t have many material goods but was culturally rich.
She later went through a punk rock phase and says the genre helped her control anger that originated from frustration with her place in society.
“We were poor, whatever, a lot of people are poor,” she says. “But I’m Mexican and a woman.”
Through most of her high school years, she wanted to become an orthopedic surgeon because of her history with medicine and doctors.
Her goal changed when she took a history class in her junior year of high school. She realized she loved history and decided to learn more.
Her high grade point average helped her receive a scholarship from the University of Arizona. Vasquez majored in history and women’s gender studies, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree.
Vasquez later moved to San Francisco, and attended San Francisco State University to obtain a master’s degree in history.
She studied Chicanx history and felt fortunate to count disability activist Paul K. Longmore as an instructor. Under his guidance, Vasquez dreamed of being the next big disability historian.
“I was breaking boundaries,” she says.
Her studies mirror her personal life. “I’m the most narcissistic person,” she says. “I study myself.”
Vasquez graduated from SFSU with a 4.0 grade point average, and returned to Tucson with an academic perspective. She was jobless for one year, but spent 50-plus hours a week volunteering.
Serving on the board of directors for Tucson Urban League helped her better understand the community.
She then joined a task force on racial ethnic disparity, and identified areas where kids were getting picked up and arrested. She represented the youth and sought alternatives for those who were facing jail time.
Vasquez eventually found part-time employment at PCC, working as a Mexican American Studies instructor.
Sandra Shattuck, a Desert Vista writing instructor, met Vasquez in January 2016 when their classes were paired as part of a National Endowment for the Humanities Border Culture grant.
“I like Alisha’s enthusiasm,” Shattuck says. “She is passionate about what she teaches.”
She also admires Vasquez’s teaching methods.
“Alisha is so clear in presenting complex issues and offering a long view of the history and then making the connections between back then and today,” Shattuck says.
The grant program brings students to Tucson from across the country to learn about Mexican American culture and border issues.
“I’ve brought my fifth-generation Tucsonan perspective into the program,” Vasquez says.
She would like to teach full time for PCC or work in administration to create community partnerships.
“For me, higher education made a lot of sense but it’s not for everyone,” she says. “As a society, we must also assist people to achieve their dreams even if it seems outside the norms.”
Although retirement is far away, Vasquez would like to retire as a PCC employee. She says she would only leave if she was offered a position where she could root for the underdog, as she always has, only this time for pay.
Her plan for the years ahead is to start a family with her husband. She likes the idea of two kids. She would also be interested in traveling if she doesn’t start a family.
“Be yourself,” she says. “You will never please everyone, but if you can find a way to live a life that is true to morals and values that you set for yourself, you will be happy.”