Cornell graduate student Yessica Martinez was recently named to the International Literacy Association’s 2019 “30 Under 30” list, which celebrates rising innovators, disruptors and visionaries in the literacy field.
The 2019 honorees were chosen because of their dedication to inspire change through improving literacy education for students across the globe, according to information from the society.
The International Literacy Association is a global advocacy and membership organization of more than 30,000 literacy educators, researchers and experts across 86 countries. The society’s mission is to empower educators, inspire students and encourage leaders with the resources they need to make literacy accessible for all.
“I think my interest in literacy comes from my experience as an immigrant,” Martinez said. “When I came to the United States at age ten, I had to learn how to read a new culture in order to inhabit it. I think in a deep, subconscious sense, I’ve always understood literacy as a process of translation and interpretation that necessarily changes you as well.”
Martinez is a poet and educator originally from Medellin, Colombia. She is interested in the history of modern social movements in Latin America with an emphasis on popular education and artistic practices that contributed to their flourishing. Martinez has studied violence, trauma and testimonial narratives and, in her own poetic practice, continues to explore what it means to bear witness. Martinez is a 2018 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow.
“I think poetry is a powerful means of achieving radical change because it allows us to access a deep history and knowledge that might otherwise be lost to us,” Martinez said. “In its disruption of language and form and its connection to a primal sense of sound, poetry allows us to disrupt paradigms of sense and thought that dominate our modern world. In that sense, it can be deeply revolutionary.”
Martinez has combined her poetry with social justice initiatives. As an undergraduate at Princeton, Martinez created a scholarship fund for undocumented youth. Martinez also planned lobbying visits and coordinated efforts to stop the deportation of a Salvadorian migrant. Martinez received Princeton’s Pyne Honor Prize for traveling along the Mexico border to collect poetry about violence and migration.
Martinez will be recognized at the ILA conference, receive a complimentary one-year ILA membership and be featured in an issue of Literacy Today.
Yvette Lisa Ndlovu is a communications assistant for the College of Arts & Sciences.