She is the first Ecuadorian woman of indigenous heritage to graduate from Harvard University

Feb 4, 2024 | 0 comments

A young Ecuadorian woman made history by being the first member of an indigenous community in her country to graduate from Harvard University. She is part of a new generation of migrant students of indigenous origin making their way at that institution.

Amy Chalán at her graduation ceremony.

Amy Chalán, 22, set a precedent by being the first indigenous Kichwa Saraguro from Ecuador to graduate from Harvard in June of last year.

“Being the first to access this prestigious educational space was like fulfilling the American goal, no, the American dream, which is to come to this country because of my grandfather’s sacrifice,” Chalán told Telemundo Nueva Inglaterra in Spanish.

Her story began decades ago when her grandfather was one of the first members of that community to immigrate to the United States. She arrived in the country with her parents when she was very young.

She noted that she had the privilege of going to private school.

She earned a spot at Harvard University. In 2020 she obtained legal status and for the first time in decades she was able to return to her community in Ecuador. She admits that she faced challenges living with indigenous, being of Ecuadorian and American identity.

“My family was always morally and emotionally supportive but sometimes it was okay to just look for resources and answers,” she said in Spanish.

Proud of her achievement, she hopes to help others like hers. “I am the first but I assure you that I will not be the last because we are going to continue working for more access for Andean students also like Kichwas and the Saraguro people,” Chalán said.

Américo Mendoza-Mori, a Harvard professor and founder of the Quechua Initiative on Global Indigeneity at the university, was Amy’s thesis advisor. She said she hopes Chalán’s story helps more students recognize the value of their cultural heritage. “As in the case of Amy’s story, we hope that more students recognize the value of their cultural heritage,” Mendoza-Mori.

Another member of the Kichwa Saraguro community who is attending Harvard would be following in Chalán’s footsteps. According to Mendoza-Mori, it is estimated that around 200 students at the university identify as of native or indigenous origin.

“It is a joy that she is the first Kichwa Saraguro woman, on the other hand in 2024 we hope that we will have many more and what brings us together at this moment and it is worth making news that in the future she will be part of our university communities and Latin communities and ”Hispanic,'” Mendora-Mori said.

Chalán earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Sciences from Harvard. During her studies she served as a student coordinator in the Minority Recruitment Program. She has been part of cultural and social groups and created a program to help undocumented students in the college application process. Among her plans is to study for a postgraduate degree to continue her activism.
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Credit: NBC Boston

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