Wildlife Vocalizations: Erim Gómez

Wildlife Vocalizations is a collection of short personal perspectives from people in the field of wildlife sciences.

I have been fortunate throughout my career to have worked with supportive people. But there have been instances where people make a point of bringing up my ethnic background. As a first-generation Mexican-American conducting fieldwork in rural eastern Washington, I would often be asked where I was from. I would always say Oregon, where I spent most of my life. But people would hear an accent and often push the issue, and then I would say I was born in California. Yet, people would usually push further and ask, “where are you really from?”

Gómez wears his traditional guayabera (latino wear). Credit: Erim Gómez

There is often a belief in the U.S. that if someone isn’t white, that person isn’t a real American. Even in graduate school, when I won the prestigious $100,000 Bullitt Environmental Fellowship, my fellow graduate students said the only reason I got my fellowship was because I was a person of color (POC). It was not because I worked to make Southern Oregon University one of the country’s greenest universities, published my undergraduate honors thesis, or was active in mentoring undergraduate students of color. I realized that even my friends view me as lucky and not worthy of my accomplishments.

Gómez teaching in the lab. Credit: Erim Gómez

At my first full-time faculty appointment (not my current institution) my fellow professors would always assume I was a Spanish or ethnic studies professor. The way that I overcome these microaggressions is to use them as learning opportunities for those around me. While it isn’t fair that POC always have to practice patience and be the one to educate, it is the technique I use because it is better than getting upset. And even at times, it becomes too much to deal with and can wear on me. Despite these overt instances of racism and microaggressions, I have persisted. I have just been promoted from lecturer to assistant professor in wildlife biology at one of the top wildlife biology programs in the country, the University of Montana.

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Header Image: Gómez has overcome microaggressions and racism by using them as opportunities to learn and mentor others. Credit: Erim Gómez