Mario Garcia '18
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Class of 2018, History
Tell me a little about where you were born and what you’re doing now.
I was born and raised in a suburb of Los Angeles called Downey. Now I'm a case manager at Homeless Healthcare Los Angeles, a non-profit. Our clients are people experiencing homelessness. I help them get linked to rental subsidies so they can eventually get their own apartment and then maintain permanent housing.
Why did you choose History?
I was drawn in by the flexibility the major offered, since history is literally anything that's ever happened before.
I also wanted to learn how different societies have developed, and, particularly because I’m interested in race, gender, and sexuality, I wanted to see how different groups of people are impacted by different historical events. History gave me the lens to be able to do that.
I also liked looking at documents and spending time in archives. I worked in an archive, Mudd Library, my junior and senior year. Being up in the stacks brought out the geek in me, looking at the old documents and stuff.
Was there anything about the study of history in particular that you were surprised about, that you didn't think was part of the discipline of History going in?
Definitely. High school history was focused on memorizing a bunch of dates and figures, but in college, history was more thematic and analytical.
In undergrad, I realized that the things we learn in textbooks have arguments and debates behind them. There are multiple ways of viewing certain events, and you can argue that certain forces were more important in an outcome, and stuff like that. In high school it seemed like history was an objective thing, but college made me think about what documents backed up the narratives presented in textbooks, how something got in the textbook, and how people agreed that this is the history. All that stuff was really interesting for me.
What are some memorable courses and professors in history?
Professor Lozano’s Latino Urban History seminar was great. She highlighted the Latinx experience really well, and it was interesting to read about groups of people that aren’t usually highlighted in survey courses. That’s a lot of what drew me to history in general, being able to learn about historically underrepresented groups.
Another good course was Professor Goldthree’s Caribbean Women’s History (AAS 319). It focused on Afro-Caribbean women and their own struggles throughout history. Really cool class, really cool discussions.
What are you passionate about, and how does that relate or perhaps not relate to history?
Social equity is a passion of mine more generally. I think everything relates to history, so I’m interested in seeing how these social inequities and social issues have come to be. I imagine different policies and different historical factors have resulted in the homelessness crisis in LA today. History allows you to see what factors lead to certain outcomes and also helps us see how we can address it.
Why don't you tell me a little bit about your independent work?
My fall Junior Paper was with Professor Ronny Regev, and she was teaching Popular Culture in America. I wrote about the Splash Mountain ride at Disneyland, which is based on the film The Song of the South.
The film was made in the 1940s post-World War II era and had very racist depictions of black people, which then ended up being manifested in the ride itself. The ride was made in the 1980s, and that was a really interesting moment for race too in America, so I compared the film and the ride. I looked at how race was formulated in those time periods.
For my spring Junior Paper, my International one, I worked with Professor Lozano. I studied Guatemala in the 19th century. I looked at a certain president in Guatemala who implemented a lot of policies that worked to marginalize indigenous groups of people. The policies favored people who were lighter skinned and contributed to colorism in Guatemala.
Then for my thesis, I worked with Professor Isenberg. I studied undergraduate co-education at Princeton from the 1970s to the 2000s. I looked primarily at the experiences of black women and Latina women and their activism. I got to do a lot of oral interviews, and I was in the archives pretty much my entire senior year. I also got to write some vignettes of my research for Mudd Library’s research blog as part of my job. That was pretty cool.
What do you want your life to look like five years from now?
Right now I just want to gain experience in the field of social work. I'm thinking about either pursuing a Master’s in Social Work (MSW) or going to law school, but right now I’m leaning towards the MSW. I want to see how I can use further education to help clients, and also to develop more of the toolset I've gained working at this job.
Five years from now, I would hope to be finishing up the program. I want to work a bit longer before I go into school again. I'm considering continuing to work while I'm going to school, so it might be on a part-time basis.
And then I just want to see where else I can go in the field of social work, and I want to keep doing that.
Do you have any advice for Princeton students majoring in history or thinking about majoring in history?
Focus on what you’re passionate about. You’re going to spend a lot of time on your thesis, so make sure you’re really interested in your topic. I was pretty happy with my thesis at the end.
It’s also important to be willing to change your argument after you look at the documents. Don’t procrastinate. Give yourself enough time to look at the documents and see where they lead you.
Photo credit: Juan Gonzalez.