Profile: Associate Professor Margarita Bianco on Puerto Rican Identity and Latinx Students

October 4, 2021

Associate Professor Margarita Bianco, PhD, teaches in the School of Education and Human Development and founded Pathways2Teaching, a nationally recognized program designed to encourage high school students of color to enter the teacher workforce. Bianco, whose family is from Puerto Rico, explained the importance of her heritage. “The Puerto Rican people are multiracial and multicultural—embracing our African and Indigenous roots,” she said. “My Puerto Rican heritage influences ALL aspects of my life.” Bianco shared some photographs that highlight what’s important to her culturally.

Bianco's grandmother and son


“In the Puerto Rican culture, like many others, children and family are at the core of everything,” Bianco said.  Her grandmother, Angelina Ursula Ortiz Marcus, known as Bita (short for Abuelita, which means grandmother in Spanish), was born in Savana Grande, Puerto Rico in 1903. Besides the picture of Bita as a young woman, she is shown sharing hot chocolate with her great-grandchild, Bianco’s son, while a telenovela (soap opera) plays on the television. “We never think of our children as ‘leaving home,’” Bianco said. “Their home is always where their family live—and they can come back anytime!”

Puerto Rican dishes


Family and cooking are often intertwined in many cultures, including Bianco’s. “I love cooking Puerto Rican food—and love the smell of the spices,” she said. “It brings back great memories of watching my Bita cooking in the kitchen while telling me stories of her youth.” Two recent dishes Bianco made include Pastelones, sometimes referred to as Puerto Rican lasagna, and Sancocho, a one-pot stew.

Bianco and her son at San Juan port

San Juan Port

Bianco and her son have both visited the old San Juan port in Puerto Rico. “This is the port that my grandmother left from to come to the mainland when she was 19 years old,” Bianco said. “It was emotional for me to stand there and imagine how she must have felt leaving her family behind and coming to the mainland alone.”

beach and waterfall in Puerto Rico


There are many parts of Puerto Rico that Bianco finds beautiful, including the lush landscape. But her attraction to the island also includes its complex history. “My identify is influenced by its intersections,” she said. “Puerto Ricans, as multiracial people, have many cultures to draw from. Our food and music—and beautiful range of brown and black skin tones—is influenced by our African and Indigenous ancestors, something I am very proud of.” In fact, Bianco has written about her desire to honor her ancestors by teaching about the Taíno Indigenous people from Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.

high school student in Pathways2Teaching and Bianco


In terms of her work and research, Bianco’s Latina roots have shaped her desire to connect to Latinx students and encourage them to become teachers and academics. “My Puerto Rican heritage influences my work in several ways. For example, I’ve recently co-authored a journal article that provides an example of how teachers can use students’ racial and ethnic heritage to develop culturally responsive approaches to teaching,” she said. “Also, my work in developing Pathways2Teaching, a Grow Your Own teacher program for high school students of color, is directly impacted by the lack of Latinx teachers and the need for representation in Pre-K through PhD programs around the country.”

Ultimately, she’d like to correct the disenfranchisement that Latinx students experience in school. “I want my work to help teachers understand how they can prepare their students to see education as liberation,” she said.