Exploring Social Awareness
Martinez first got involved with community service in high school. Hailing from the Bronx in New York, her community allowed her many opportunities for social service. Although Martinez loved all of the service prospects and cultural events, she craved something more. She hoped to raise social awareness of marginalized groups on a national level. Her desire to expand her possibilities and to develop a broader perspective led her to Amherst College.
At Amherst, Martinez threw herself into community service projects beginning with participation in the first-year orientation community outreach program. This experience allowed her to explore her interests at a deeper level, where she could delve into policy and advocacy.
Her experience with the outreach program led to her participation in the Chicano/a Caucus project. Martinez led and participated in many discussions about Chicano political issues and concerns on campus and in the country. She also collaborated in programming events on campus and supported off-campus political involvement through rallies and conferences.
Thanks to her campus activism, Martinez was offered a position with the community outreach office during her sophomore year. She participated in the 2002 alternative spring break trip to Cuba, organized documents and photographs from the trip and collaborated as a student leader for the Outreach Orientation.
Martinez further explored Latino issues during her summers. The summers after her sophomore and junior years, Martinez attended the CUNY-Dominican Studies Institute in New York where she researched socioeconomic trends of the Dominican community of Washington Heights and developed a pilot study to research ethnic/cultural identity of second-generation Dominicans of mixed heritage in New York City.
During her junior year, Martinez helped design and promote the expansion of the annual Winternship Program for students interested in interning in the non-profit sector during Interterm.
Martinez participated in her own Winternship when she worked for AYUDA, Inc. as a Legal Aid Intern in Washington, D.C. during January of 2002. She helped Spanish-speaking immigrant clients to complete work permit forms. She also translated several legal documents to be sent and reviewed by former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officials.
Committed to Latin America
Martinez studied abroad in Santo Domingo her junior year which helped her expand her interest in Latino studies. Martinez worked as a community worker with the Jesuit Refugee Service, conducting routine family visits to Haitian immigrant and Dominican-Haitian families living in the marginalized community of La Cienaga. She also recorded community concerns and informed the director of social work of her findings during weekly staff meetings.
Martinez worked on many social awareness projects through her participation with La Casa. As a resident and the secretary of the latino culture house on campus, Martinez has contributed to projects like the Haitian Awareness program and the Die-In for the women of Juarez, Mexico.
“I cannot say to what extent we were successful in our pursuit to make Amherst a more accepting community,” said Martinez. “But I do feel proud that from each struggle, we shared important dialogues with one another, which ultimately made us collectively and individually stronger, more conscientious individuals.”
Martinez’s interest in service is connected to her deep commitment to oppressed groups. A history major with a concentration in Latin American and Caribbean studies, Martinez feels passionate about her studies. “I always enjoyed and admired Melissa’s self-confidence in and outside of class,” said Assistant Professor of History Juan Rojas. “She was always participating in many diverse activities in the College and in the community. Melissa Martinez is an outstanding student and a delightful person to be around.”
Next year Martinez will go to the Dominican Republic and West Africa. She will be working on a global campaign in which she will meet with officials to discuss the plight of refugee children.
Martinez has taken from Amherst the ability to think introspectively. “I am interested in continuing to grow and to learn more about me and my relation to the world. I am simply walking forward in life. Right now, I am in the spirit of exploration,” said Martinez. “I am currently not rushing anywhere or to achieve anything of great status.” She will surely make a positive difference whether she is conscious of it or not. In fact, she already has.