In honor of International Women’s Day, Canal Alliance has chosen to elevate the stories and perspectives of some of the powerful and inspiring women in our community. From policy to education, and advocacy to community policing, Hispanic women are changing the face of leadership in Marin County.
Q & A with Air Gallegos
Title: Director of Education & Career at Canal Alliance
Air is a proud bi-racial Chicana and California native who has spent her career focusing on social justice.
Air has an MA in Education Administration from San Francisco State University and a BA in Feminist Studies with an emphasis in critical race and queer theory. Air is a lifelong learner and believes deeply in the power of education, radical inclusion, wellness, and equity. She believes the key to social transformation lies in the intersections of education, healing, and justice.
Air has coached, trained and mentored educators and social justice leaders across the US. She served as a teacher, a member of the curriculum design team, and as a culturally-responsive teaching lead in both high school and middle school. After years in the classroom teaching English and Ethnic Studies, she dedicated her energy to bringing culturally-responsive teaching methods into classrooms by serving as an instructional coach and professional development lead.
Air has spent the last three years helping to build non-profits in the Bay Area, serving as the Director of Education. Her efforts focused on creating social-emotional learning and equity opportunities for school communities, as well as, wellness and mindfulness practices through professional development and coaching. She worked to develop internal structures of assessments and vision for two local non-profits.
Air believes deeply in the power of community, in knowing one’s self, and working collaboratively to make a difference.
Canal Alliance: How did you come to your current role?
Air Gallegos: I came to my current role through my own personal experiences and my deep desire to work for my own community. I grew up in a bi-racial home where I experienced what privilege, power, and oppression were before I had language for it. I struggled in school, not because I wasn’t capable of the material, but because I didn’t feel like what I was learning was relevant to who I was and what I saw happening in the world. Growing up in San Diego, a border town, had a deep impact on my life.
I was a student who went to detention every day and it wasn’t until college that I finally found a reason to be in a classroom. In college I was able to take ethnic studies classes, feminism classes, queer theory classes, and I began to realize that access to education is a crucial factor in all social justice work. These classes helped me understand my own intersectional identity as a bi-racial, queer, Chicana and understand that I had the right to empower myself. With my own agency, I could make a difference for my own community.
After college, education became a clear path for me and I was driven to bring culturally responsive curriculum to classrooms that could make students feel seen, heard, and witnessed, as well as, give them the tools to create the world they wanted to see. I was blessed to work at a school that supported this vision in Denver, CO. And for al of my classroom career, I was able to teach ethnic studies classes in English Language Arts classrooms.
The more I built my career in education, the more it expanded to other fields because the field of education itself is a small reflection of our entire world. I moved into the non-profit world to make a difference by bringing a social-emotional learning curriculum to schools across the United States. And now, more than ever, I feel at home at Canal Alliance, working on a team to help immigrants empower themselves to create the lives they want to live.
CA: How do you define a leader?
AG: To me, a leader is someone who serves the community and understands that we live in an interconnected world, where the actions of one affect the lives of many. Leadership means understanding the complexities of equity and the power of compassion and wisdom.
CA: How has your personal history influenced your leadership style?
AG: My personal leadership style is very much driven by my love of ethnic studies and all of my teachers including my parents and abuelitos who taught me that one can only learn by having the courage to fail and that the only failure that you cannot learn from is never trying.
My leadership is guided by a Mayan dicho from Jose Arguelles and Luis Valdez called In Lak Ech. My students and I said this dicho every day that we spent in community of one another:
In Lak Ech (I am you and you are me)
Tu eres mi otro yo,
Si te hago dano a ti,
Me hago dano a mi mismo
Si te amo y respeto,
Me amo y repeto yo
CA: Have you had mentors or guides that you have looked up to as you have come into your current role? How have they impacted your outlook on leadership?
AG: I can’t express the importance of mentors and guides. They have helped guide and push me to grow in ways that I have never imagined. My biggest mentors were my students, whom I had the blessing to learn from every day. My parents and family have guided me, allowing me to learn the important lessons in life, like understanding the power of saying I’m sorry and I love you. My community has been my moral guide and the balance that has given me integrity. And, I have learned from other teachers, administrators, professors, and writers who have forever changed how I approach things, like Octavia Butler, Adrienne Maree Brown, Paulo Freire, etc
CA: What legacy would you like to create for other Latinas who may look to follow in your footsteps or use your leadership as an example for their own careers?
My hope is that Latinas and the broader Latinx community are able to see that there are many heroes who have pathed a path that we are able to step on, and that it is our responsibility to keep pushing forward. These are big heroes like Dolores Huerta, but also every day heroes, like our mothers and grandmothers who hold our families and communities together, who have overcome obstacles of oppression throughout their life, and if we have the courage to ask them to share their stories, we might be able to learn from the past and have the capacity to dream of a future that is different.
CA: How does working with Canal Alliance to advance our mission fit into the legacy that you want to leave in your field?
AG: Canal Alliance is a home for everyone in our community. It is our goal to advance the Latinx immigrant community by breaking cycles of poverty, inequities, and injustices. It is an honor to work for an organization that not only serves the community but builds up the gifts and the assets that everyone of our clients brings through the door.