Dream Summer Alumni Spotlight: Mario De Leon
Dream Summer Cohort: 2012
Host Organization: UCLA Downtown Labor Center
Mario De Leon is a socially conscious mathematician and educator. In and out of the classroom, he works at the intersections of social justice and mathematics to provide the next generation of leaders with the tools to connect mathematical concepts to the world they live in; utilize math as a way to create solutions to issues affecting their communities; and deepen their appreciation for mathematics. Mario seeks to be a long-life math enthusiast and sharer of knowledge.
Mario is a graduate of UCLA and a Project Coordinator at the UCLA Labor Center.
1) How did you hear about Dream Summer and why did you apply to Dream Summer?
I first heard about Dream Summer through IDEAS at UCLA, the support and advocacy organization for undocumented students on campus. I applied to Dream Summer because I wanted to challenge myself to understand what role I could play within the social justice movement. I believe there is a role for everyone that wants to be part of a social justice movement. As a mathematician, it is not enough attend college and learn, then simply go back to teach what was learned. We have to be critical as to how some knowledge either reinforces or dismantles oppressive systems that hurt our communities. I saw Dream Summer as an opportunity for me to ground myself in community work and see how I could contribute my skills to promote a strong social justice movement.
2) What was one thing you learned during your internship?
During my internship with the UCLA Labor Center I realized I do not like database management work. I say this because, as much as I do not like it, I realized how every single person, in front of the bullhorn at rallies or behind the scenes, plays an important role in moving forward social justice movements. During my internship I helped with office management and fundraising, which were my contributions to social justice. My internship role was really about supporting the work on the ground through administrative tasks and fundraising to sustain the efforts of the UCLA Labor Center. There are times when layers within the movement are not seen, but it is important to understand that it takes a collective effort to make change happen. Every person can contribute and every person plays an important role in creating a force for social justice.
I am grateful for all of the work that has been done in history to get us to where we are today. What I have come to realize is that movements evolve and require constant work – a lot of people working behind the scenes to make things happen. Office management and fundraising were my ways of supporting a strong social justice movement
3) How has Dream Summer shaped / helped / advanced / provided a platform to move forward in your career?
Dream Summer exposed me to individuals and organizations engaged in amazing work across the country, which in turn helped me learn that relationship building is key to internal and external sustainability for social justice movements. Throughout Dream Summer, individuals and organizations worked together to harness their collective power and promote cross-racial and intersectional social justice movements. The internship experience really helped me ground my work in social justice because I realized there is a place for everyone in the movement; there is a place for me in social justice. As a mathematician and educator, the immigrant rights movement was in my face and there was no excuse to not engage in the work. I now have a social justice framework that allows me to use mathematics as a tool to create community change and inspire the next generation of leaders to take ownership over their skills and talents. Dream Summer helped me develop people skills and taught me that I don’t have to limit myself to an identity or expectation of how mathematicians are supposed to be. Mathematicians can be cool. Mathematicians can be fun!
This year I have had the opportunity to be part of the groundbreaking “We Are All Californians” interactive exhibit at the California Museum in Sacramento that highlights the personal stories of 10 immigrants in California. I am also part of UCLA Community Scholars, a program that brings together scholars and community leaders to analyze policy and create projects to address issues in Los Angeles.
Currently, I am also working on a publication titled, Dreams Deported: Immigrant Youth and Families Resist Deportation. Dreams Deported is a UCLA student publication featuring stories of deportation and the courageous immigrant youth and families who had led the national campaign against deportations and successfully challenged the president of the United States to act. This third publication builds off two previous publications, Underground Undergrads: UCLA Undocumented Immigrant Students Speak Out and Undocumented and Unafraid: Tam Tran, Cinthya Felix, and Immigrant Youth Movement.
Once again, Dream Summer provided a foundation for me to ground my work in social justice and continue to use my skills and talents in work that will create solutions to issues affecting communities.
4) What would be your be advice to incoming Dream Summer 2015 interns?
Be open-minded and open to unlearning things. Allow your mind to be open to possibilities. Commit to your true passion, then your instinct will be to share that passion with others and unlock parts of yourself you never knew were there.
5) What are your future plans?
In my immediate future, I want to become a credentialed K-12 teacher. Long term, to be a long-life math enthusiast and sharer of knowledge.
6) What else would you like us know?
There is power and beauty in numbers. This translates to both inside and outside of the classroom. Collaboration inside the classroom is powerful. Collaboration outside of the classroom is also powerful.