Christina Alaniz ’09, ’10 is using her voice to push for inclusivity and equal opportunities for Native students in California schools.
Alaniz, who is Serrano and Cahuilla, is a lifelong resident of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians Reservation. Growing up, Alaniz never saw a Native American teacher, and now that she’s the one standing at the front of the classroom, she is more motivated than ever to show that representation matters.
“I really want to encourage educators and community members to engage more with local tribes in our area and build partnerships to bring more awareness and advocacy for our Native American students," said Alaniz, a fourth-grade teacher with the Palm Springs Unified School District. “So much of our curriculum up to this point has been very one-sided or stereotypical.”
When she enrolled at the University of Redlands, Alaniz was an older student—after high school, she married and had two children, and it was the time she spent volunteering at her daughters’ school that inspired her to go to college and become a teacher. “I felt like I was being drawn to the classroom and I needed to be there,” she said. “I felt my viewpoint was important, and I wanted to be a role model to show that anybody can go to college and become a teacher, and that can happen later in life if necessary.”
She was attracted to Redlands because “it was very progressive and had a lot of diversity,” Alaniz said. In her classes with Dean Kathleen Feeley and Professor Jim Sandos, she participated in discussions and analyses that challenged her and shifted perspectives. “It was really powerful how they ran their classrooms, and that stuck with me.”
As an educator, Alaniz not only uses techniques she picked up at Redlands but also keeps in mind what it’s like to be the parent of an elementary school child. “I understand how important it is for parents to be engaged, and I understand the struggles parents have while balancing work and life and other situations,” she said. “This helps me stay grounded and remember that we’re all working together at the same level.”
Outside of the classroom, Alaniz is active with the Palm Springs Teachers Association and her school district’s Anti-Racism Coalition and Native American Advisory Council, which she helped develop. She also writes ethnic studies curriculum and trains district staff on human rights issues. Her work was recognized in March with the American Indian/Alaska Native Human Rights Award in Honor of Jim Clark at the California Teachers Association Equity and Human Rights Conference.
“I wasn’t ever doing any of the work to get praise or an award,” Alaniz said. “For that to happen, it just felt validating, and I thought, this is a great chance for me to have a platform and space to share a Native point of view.”