Massiel De los Santos ’13 likes to map things out.
Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, De los Santos moved to Boston at age 8, and decided by eighth grade that she would likely attend Smith. By her junior year at the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, her course was clear: enroll at Smith, major in economics, and go on to law school to practice immigration law.
For as long as she can remember, De los Santos intended to become an attorney. But during her sophomore year at Smith, things changed. “I realized that while I was doing well in econ, I didn’t really love it,” she says. She took an inspiring class on the Caribbean, at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, that ultimately led to a minor in history. And a Praxis internship that summer at a women’s health center in Santa Cruz, Calif., gave De los Santos the opportunity to work with a predominately Mexican and Central American community, exploring the nonprofit field.
De los Santos returned to Smith and approached Michelle Joffroy, associate professor in Spanish and Portuguese, equipped with a list outlining her goals and wishes for the next two years. “I had a sort of a table,” she says, “and she was blown away by that.” So began a student-adviser relationship that blossomed into a mentorship as De los Santos decided on a major in Latin American studies.
Lucia Suarez, an associate professor of Spanish at Amherst College, also became a mentor and friend, and De los Santos participated in a summer research program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“I started analyzing how the Latino students were using activism to promote positivity in their communities,” she explains about the Chicago program. “A lot of the time when you see the news you see only the bad things that are happening in Latin America. Because I love history, I ask, ‘Well, how about thinking about all of the great things that have been happening, such as the women’s movement and children’s education?’”
Her passion for her Dominican heritage and her identity as a Latina were a catalyst for De los Santos to join Nosotras, Smith’s Latin American association. Unity House is a place she says she will miss in particular. “It’s amazing. It’s homey. I’ve organized teas there for Nosotras and the last two years we’ve had cafecitos. We get to talk about all kinds of things.”
De los Santos looks forward to joining the Association of Latina Alumnae of Smith (ALAS), but she realizes that being at Smith has also made her consider and embrace all the parts of her identity, including being a woman of color, a U.S. citizen and a Smithie.
While De los Santos’ path has meandered, there are a few constants. One is her determination to remain involved in working with marginalized communities. “I want to give back to the community, whether it’s teaching, after school or working with the immigration rights movement,” she says.
As De los Santos steps up to receive her diploma, she will be the first in her family to graduate from college in the United States. In five years, De los Santos sees herself with a master’s degree in Latin American studies, pursuing a doctorate and blending her interests in history and the Caribbean.
“It’s going to take a long time, but I’m sure I’m going to be able to fulfill all the goals I’ve set for myself,” she says with conviction.