Story by Christopher Gallegos.
Dr. Lisette Ordorica Lasater has changed many lives in only a few years at Palomar College where her own college career started. She is the daughter of Mexican immigrants and a first-generation college student. After attending Palomar, she went to California State University of San Marcos to get her bachelor’s degree and then earned her master’s and Ph.D. degrees at the University of California Riverside. Lasater is the youngest of six children and grew up in San Jose, California, where her family migrated in the 1960s. Life wasn’t easy for her and her family, but that didn’t stop her from making a change.
“My dad worked in a factory, and my mom stayed home and took care of us,” Lasater said. “My childhood definitely had a lot of financial challenges, we were not wealthy people, but my parents just worked so hard to create a really safe home for us. They very strongly believed in education and the power for education for oneself, and one’s community.”
Lasater didn’t mind that her parents were strict about school and education. While she never really liked sports, she fell in love with reading. Growing up, a library of books was always present at her home. When her older siblings moved out while she was still young, they left a lot of books for her.She would read for day and night.
“But I never read any books that were about people like me, or people like my family and community,” she said. “If there was ever a Latino character it was always a side character, they were never the focus of the story.”
The lack of diversity in classic American novels like “Little House on The Prairie” carried on into her education and helped her become the person she is today. It wasn’t until attending Palomar College where she took a Chicano studies class that she realized Chicano literature was actually out there. “When I first encountered it was so shocking and it completely opened up my world. I then realized that we can be the subject of a story,” she said.
Although it took her so long in her life to realize that Latino people and communities could be the main piece of a story, she thought it was a blessing in disguise. Chicano literature was almost nonexistent to Lasater before getting to Palomar College. “It became my mission to become an educator, and to expose students to the power of Chicano/Latino literature and along with that just the power of writing,” Lasater said.
Caleb Bocanegra, a former student of Lasater, thinks that people should know how passionate she is about helping others and making people feel represented. “She is miles beyond the average professor and really takes the effort to create a very personal experience,” Bocanegra said in an interview on Instagram. “Also, I think that people should consider her background when reviewing her course as I believe her own personal experience influences some of the text discussed in the course, which I believe a lot of people relate to as well.”
To help spread diversity around Palomar College, she is a part of the Pride Center and Puente Project. Dr. Hossna Sadat Ahadi, an Associate Professor in Counseling at Palomar who works with Lasater on the Educators for Equity, Diversity, and Cultural Consciousness Subcommittee for the Faculty Senate, said that Lasater is “equity-minded.”
“She continues to advocate for diversity, equity, inclusion, and antiracism efforts at Palomar College,” said Ahadi in an email interview.
According to the Puente Project, “The Puente program is a national award-winning program that has helped thousands of students transfer to a university, earn degrees and return to the community as leaders and mentors to future generations.”
“As a first-generation college student who struggled to transfer to a four year, it is very meaningful to be involved as the current club advisor, to help create meaningful educational experiences for our students,” said Lasater.
Edsource.org sites that “More California Latino students attending college, but ‘disturbing gaps’ remain. While the increases are noteworthy, the number of people of Latino descent comprise 39% of the state’s population and 43% of all undergraduate students attending community college and public universities in California, making them the single largest racial and ethnic group in the state. Yet only 14% of those adults in the state have a bachelor’s degree, comprising just 1 in 4 students in the entire University of California system, according to the report.”
Lasater bonds with her students, trying to make everyone who comes to her class feel equal no matter what, who, or where they come from. “I want students to know that English could be fun, and to not let some bad prior experiences detract you from exploring other English classes,” she said.
“Lasater is one of the most kind-hearted, warm people at Palomar College,” Dylan Davidson said in an email interview, who is the Pride Center Assistant at Palomar. “She is a fantastic ally to all minority groups and makes sure that everyone is treated equally. I’ve never had the privilege of taking one of her classes, but she has taught me a lot during our time, and I can only imagine that she would teach students the same as she taught me, with an open mind, heart, and spirit.”
Life wasn’t always a smooth sailing for Lasater. When she started her academic journey at Palomar, her dream was to become an educator, but deep down she knew she wanted to be a professor. Because she was attending a community college, she thought that dream was too big and far.
“I didn’t really know how to be a good student, I didn’t have great study skills, I even struggled in my English classes sometimes,” Lasater said. “I rarely saw a counselor, I really struggled with math and never got help, never went to office hours, so learning how to be an effective student was another challenge.”
When she was going through the tough times during her educational journey, her mom would see the amount of stress and anxiety that Lasater had and always said, “Mija relax, relax mija!” Back then, she didn’t like to hear this from her mom. “But now that I am older and I recognize everything she endorsed to make it here, and how our challenges may have been very different, and we lived very different lives,” Lasater said. “I think when she was telling me to relax she truly meant to have faith, and that everything is going to work out and be fine. Even now when I find myself stressing out about the future, that very simple ‘Mija relax’ is something that I return to.”
Lasater wants change, not only for the Latino community but for everyone else. She is always looking to do that little bit extra when it comes to making anything better. “Pursue a big dream that feels bigger than you are,” Lasater said. “If it feels impossible, persevere because you will get stronger.”