Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Delia Fernández-Jones Associate Professor of History 

By: Patti McDonald 

Associate Professor of History Dr. Delia Fernández-Jones had a busy 2023. Before the start of the fall semester, she was promoted to a tenured position within the Department of History at Michigan State University. 

“I’ve worked really hard for this accomplishment,” Dr. Fernández-Jones said. “It opens up opportunities that I really look forward to.”   

Earlier last year, she was awarded the Michigan State University Faculty of the Year (Plantando Semillas Award) at the Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta celebration. This award is given to an individual who has proven to be a pillar of light and knowledge in our MSU community, stands for inclusion and equity in education in building and transforming knowledge, and is focused on developing tomorrow’s leaders.  

“Recognition from this community is really, really huge,” she said. “That my colleagues and the Latinx community at MSU see me as worthy of this is really affirming. Somebody sees my work and it makes a difference.” 

In addition to her award and promotion, Delia also penned her first book in 2023. Making the MexiRican City: Mexican and Puerto Rican Migration, Activism, and Placemaking in Grand Rapids, Michigan (University of Illinois Press, 2023) details how disparate Latino communities came together to respond to social, racial, and economic challenges and simultaneously transformed Grand Rapids and the Midwest from the 1920s to the 1970s. Her book was named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2023. This prestigious list reflects the best scholarly titles curated by editors working with Choice Reviews, a publishing unit of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL).   

Fernández-Jones, a MexiRican Latina and first-generation college student who earned her B.A. in History from Grand Valley State University and her M.A. and Ph.D. in History from Ohio State University, wrote the book based on extensive primary source research and drew from her own lived experiences in the region.  

“This is also an opportunity to engage in communities outside of academia,” Fernández-Jones said. “My book is based in Grand Rapids, and since the book’s publication, I was able to spend more time there connecting with community organizations. I was able to learn about their work and how to make my work more accessible and helpful to the issues the current Latinx community faces in Grand Rapids.” 

According to Fernández-Jones, one of the courses she taught in the fall semester was inspired by a project she works on with the Michigan History Center (MHC). The MHC was granted funds from the Institute for Libraries and Museums and the Sites of Conscience to address a lack Latinx representation in the museum.  

“This project was prompted by discussions with the director of the museum and the museum has done a self-assessment; they know that the museum has a problem,” she said.  

“To just not include Mexican-American narratives in Michigan history is impactful and I wanted my students to see that firsthand because the MHC is a very powerful institution, and this impacts the way people perceive our state’s history.” 

As part of an ongoing partnership with the MHC and Chicano/Latino Studies Program at MSU, Fernández-Jones created an assignment in one of her classes where she had her students assess the museum for information about Latinos.  

“I wanted my students to be involved with this because I have students from many different backgrounds. I have students who are Latino, who are Mexican American, and who are neither. I wanted them to just reflect on what it means to have your story included or not included in a museum.” 

Not finding much information, students in Fernández-Jones’s Mexican American history course (HST 327) created projects to help teach the public and the museum docents about the histories of Mexican Americans in the U.S. and Michigan. Students created infographics, essays, videos, and presentations to teach people about various aspects of Mexican-American history from the early 1900s to the 1970s. 

For the class’s final exam, students presented their projects to MHC docents via Zoom. The projects can be accessed by anyone who wants to learn more about Mexican-American history.  

Fernández-Jones hopes to increase the visibility and awareness of Latinx Michigan. That is one of the goals she has as she serves on the Michigan Historical Commission, which oversees the Michigan Historical Marker Commission and has other responsibilities. When she started, only two out of 1,800 historical markers in the state dealt with Latinx history. She is working on the Latinx Historical Marker Project, which she is organizing with another historian from Grand Valley State University and community organizers. This project seeks to collaboratively apply for Historical Markers from the Michigan Historical Marker Program, to commemorate historical places and events that helped shape Latinx Grand Rapids today, especially considering the fight to stop Latinx displacement occurring in the area due to gentrification.  

“I am completely honored to be able to contribute something to these fights as a historian. I have history and I have research. That’s what I can offer, that and my time.”