Myrna Martinez Nateras is a popular educator, participatory researcher, and cultural organizing practitioner who has dedicated her experience to fostering the Central Valley’s immigrants into active citizens and social actors. She advocates and organizes for immigrants and indigenous rights, with a focus on strengthening women’s leadership.
In 1998, Myrna was hired by the American Friends Service Committee as a program director to establish the Pan Valley Institute (PVI), based in Fresno. The original vision was that PVI would promote a popular education approach inspired by the examples provided by education pioneers Miles Horton and Paulo Freire. With the addition of PVI, AFSC saw an opportunity to enhance its long-standing organizing and advocacy program work with immigrants and refugees living in California’s Central Valley.
During her 20 years working in the Central Valley, Myrna has embraced and incorporated the pedagogy of Horton and Freire and, in collaboration with community partners, expanded their vision and approach. As the director of PVI, Myrna has organized several residential gatherings that have provided tools for immigrants and refugees to strengthen their collective leadership. Besides bringing together community activists, Myrna has also included immigrant cultural leaders and encouraged a powerful synergy of immigrant civic, political, and cultural leadership. This synergy broadened immigrant action across the Valley to have stunning, nationally recognized displays, performances, and celebrations of diverse immigrant cultures, including visual and performing arts, crafts, rituals, and annual festivals that deepened the solidarity, pride, and confidence of immigrant communities. Her leadership is of a kind that encourages the leadership of others and instills in them the ability to apply that approach to yet more generations of emerging leadership.
As an immigrant herself, born to humble beginnings in Tuxpan Michoacán, Mexico, Myrna understands the plight of those seeking a new and better life in the United States.
She has been actively involved in several United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) conferences to advance policies on democracy and civic engagement programs for migrants, and has served on numerous non-profit boards. She has collaborated in participatory research projects to understand the opportunities and challenges of Latino civic participation. She attended the University of Bucharest, Rumania, where she studied philosophy and sociology.