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Dr. Yolanda Leyva

Dr. Yolanda Leyva is a well-respected Borderland historian, writer, museum curator, public speaker, grandmother, and activist who draws inspiration from her hometown, the Borderland. Dr. Leyva is an associate professor of history at the University of Texas at El Paso, the founding director of the Borderlands Public History Lab, and director of the Institute of Oral History. She has published several articles, essays, and manuscripts that cover Chicana, lesbian, and Borderland History.

Dr. Leyva was born in Ciudad Juarez and was raised in the Borderland. She earned her B.A. in Management from the University of Texas at Austin in 1977, and her Master’s in Borderlands History from the University of Texas at El Paso in 1989. In 1999, she earned her History Ph.D. at the University of Arizona. Before she became a professor, Dr. Leyva served the east side of Austin’s poor and marginalized community as a social worker for over a decade. After receiving her Ph.D., Dr. Leyva began her teaching career as an assistant professor of history at the University of Texas at San Antonio. In 2001, she began teaching for the University of Texas at El Paso Department of History. She became the Chair of the Department of History from 2010-2015, she is currently the director of the Institute of Oral History, the founding director of the Borderlands Public History Lab, and an Associate Professor. 

In 2010, Dr. Leyva co-founded the Museo Urbano, a museum project that focused on preserving and honoring the history of the borderland. The Museo Urbano was launched in a house once inhabited by Teresita Urrea at 500 Overland Street located in El Paso’s Segundo Barrio. The exhibit was also hosted by UTEP. She curated several of the exhibits in different locations with the help of other local artists, historians, and students. Since then the Museo Urbano has won several awards. In 2013, she received the Outstanding Public History Project award from the National Council on Public History for the Museo Urbano and its innovative take on history and impact on the community. In 2014, the Museo Urbano earned Dr. Leyva an invitation to São Paulo, Brazil, from the Brazilian Government to conduct a dialogue training of international historic sites and museums.

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Apart from preserving the history of the Borderland through her work in museums, Dr. Leyva has also made it her mission to preserve history on the streets of El Paso. Barrio Duranguito lies in downtown El Paso and is considered one of El Paso’s oldest neighborhoods. For quite some time city officials have wanted to modernize El Paso’s downtown area and that would lead to the demolition of Duranguito. Dr. Leyva has been a fierce advocate for the preservation of Duranguito and in 2006, Dr. Leyva co-founded the Paso del Sur organization which aims to protect the historic neighborhoods and their residents. Since then she continues to fight for Duranguito by continuing to tell the story of Duranguito and by organizing markets and rallies in hopes of protecting one of El Paso’s historic neighborhoods.

Dr. Leyva has received several other awards including La Mujer Obrera Award in 2012, the Distinguished Service to Students and the University Award in 2013, and several other UTEP faculty awards. In addition to her museum exhibits, she is well known for her published work. She has published several essays and creative writings in journals and books, and manuscripts that cover Chicana, lesbian, Borderland, and women’s history. 

Today she continues to use her voice, museum exhibits, teachings, and a blog to tell the history and stories of the people from the Borderland. Dr. Leyva’s work and many contributions towards her community is an example of what it truly means to be a “Fierce Fronteriza”.              (



Articles in journals and books (since 2000)


  • “Museo Urbano’s Border Immigration Dialogues” in Interpreting Immigration at Museums and Historic Sites. Sarah Pharaon, ed. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers / AASLH (2016)

  • “Healing the Borderlands across the Centuries” in Grace and Gumption: The Women of El Paso. Texas Christian University Press (2011)

  • “There is a Great Good in Returning: A Testimonio from the Borderlands.” Women's Lives, edited by Kathleen J. Ferraro (Allyn & Bacon, 2008).​

  • “Cruzando la linea: Engendering the History of Border Mexican Children during the Early 20th Century,” Memories and Migrations: Mapping Boricua and Chicana Histories. Edited by Vicki L. Ruiz and John Chávez, editors. (University of Illinois Press, 2008.)

  • "Monuments of Conformity: Commemorating and Protesting Oñate on the Border," New Mexico Historical Review, Volume 82, Number 3 (Summer 2007).

  • “There is a Great Good in Returning: A Testimonio from the Borderlands." Gender on the Borderlands: The Frontiers Reader, University of Nebraska Press, 2007. Antonia Castaneda, Patricia Hart, et al, editors. Reprint of article.

  • Photo essay co-authored with Yolanda Retter, 500 Years of Chicana Women’s History, by Betita Martinez. (Rutgers University Press; Bilingual edition (December 15, 2007).

  • “In ixtli in yóllotl/ a face and a heart: Listening to the ancestors,” Studies in American Indian Literature, Volume 15, Numbers 3 & 4 (Fall 2003-Winter 2004). Inés Hernández Avila and Domino Pérez, guest editors. 

  • “‘There is great good in returning’: A Testimonio from the Borderlands,” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, Volume 24, Number 2 & 3, 2003. Special Issue: Gender on the Borderlands. Antonia Castañeda, guest editor.

  • "Breaking the Silence: Putting Latina Lesbian History at the Center.” Reprinted in Unequal Sisters:  A Multicultural Reader in U.S. Women's History. Vicki L. Ruiz and Ellen Carol Dubois, editors. New York: Routledge Press, 2000.

Book manuscripts


  • Interpreting Latino History in Museums and Historic Sites. (Under preliminary contract from Rowman Little.)

  • Crossing the Line:  Mexican Children along the U.S.--Mexico Border, 1880-1940.  (Under preliminary contract from the University of Arizona Press)


Creative writing


“If a woman stands at the door, you can’t go it”: Jovita’s Story, April 1914,” in Between Guadalupe and La Malinche, an anthology of Tejana writers. Inés Hernández Avila and Norma Cantú, editors. Austin: The University of Texas Press. Forthcoming. 


Poetry published in various journals and books, including La Voz de Esperanza, Cantos del Sexto Sol, Ixhua, Border Senses, A Tejana in Tenochtitlan.

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