Who, What, Why: Kimberly Cárdenas on intersectional politics in political science

The doctoral candidate considers the growing numbers of LGBTQ+ Black and Latinx Americans—and how they participate in the political process.

A woman in a trench coat smiles at the camera
Kimberly Cárdenas, a doctoral candidate in political science, studies the political engagement of LGBTQ+ Black and Latinx populations.
    • Who

      Kimberly Cárdenas, of West Covina, California, was a first-generation college student at Cornell University when she took a class on Latinx politics. “It was eye-opening,” she says, “seeing my community talked about in a scholarly way, and it was really important for me, that moment of representation.” Cárdenas, whose working-class parents immigrated from Michoacán, Mexico, says “I decided that I wanted to … keep learning and producing knowledge about my community in a way that could inspire other first-generation students like myself.” 

      Now a sixth-year doctoral candidate studying political science at Penn, Cárdenas studies political activism in Black and Latinx LGBTQ+ communities. The political theory of “linked fate” posits that minority groups vote cohesively because they have experienced discrimination as a group, Cárdenas says. 

    • What

      Cárdenas wondered if activism might be different for someone with intersectional identity. What does political participation look like for a queer person of color that has experienced discrimination in their own community? Are they making the same decisions as the rest of the group? Cárdenas developed a qualitative study to answer this question, interviewing 25 people in Philadelphia, New York, and Los Angeles. The median age of her interviewees was 28.5, 94% of them identified as LGBTQ+, 28% were immigrants, 68% were Black and 32% Latinx. 

      Cárdenas presented her work in a talk on Dec. 6 as part of the internal speakers series at the Center for Latin American and Latinx Studies, noting that intersectional identity can mobilize political participation. Discriminatory experiences like being bullied, policed, or harassed can motivate people to prevent future discrimination toward others, she says. “There’s a hyper sense of community and support that is really remarkable. By looking at these populations that have multiple marginalized experiences, we can expand our knowledge about why people participate in politics.”

    • Why

      Cárdenas also identifies as queer. Her identity shapes her academic work, which considers the political consequences of growing LGBTQ+ identification for Black and Latinx people in the United States. “I think that’s important because it really disrupts this notion in racial and ethnic politics research that group identity is unified,” she says. “As a population that is affected by dual oppressions, [LGBTQ+ people of color] have faced homophobia from within the racial groups; they have faced racism from the greater LGBT community. By examining that, we really get to unpack this idea of groups as cohesive. And it also just makes the research more inclusive.”