Department of History
Africana & Black Studies Coordinator
Bachelor of Arts, UCLA
Master of Arts and Ph.D., UCLA
Ortega works on ethno-racial identities as intersecting with gender and diverse sexual identities. Ortega is Africana & Black Studies Coordinator since 2019; beginning in 2011 he worked with the Black Student Union to promote course development on peoples of African descent across curricula. All of Ortega’s courses center the voices peoples of African descent, featuring their intellectual and cultural significance. Since 2007 he has been a primary contributor to the Africa Culture Requirement of the Liberal Education Program. Ortega’s courses likewise center the significance of indigenous peoples in the Americas, focusing on central Mexico and Nahuatl speaking peoples. Ortega served as Gender Studies Coordinator from 2015 to 2019. Since 2011, Ortega serves as a faculty advisor and mentor for the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program to increase faculty diversity in higher education.
Ortega’s commitment and work toward equitable outcomes for inclusion of diverse underrepresented peoples through education extends to the co-curriculum and to administrative policy. Since 2015 Ortega worked to define and reimagine Whittier College’s status as a Hispanic Serving Institution, to define the ‘S’ in ‘HSI.’ Ortega served on the Administrative Title IX Committee, and on the Faculty Title IX Taskforce, crafting current policy to ensure a safe educational space for students, staff, and faculty. On the Curriculum Committee of 2019-20, he developed a plan to center Social Justice in the context of Los Angeles. Ortega served as Chair of the History Department from 2015-2018. He served on the Faculty Affairs Committee, crafting the current Family Medical Leave Policy to bring gender equity. He was an Irvine Foundation Diversity Fellow in 2007-8.
As a colonial historian, Ortega uncovers the previously unknown voices of unlawfully enslaved Carabalí-Oru peoples from West Central Africa, particularly women, who relied on memory to establish ethnic-based networks and communities to challenge and resist their unjust enslavement in Cuba in the early 1800s. This project received the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
His second project analyzes the autonomous social and economic networks constructed by free and enslaved black coachmen in nineteenth-century Havana who were also ñáñigos, members of Abakuá, an Afro-Cuban secret society originating in modern day southeastern Nigeria. This project explores how their political fates intersected with the growing influence of Abakuá, an African based spiritual belief system that pushed the spatial boundaries of a segregated city by the middle of the nineteenth-century.
Ortega’s book manuscript, Freedom, Identity, and the History of Empires in Atlantic Cuba, 1791-1842, is part of a growing body of literature examining enslaved peoples as they engaged their masters and the law in their claims to freedom while navigating transnational contexts, and centers on women.