Race-work, Race-love

An #EcuadorianAmerican, #DissertatingLatina Chronicle: A Response to “Latinas don’t have the DNA to be successful” Narrative

In Uncategorized on November 18, 2014 at 8:16 pm

“Little Latinas don’t have the DNA to be successful”, said (allegedly) Wanda Ginner, an alumna and board member for San Jose State University’s Tower Foundation.

I read this report as I was doubting my ability to be a successful candidate for postdoctoral and faculty appointments. I took a break from writing my personal statement where I wrote “My professional and academic work reflects my desire to be a professor one day” and read the reminder as reported in Inside Higher Ed, that I, a Latina, may not be good enough; and even if I did feel like I was good enough I know that someone, somewhere believed – firmly – that I was not good enough for the academy because of this line right here: “A Native New Yorker, Blanca is the daughter of Ecuadorian immigrants”.

BEV2My DNA, reflected in my face and on my body and in my speech will always be indicators to someone in power that I may never be successful.

So what do I do? I continue to plow through my faculty applications. As I express my desire to become a professor one day, I remember that my dad only had a second grade education and my grandparents were farmers who were also illiterate. My father, also a farmer, knew at 9 years old that he wanted a different life for himself. He left home to pursue a life outside of agriculture.

Think about that for a minute: he didn’t leave home because he was treated poorly; he left his home because he no longer wanted to be poor. At 9 years old.

What were you doing at 9 years old, Wanda Ginner?

In his 30’s, my father decided to leave Ecuador entirely and come to the U.S. where he was told he could make dolares not sucres (i.e. former Ecuadorian currency). Prior to leaving Ecuador, he made arrangements with an acquaintance already in New York to help him with housing in Queens. This man also promised he would show my father how to take the trains. Instead, he purposefully left my father alone on a train in New York City, where my father barely knew the language and had no friend to call. My father ended up on 110th Street in Manhattan. This was 1968.

He found himself lost on 110th Street at night, so he went to a hotel, a hotel where he encountered drug dealers and prostitutes, locked himself in a room, and prayed for the morning to come. When it finally did, he did what he was accustomed to doing since he was 9 years old: explore his surroundings. He walked north and noticed St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital. He walked a couple blocks more and saw a large campus. He entered and asked the security guard “What is this place?”. The security guard said, “This is Columbia University, one of the best universities in the world.” In that moment my father told himself “I can work at either of these places and my daughters can come to school here.” He saw this as an opportunity for him and for the family he still did not have. My father worked at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital and learned English at Columbia University. Unfortunately, his daughter did not make it to Columbia University as an undergrad…but I am currently finishing my dissertation at Teachers College, Columbia University.

So much for that unsuccessful DNA that us poor Latinos have, huh?

As I write this, I don’t even recognize myself. It has been two months since I said goodbye to my life as an administrator of a Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) in NYC and I find myself thinking about the academy and the life of the mind. A full time dissertating Latina now, I am solely focused on a future in the professoriate. The transition from identifying as an administrator to seeing myself as a professor has been difficult to say the least. My doubts roar at me – can I really finish this dissertation and be a professor? Self-doubt aside, you know what DOESN’T help? Reading my fears on the news: “Latinas don’t have the DNA to be successful”. The microaggressions and anti-Latino sentiment feel like a 1,000,000 cuts.

HEOPThe little Ecuadorian girl from Harlem who grew up watching Rocky movies and still pops a Rocky movie in when she has to get ready to rumble with her writing shakes that dirt off her shoulders (thanks, JayZ). But that dirt gets piled on, over and over again. I have heard similar comments throughout my graduate career from faculty, I have held my hermanas/os in the struggle after they have heard similar comments, and because my focus of my dissertation is campus racial conflict, I also have to read about anti-Latino sentiment in news reports and reflected in my respondents’ interviews.

I would like to kick that dirt off my shoulder but that dirt has been piled high for Latinas/os in the academy. Really high.

For these reasons, I have created the hashtag #dissertatinglatina. In the spirit of political autobiography, I document the trials and tribulations, victories and triumphs, that I as a dissertating Latina experience on the road toward the professoriate. Using social media as a platform, my hope is to counteract all the negativity surrounding Latina intellectualism and academic potential. Between tweets and selfies, although not sufficient, my hope is that the hashtag provide some support to other Latinas/os who are in a similar struggle of doubt. While there is always some version of a critique over the “selfie”, I believe that selfies particularly among people of color are powerful tools in counteracting what Junot Diaz describes what White Supremacy does to Latinas/os – turn us into vampires, monsters who are genetically incapable of being successful, a people without reflection. Like Junot Diaz, I want to make a couple of mirrors. I take selfies and write my experiences as a dissertating Latina because I am tired of living in a culture where Ecuadorian women are told they are ugly or are invisible; I get sick just thinking that I live in a society where people really do feel that Latinas/os do not have the DNA to be successful.

HEOP2My silence about my pain or success does no one any service – and I refuse to be in collusion with people who believe without any evidence that Latinas/os are genetically incapable of being intellectuals. I refuse to fall into the traps of White Supremacy where people who believe in Latino inferiority then feel that they have the power to make us successful.

The audacity of the Latina/o intellectual is this one: “[We] are just better at life than you” (Richard Sherman). We may be tired of kicking that dirt you put on our shoulders but we will continue to do that and still fight the good fight. We have to find a way to heal those million cuts/microaggressions we receive and still find the time to think, write, and research. We have to navigate hostile racial terrains on our campuses, while creating supportive environments for students of color.

This sounds like powerful DNA to me. Don’t you think?

Entonces, pa’lante, mi gente. When you win, I win.

And now – on to the next postdoctoral/faculty application. BEV copy

Racial Battle Fatigue and the Race Worker

In Uncategorized on August 18, 2014 at 11:04 pm

I woke up feeling very depressed this morning. For over a week we have heard horrific details about the murder of #MikeBrown by police officer #DarrenWilson; I have read and heard about friends and others who have been tear gassed because they were protesting peacefully and #Ferguson police have no clue how to build trust among their people.

And I felt helpless.

I am sure I am not alone. My roles as an educator and RaceWorker remind me of my work in this world – to educate people about race and racism. But sometimes this doesn’t feel enough.

There is such a thing called racial battle fatigue and to put it simply this is the emotional and physical effects people of color feel when we experience cumulative racist events. These effects are necessary to take care of – and not ignore.

I woke up this morning and forced myself to exercise. Thirty minutes of crying and exercising and I was reminded of one my participants from my research who explained that people who experience incidents of racial conflict must engage in a practice of self-care (I hope to write a chapter about this in my dissertation).

So I continued to exercise.

Then, I picked up readings by Professor Derrick Bell and reminded myself that this is BlackAugust. I also did some research on an AfroEcuadorian freedom fighter (Alonso de Illescas) from the late 1500s. I engaged in these acts of self care because while I continue to educate my students and those around me about race and racism, I may also be called one day to protest and fight. And when that day comes, I must be physically and emotionally ready to serve our people.

I write this message because I know some of you are experiencing similar feelings. I know the racial battle fatigue is real. So I urge you to engage in a practice of self care – because you may be called to engage in a difficult conversation with friends or family about race and racism or you may be called to organize a meeting or write for a magazine explaining this moment in our history – when every 28 hours Black people are killed at the hands of an armed official; when Brown men and women are detained and deported every day; when Black and Brown students are being pushed out of the academic pipeline; and so much more to list.

How do you practice self-care? Will you be ready when called to action?

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To My Tayta, with Love.

In Uncategorized on July 4, 2014 at 5:21 pm

Dad2

 

Tayta – Quichua word for “Father” – I wrote this about my father a couple of years ago and I refer back to this post on Father’s Day and my dad’s birthday.

While I don’t tend to read “lists” or “rules” this particular list attracted my attention. The rules were written from a father reflecting on how he raised his daughter (you can read the post here). When I read these rules, I kept thinking how true some of these are about my SuperDaddy. While my father taught me more than I could ever fit into a list, these particularly stand out for me. I am who I am because of Miguel Vega and everyone in my neighborhood knows it….So here are just a few of the rules that stand out:

When I used to live with my dad, I heard him pray every morning for each of his daughters. He believes that this protects us and I have come to respect the power of intention, meditation, and prayer. I don’t know if anyone will pray over me as much as he does – so for me, he is like an angel right here on Earth: “5. Pray for her. Regularly. Passionately. Continually.” Even now, it feels good to know that someone is wishing me well. Every morning. Without fail.

My father taught me to add, subtract, multiply, and divide before I started kindergarten. He would test my math skills by taking me to the grocery store and have me compete with the cashier’s calculator. He would look at me, look at the person handling the cashier and say “I bet you my daughter can calculate the grocery list quicker than your calculator.” – 22. She’s as smart as any boy. Make sure she knows that.”

Unfortunately, we also had terrible arguments. But maybe that was a test, too. If I can argue with him, I can argue with anyone. And today I enjoy a good debate. HAHAHA!

We didn’t always get gifts. But my father took me to a magical vacation at least once month called Columbia University. This was, in fact, the only trip we could really afford at that time. I learned so much from these trips. One the one hand, I learned to appreciate trips that don’t require any money. And on the other hand I learned how to dream. “Mija. If you work hard, one day you can come here to study, too. I work with my hands so that one day you can work with your mind.” – “41. Take it easy on the presents for her birthday and Christmas. Instead, give her the gift of experiences you can share together.”

His dream for me (and for him) is to see me graduate from Columbia University one day. Perhaps, prayer and dreams do come true…

Happy Birthday to the best Tayta in the whole world.

Dad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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