“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”.
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.
The 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.
My 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.