Race-work, Race-love

Why do I talk about race?

In Uncategorized on October 13, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Why do I talk about race?

For a long time, for as long as I can remember, I have been asked the following: why do you always talk about race? Why do you always have to make it a racial thing? Why can’t you stop thinking about race? Why does everything have to be so racial to you?

I have learned to take these questions seriously. There are historical, social, psychological, political responses to these questions. And at the end of the day, they are all personal to me in my Ecuadorian-woman-of-color-first-generation-college- low-income way.

Growing up in a largely Latino community near one of the most elite institutions of higher education in New York City provides for some great historical context to this question. Not only did I grow up in a Latino community, but more specifically, I grew up an Ecuadorian-American among mostly Dominican people. Here, between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway, told a US history, a Latino history, and my Ecuadorian family’s history. How did I get here? Why of all places did my father who came to this country in the late 1960’s come to reside in the upper west side of Manhattan?

How does this relate to love? Well my father came to this specific part of the city because of the university and the hospital near him. He had a vision that all his daughters would be formally educated through college and that we would have great medical coverage. As a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University, I am reminded of this every time I enter Teachers College.

Additionally, I am reminded of the struggles my parents endured to accomplish this vision. Being Latino meant that I was not part of the majority population in higher education. I was involved in programs that were dedicated to the success of students of color. My racialized path to higher education – to this doctoral stage – was born out of the love my father had for his family and his belief in education. That is race-love performing race-work.

Along this racialized path to higher education, I saw which students of color continued on the path and who did not. I grew up in a neighborhood where my friends’ parents worked at Columbia University, but none of their children attended as students. Having breakfast at diners in the neighborhood also proved to be a sociological experiment. As a kid, I would count the number of white people who wore Columbia sweatshirts. Brown people – zero , White people – at least ten every Sunday. And almost every time, I overheard some kid saying they were from out of town – not a neighborhood kid – yet Columbia was in my neighborhood! Why aren’t my neighbors attending as students?

Housing and education policies affect and quite often determine our fates in this country. These questions I asked as a child and as a teenager continue to plague me as an adult. I have made them my life’s work. These issues became particularly salient to me when I went to college and saw very few people of color on my campus. Today, I direct a program that provides access to college for students from New York City. Back in my neighborhood, I see the changes happening…but still see few Brown folk from the neighborhood wearing Columbia sweatshirts. I try to wear one every chance I get.

How does this all relate to love…how can it not? I love my neighborhood. I love my people. I even love my Columbia sweatshirts, despite what it may stand for – because while it has provided some of us access to higher learning the institution is still a symbol of racial and economic segregation. Yet, I still have a profound love for what it could provide to our young people. There is a lot of race-work to be done here…

So why do I talk about race all the time? The historical structures, the psychological perceptions, the sociological dimensions, and the political movements have all affected us in very distinct racial ways. These structures very much influenced my educational path — and the educational paths of everyone around me. Some of us knew we could never get to Columbia — perhaps get a job there — but nothing more. Of course this is going to affect us psychologically. It’s like the country club we often see in movies. But I digress…no one taught me to see things from a race-d perspective. In fact in our society we are told NOT to look at race. But when you tell a precocious kid NOT to do something … well the rest is race-work, race-love history.

  1. I love this and relate to it so much. Thank you for your eloquence.

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