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The Audacity of the LatinX Voice and the Purpose of the LatinX Intellectual Tradition

In Uncategorized on October 13, 2015 at 4:13 pm

Just over two years ago, I was invited by the Brooklyn Museum to speak about any issue I chose for LatinX Heritage Month. What I did instead was organize a panel which included Sofia Quintero, Daniel J. Older, and Aurora Anaya-Cerda to discuss the future of LatinX Literature. During that evening, I mentioned the courage Latinxs must have to write in a society that continues to feed, educate, and force us to believe mythologies associated with White Supremacy. We described that courage as the audacity of the Latinx voice. To constantly correct inaccuracies about Latinxs. To continue to write despite being told that our voices don’t matter. And even when we know we cannot eradicate the misperceptions of Latinxs in our lifetimes, we still continue to do it. I admire this audacity in fellow colleagues and media outlets like Latino Rebels that have a consistent record of raising their voices to fight White Supremacy and anti-Latinx sentiment – and why I was disappointed that Latino Rebels published a piece titled “In Defense of Columbus”.

It is in this spirit – the audacity of my Latina voice – that I write this piece. This is not so much a response to the now controversial piece published by Latino Rebels (and other Latinxs who continue to defend Columbus), but my hope to extend this conversation by using my reasons for my public critique of Latino Rebels’ decision (to publish the defense of Columbus) to explore the Latinx intellectual tradition, a tradition that is not clearly articulated or publicly understood. Here is my first attempt.

As I reflect back on my own Voice, I am cognizant of one common theme – a condemnation of Whiteness and White Supremacy (although I did not have the vocabulary to articulate this as a child). Among a few questions I had, I wondered why was I called Sambita and why was this a bad thing? I wondered why some Latinos on TV hated Blackness and Black people so much? I didn’t understand why some Latinos were so invested in Whiteness. I had many questions.

To answer these issues, I often searched on my own. I first tried to understand what being Ecuadorian means but because back then there was no internet my search was limited to the books my dad and I found on the street, the encyclopedias my parents made sure they had at home, and older cousins’ stash of magazines. While I did not find much about Ecuador in English, I did find evidence of a Black intellectual tradition. Since then, I became its life-long student.

What is the Black Intellectual Tradition? According to the intellectual ancestor, Professor Manning Marable, the Black Intellectual Tradition accomplishes three things:

(1) Describes the living reality of Black life from the perspective of Black people.

(2) Corrects inaccurate history of Black people in the US.

(3) Plans to improve the conditions faced by Black people due to racism. It is transformative in that it lays out hopes and plans for the improvement of Black people in the US.

This framework allowed me to explore the Latinx Intellectual Tradition for the Puerto Rican Studies Association during a presentation called “Connecting the Pipeline to Comunidad: An Emerging Framework of the Latina/o Intellectual Tradition & the Role of the Latina/o Public Intellectual” (Vega, 2012). Here I connected the role of the LatinX public intellectual to the LatinX Intellectual Tradition.

Who are public intellectuals and what are their goals? According to Marc Lamont Hill (2012) “…the public intellectual [is] an individual whose intellectual production is articulated to a non-academic community” and according to Eduardo Mendieta the goal of the public intellectual “… is to constitute a public that has an informed opinion, and that may act in a concerted fashion according to a deliberately constituted consensus. The public intellectual mediates while instigating the public use of reason” (Mendieta, 2003). Mendiata elaborates on who public intellectuals are and believes that although academia is an important space, there are other spaces in which Latinx public intellectuals inhabit which should not be ignored.

And this where Media, Latino Rebels, and the significance of denouncing Christopher Columbus comes in.

The people must know before they can act, and there is no educator to compare with the press.

Ida B. Wells

Mainstream spaces such as education and media have made great strides in countering the false narrative of Columbus as a hero. One noted educator and public intellectual, Jose Vilson said on twitter: “Interesting how my timeline wasn’t this flooded with anti-Columbus Day sentiment ever. Happy that it’s normalized, wondering what changed.”

But of course when a society begins to awaken and counteract symbols of White Supremacy (such as Christopher Columbus) some people do something that seems crazy but is in fact quite normal: we revert back to what we were taught and what is familiar, even if those lessons or people are harmful. In the case of any defense of Columbus, it is a great example of how some hold on to and maintain White Supremacy with a vengeance.

La costumbre es mas fuerte que el amor – La India

To reiterate sentiments from the piece published by Latino Rebels here would be to echo the multiple years of White Supremacist thought, logic, and practice with which we are all so familiar and that some of us continue to debunk with accurate histories, analogies and information. I choose my blog to not be an echo for these sentiments. Never have and never will. I do not believe this sentiment, logic and practice heroifying Columbus are necessary as we can probably open up an old textbook from grade school erroneously teaching us about how evil our Indigenous and African ancestors were and how valiant were Columbus and the rest of the Conquistadors. “The public intellectual mediates while instigating the public use of reason” (Mendiata) and if that public use of reason is already filled with White Supremacist thought, then my job as a Latinx public intellectual and shaper of LatinX Intellectual Tradition is to instigate and mediate White Supremacist thought in the form of antiLatinx logic and practice. My role is (as Professor Marable teaches us) to describe the living realities of Latinx life from the perspective of LatinX people. It is to correct inaccurate histories of Latinx people in the US. And finally my goal as a LatinX public intellectual is to plan, write and organize with others on how to improve the conditions faced by LatinX people due to racism.

By planning with others I do mean colleagues within and beyond academia and linking with folks in the media such as the Latino Rebels team. They know that I do not publicly stand for the article that was written in defense of Columbus day and if you are interested you can read more of my response to the Latino Rebels team on my timeline on Twitter. Latino Rebels has since apologized for the way they have responded to public critiques since the article has come out. Specifically, there is still a public denouncement of the article because many consider Latino Rebels as a space that could be used to counteract White Supremacist logic and practice. It is a space for which many of us have written to counter mainstream perceptions of Latinxs, a space where we corrected inaccurate histories of Latinx people. In fact, I firmly believe that if a nonLatino Rebels author published that piece, they would have criticized it, too. But they didn’t and I was very disappointed to read their response. Latino Rebels are aware of my response. We have exchanged opinions and I still firmly believe that they will learn from this incident.

Aside from explaining why I make my critique public of this decision to publish a defense of Columbus, my hope for this piece is most importantly a way to rethink our personal and public platforms. By introducing tenets of the Black Intellectual Tradition, I by no means am suggesting that we cannot expand on these principles. But I believe this is an excellent start. By using Hill’s and Mendiata’s understandings of the role of public intellectuals, I hope to explore who we are as Latinx public intellectuals and our role in the Latinx Intellectual Tradition.

While I make this call a public one, as a life long student of the Black Intellectual Tradition and a champion of the Latinx Intellectual Tradition, I am hereby stating that these are my principles for my blog, for my scholarship, for my life. I will not provide an echo to White Supremacist logic or practice. I will do my best to counter this system via writings, memes, quotes, scholarship, and my life. And if I should fail, I hope that I will be gently reminded of what I have set out my Race Work fueled by Race Love to achieve.

Perhaps love is the process of my leading you gently back to yourself. ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Latinx Parents: “When I see you, I see my daughter.”

In Uncategorized on September 24, 2015 at 10:47 am

A #NewYork #DoctoraLatina moment: conversations with Latin(x) parents about their children in college.
It always bugs me out to read theories and reports about Latinx education. One theory being that Latinx college enrollment is low because parents don’t care. It’s especially hard to read that when I encounter Latinx parents who are proud of their children’s educational aspirations and achievements.  
I was writing at Barnes and Noble this morning and the woman who works at the cafe came up to me and said: When I see you, I see my daughter. She always has her laptop and is always reading. Are you in college?

Me: No, I actually just graduated with my doctorate.

Latina parent: Really? Oh, l believe my daughter wants to be a psychiatrist. But she has to finish college first. Then she told me she has to go to medical school. Then after she has to do an internship. So many years..

Me: Yes it is many years but if she is doing what she loves … I say it’s a good thing. 

Latina Parent: I know. I see you and I see her. She has always been a hard worker. I know she is going to make it. And even though I am proud… I miss her. Very much. 

I saw her eyes and nose becoming red and as her eyes welled up I said, And when I see you I see my mother. She also missed me very much. But I returned to her. A came back to NY a college graduate. So will your daughter. 

Latina parent: But why did you go? Why so far?
Me: Because like your daughter I was accepted and wanted to attend a good school to make my family proud. 
We hugged. I told her I would visit her and check in with her. I told her that her daughter will return a different young woman because she would realize the sacrifices her mom made for her. She cried more and I told her that was ok, too. She said, “All for her education, right?”
I said, “Yes. Look at me and see your daughter. You are doing a good job, mom.”

A Final #DissertatingLatina Moment (Or the last love letter from a Dissertating Latina):

In Uncategorized on June 26, 2015 at 4:27 pm

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

  BEV1

For the past two years, I have documented my journey as a doctoral student and, more specifically, as a Latina student in the process of dissertating. I call these “Dissertating Latina” moments because I want other future dissertators, women of color and dissertators of Latin American descent, to be able to see themselves in this process. Thus, for personal and political reasons, the term ‘Dissertating Latina” represents a part of my identity that I have decided to share using a social media platform to describe my journey into the culmination of the dissertation. This journey specifically began 10 years ago, but more broadly nurtured by my father, Miguel G. Vega, an Ecuadorian immigrant to the United States who has lived in New York since 1968. My earliest memories of my father are of him taking me and my sisters to the Columbia University Campus, sitting us down on the steps that led to the Alma Mater, and telling us about how he arrived to New York, obtained a second grade education, and wished differently for his daughters. “Mija,” my father told me, “You can attend a school like this if you study and work very hard. One day, if you want to, you will be a student here.” Three rejections later, and I was accepted into Teachers College/Columbia University in the Higher and Postsecondary Education doctoral program. So my first dedication goes to my family—Miguel G. Vega, Blanca N. Vega, Janet R. Vega, Judith K. Vega Catanzaro, and Lizette N. Vega. Without these first individuals in my life, this love I have for race, education, intellectualism, Latinidad, and Ecuador would not have been nurtured.

Along this journey, amazing teachers and educators guided me. I will begin with my 5th and 8th grade teacher, Sr. Evelyn Kelly, who taught me to love a good story. Her partner in crime, Ms. Imelda Lati, made sure I attended Brooklyn Technical High School. While there, Ms. Judith Ann Cohen, who coordinated the Preparation for Undergraduate Learning through Science Enrichment Program (PULSE), taught me the value of discipline and dedication. Ms. Cohen and Ms. Marcia Solomon, former counselor at the Double Discovery Center, encouraged me to attend Brandeis University where I met Professors Dora Vasquez Older, who continues to be one of my main cheerleaders today. I also met Kim Godsoe and Lesola Morgan, who talked me through great bouts with academic self-concept and various forms of racial conflict. They listened and they guided me through many difficult moments. After Brandeis University, I entered my world as a higher education professional and met two amazing people—Daniel St. Rose, LMSW, and Mary Caldwell, LMSW. They have witnessed me grapple with many aspects of my life that have led to my current state as Doctor of Education. Along this journey through higher education administration, I met over 300 talented, intelligent, loving students. I am blessed that some of them call me “mom” today. I met these students at the Liberty Partnerships Program (LPP) at John Jay High School in Brooklyn (1998-2001) and the Higher Education Opportunity Program (2006-2014). Because of them, I was forced to articulate what it meant to be a doctoral student or, more specifically, what it meant to dissertate. This work could not have been done without three wonderful colleagues who I consider my family now: Kevin Smith, Rebecca Pinard, and Dr. Cindy Mercer. They saw my most intimate moments as both HEOP director and doctoral student and never once complained about supporting me throughout. Special acknowledgement goes to Rebecca Pinard who has taught me to be a better administrator, sister, and friend.

Toward the end of my doctoral journey and the beginning of my dissertating Latina life, several groups of people emerged and were my muscle and spirit to finish this fight. They include my dearest friends in my writing groups: Dr. Bianca J. Baldridge,
Dr. Sosanya Jones, Dr. Keisha McIntosh, Dr. Terrenda White, and Dr. Darnel Degand. This first writing group continues to provide me with support—emotional and academic—today. I crossed the finish line with my sister scholar, Dr. Keisha McIntosh, and I am grateful for the many nights and mornings we spent texting or calling each other to ensure that we were making it to the finish line. Members of my second and third writing groups include Dr. R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Dr. Alex Welcome, George Gardner III, Esq, Tara Conley, Sofia Quintero, Dr. Alex Trillo, Aja Burrell Wood, and Melissa Valle. Special thanks to Dr. R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy and Dr. Kenny Nienhusser, who have provided me with the tools to make it through these last two years. These two professors embody the spirit of true scholar activists—scholars who are deeply invested in the uplift of the community around them. I hold deep gratitude to them for showing me what mentorship is supposed to look and feel like. And finally my dissertation committee: the official members, Dr. Ernest Morrell, Dr. Felicia Moore Mensah, Vice President Janice Robinson (my dissertation fairy godmother!), have provided me with amazing guidance toward finishing this dissertation, as did my unofficial committee members, Dr. Anna Neumann and Dr. Yolanda Sealey Ruiz. This group of faculty nurtured my love for race scholarship and never once dissuaded me from doing this important work. BEV3

The end of this Dissertating Latina journey has slowly transitioned into Latino Love moments. By that, I mean two things: friends who have provided me with the tools necessary to endure personal battles with love such as friends who have been there for me before I even began my dissertating Latina journey like Joanne Joseph Hudson and Yasmin Regalado. Additionally, I have met an Afro-Costa Rican-Brooklyn family introduced to me by Marco A. Sanchez Cunningham, who are now helping me to adjust into my new identity—from being Dissertating Latina to becoming Doctora Latina and right back to being Liz (my family name), again. I expected to walk this journey alone but have instead found someone with whom I can walk this path—and for that I am truly grateful.

I would like to end this dedication, this love letter from a Dissertating Latina, to future Dissertating Latinas. This identity is a shared one—I don’t claim to own it, but I do claim to have some knowledge of what this process feels like and my hope is to inspire and motivate others into this journey and let them know that I will be there to support them in any way that I can. To whom much is given, much is expected, and I certainly am no different. I am excited to witness how the hashtag #dissertatinglatina evolves as I know several newly admitted doctoral Latina students who have inquired “What will happen to the dissertating latina?” – Easy! The baton has now been passed to you – future and present dissertating Latinas.

I can now move on to a different part of the journey – as Doctora Latina.

En la lucha siempre!

Dr. Blanca E. Vega

BEV2

2014 in review – Un Million de Gracias – Thank you!!

In Uncategorized on December 29, 2014 at 8:34 pm

I began writing for my blog four years ago. These little moments mean so much to me. Thank you for reading, retweeting, posting my pieces on your Facebook pages, and sharing your thoughts with me. I really am truly grateful.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Protest That Wasn’t: Lessons From an Exchange with a Cop

In Uncategorized on December 5, 2014 at 3:35 pm

pic4Breathing While Brown. Alive While Black.

There was a protest on Wednesday night, December 3rd, 2014 on 116th and Amsterdam. My partner and I were in a cab and we were stuck – cop cars everywhere, helicopters humming above us. Our cab driver was quickly asked to stop. My partner looked over at me and said, “It’s a protest.”

It was the evening we found out that there will be no indictment against Eric Garner’s murderer, Officer Daniel Pantaleo. It was a week after we heard that Mike Brown’s murderer will get away also. Same response: no indictment against Officer Darren Wilson.

It was the evening we were recovering from a small argument. “Baby,” he said. “I just want a hug”. A six foot one Brooklyn Man, former champion wrestler turned educator with a Master’s degree, a son of a nurse who believes in the power of love, but who couldn’t protect her son against police brutality, an evil he faced many times over in his lifetime.

“Be careful with each other, so you can be dangerous together.”Pic1

 

We were in the cab after having settled our small argument when we realized we had run right into a protest. He turned to me and said “What do you think?” We just got done enjoying a slice of pizza after having confronted a white man who delivered several racial microaggressions to me and the Asian American man next to us.

There is no rest for the racially weary….

At that moment, I knew what he was thinking. I knew we had to join. “Let’s go”, I said. We left the cab and attempted to join the protest. We didn’t get very far – police men and women were everywhere, none looked happy, none looked sympathetic to the protesters who weren’t even angry, just worried. Worried about our future, worried about their children’s futures….

We weren’t allowed to join the protestors. Why, we wondered aloud. Policemen and women surrounded the region the protesters gathered, a small region, but they covered the corners of 114th and Amsterdam Avenue. Anyone who wanted to join were told to turn around. Finally, my partner asked the cop nearest us “We want to join. How do we get in? How do we join them?” Several cops said, “You can’t”. Finally, one said, “You have to go around if you want to get in”. We marched to Morningside Avenue and back to Amsterdam. There were more cops. That’s when we realized that police surrounded the protesters and enclosed them and the area.

“We want to join them” my partner said again to another cop. With a big old smirk, the cop said “You can’t go in, turn around.”

“Why can’t I go in? We are peacefully protesting, so are they. Why can’t we go through?”

The cop said, “Turn around. Do us a favor, if you’re not going to turn around, move up the block”.

My partner responded, “Will I get arrested if I join?”

“Yes”, said the cop but this time he was laughing.

This stopped me cold. This man knows how to instill fear in people. This man knows how to trigger people. This man doesn’t know that we know our rights.

pic3

“Then arrest us”, Marco said. At this point, we already made quick plans as to what we would do if he got arrested, if I got arrested, or if we both got arrested. But we both knew we were in this together. No matter what.

The cop laughed again. He said, “From one gentleman to another please step away from the protesters. You can stand by that building but you can’t join.”

At this point, I began to video the conversation. I wanted a reason for a possible arrest. “What’s the logic behind that? Why can’t we join? I don’t understand.”

That’s when another cop said, “Let them through.” After seeing countless potential protesters being turned away, we were allowed to go through their barricade, which really was a human chain of officers. We thought an arrest was certain even though we weren’t quite clear as to a reason for one… how powerful a cop is when he threatens arrest… even against two highly educated Latinos, we still felt the power of that threat.

The cop who threatened us reluctantly said, “Fine.”

We walked through. We joined the protesters. But we saw how the group was diminished having faced first hand a tactic used by the police – threatening arrest if we were going to join a peaceful protest. Although the group was small, the police were there full force. A wall of angry faces lined 114th and Amsterdam Avenue, Black and Brown faces that mirrored my own except they were protecting Police Brutality. We were not.

pic5

On Thursday, December 4, 2014, thousands of people, including my students, marched against police brutality. According to the New York Times article, more than 200 people were arrested that evening. It was clear from various posts on social media that police continued to use tactics such as the one I described in my brief experience on Wednesday. It is clear from the reactions and the protests occurring  across the nation that a change is going to come. A racial reconstitution of policing must happen… But that Wednesday night I was afraid. I wasn’t fearful of protestors. I became afraid of the police for yet another reason – it was clear to me that police departments have been charged to ensure that change won’t come peacefully. Bearing witness to a stunted protest on Wednesday night opened my eyes to what the next steps will look like. My thoughts go to lessons learned from Ferguson, for our people there gave us a glimpse into the fire we may expect from our police, those who are supposed to protect and serve us. My heart goes out to the people in Ferguson for what I believe will be occuring in NYC very soon.

“We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.”
– Frantz Fanon

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Latinos and Whiteness: On Being Sold An Empty White Privilege Knapsack

In Uncategorized on June 13, 2014 at 11:41 pm

Sophia (@sophiagurule) on May 30th replied to my tweet about White Supremacy and Latinidad:

‪@BlancaVNYC : and yep ‪#nuncamas. this [choosing White on the Census] has haunted/shaped my life, and used against me, and I’m just done with it.”

To read more of the conversation, click here*.

For many Latinos in the U.S., race is still an elusive and misunderstood concept. This is due to many reasons but primarily for this one: Latinos have been taught that we are not a race, that instead, we are an ethnicity, and therefore have the ability/privilege to dodge the race question altogether.

The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line – W.E.B. Du Bois

For Latinos, the race question on a Census is confused for the color question. For the 2000 Census, even Latinos who were unmistakably White, Black, Native, or Asian, could pick “Other”. In 2010, “Other” was no longer available for Latinos, thus, forcing them to choose (what many confuse) “Color” for “Race” – and there is a difference, one that is often never unpacked for Latinos.

So, if the problem is the color line, then where do Latinos, who are taught “they have no race” fit in this now 21st century problem?

I was on twitter a few weeks ago and I had a conversation with Sophia who decided to pick “White” on the census. A young Latina woman who admits to having socially constructed “White” features, regretted this decision after seeing the New York Times piece devoted to understanding less than a paragraph in a recent Pew Report about Latinos and race (to read more about this and other pieces written in response to Latinos and Whiteness, please click here). She stated that she felt that her decision to pick White as a race was used against her because in choosing “White” as a racial category, writers – specifically Nate Cohn – oversimplified the ways Latinos identify with U.S. constructions of race. And, in all honesty, Cohn is not the only one who oversimplifies race. Thus it is very clear – no one is educating Latinos about the ways race affects our lives and how we are constantly being racialized – despite being told that Latinos are only an ethnicity.

Let’s review this again: Despite being told that Latinos have “no race” that we are in fact an “ethnicity” we forget that Latinos are in the process of racialization. Why? Because the process of racialization is not at all spoken about in mainstream conversations. This was given more ammunition when the Hispanic label came about. Labeling people Hispanic by falsely identifying a Spanish language background as our unifying factor (that’s for another piece), despite our various skin colors, made Latinos become a part of an ethnicity not a race.**

Identifying with an ethnic group, however, does not stop a population from being racialized – the process/project of becoming a race or being identified via a human classification system that uses several characteristics in order to construct a race. Although some Latinos identify as AfroLatino, others as Mestizo, White, there are still conversations and discussions of never truly fitting in a “White” box or a “Black” box and so on. As such, many people have identified Latinos as “Brown” – even though some Latinos think they are White.

While there is much scholarship in this area, there is very little of that information being trickled to the masses about how Latinos are racialized, the effects that a de facto binary racial classification system has on Latinos, and how Latinidad is completely dumbfounding race bloggers, writers, and researchers who continue to grapple with the important work of understanding the role of race and racism in the U.S.

It is for that reason that I am using the conversation I had with Sophia to explain some things here in this blog about the ongoing debate about the effects of racialization on Latinos. Here is a revised version of that conversation:

In response to the question, do Latinos have White privilege, my opinion rests on “no”. Latinos who identify as White purely based on skin color, may have SOME privileges associated with Whiteness but that does not encompass the White privilege knapsack.

Choosing “White” on a Census is not about choosing a “color”. It is a political choice – often one that is already chosen for you but the U.S. Census falsely leads us to believe that we are actually the ones “choosing”. Latinos MUST understand that by choosing White, we choose to identify with White Supremacist constructions of who we are and who we are not. Many people of color are not formally educated on what White Supremacy is so we choose “race” based only on skin color on a census that does not just believe that race is a skin color!!! This is a dilemma some Latinos face about race because we are taught that race is only determined by skin color. That’s the biggest lie. I understand that Latinos who have lighter skin color may walk into structures and situations where they are treated better than others. And even after knowing what White Supremacy is and how race is constructed, some Latinos may still choose White. But Latin American and Latino history, ancestry, the way we speak, what we defend, where we live, who our friends are all dictate life chances that we do not readily see and that are shaped by racial constructs – which often means not being treated as White people.

By no means am I asking Latinos to IGNORE privileges associated with Whiteness. Still, choosing White just because of skin color is also false! The census NEVER said that race is JUST about skin color. Yet, no one teaches Latinos about race and how to choose race on the Census. Thus, we are all being miseducated about race. We must learn that race is not just about skin color in this country. Skin color has VERY real effects – but so does our immigration patterns; so does being bilingual as educational research demonstrates that this affects our ability to progress or be detained in school; so does our income which shapes our housing opportunities leading to schools leading to universities leading to professions; it is in the areas we live in and how we are treated by the police or by our teachers just because we have a Spanish, or Kichwa, or Nauhuatl surname. And of course, this is about how White Supremacy (and those who knowingly or unknowingly maintain White Supremacy) ultimately uses our skin color as proxy for good or bad.

Latinos should remember that while some of us have privileges associated with Whiteness, this is not White Privilege. However, the only way we can understand our own racialization is to identify those areas in which some of us benefit from White Supremacy and where we don’t – a category Eduardo Bonilla Silva calls “honorary white” – and attack those areas if we are truly in the business of killing White Supremacy. This provides a more nuanced understanding of Latinidad, Latinization of race, and the racialization of Latinos, more so than the frames we inherited.

We must ask ourselves: did the government implement more anti-LATINO policies in the last ten years? YES. Do they largely affect Black and Native Latinos.? YES. Can some of us dodge those racist policies? Perhaps. But what of our brother who gets stopped and frisked? What about our sister who gets identified as a Brown woman and gets followed around in a store? What of our children who cannot identify at all with White skin color and who are left behind a grade because they are assumed to not speak English well? What about those policies that continue to stop, frisk, detain, and deport our people? While individually, some of us may be able to hide from the “race” question, as a people, and if that doesn’t sway you — as a family (if you cant see beyond your own) we may not. In the end, can we all completely dodge the race question – not as a family or a community.

So we must begin unlearning how we understand race as it affects Latinos. We continue to see race through a White Supremacist lens – Black or White – without consciously thinking about the specific experiences that come along with the label Hispanic/Latino – whether you are White, Black, or Native. The proximity to Whiteness and the proximity to Blackness are real and must be understood because this is the current system we live in. But to fully engage in the racialization of Latinos, we must begin to engage in a process of unlearning what we are told Latinos are and begin exploring what the racialization of Latinos look like. In this new understanding, we may see how Latinos fit into the color line – and why the problem of the color line persists.

For centuries now, Latin Americans and Latinos have been trying to understand the race question as it pertains to Latinidad. This historical background can prove to be useful if we understand that the racialization theories of Latinidad have often been used as tools to maintain and reproduce White Supremacy. For example, theories such as “La Raza Cosmica” and “Mestizaje” are all ways to create more distance between Latinidad and Blackness. Thus, it is not surprising that these old structures are being revisited in the U.S. – by pieces like Nate Cohn’s that insist that Latinos are becoming White. Do we not see how history repeats itself? Do we not see how Latinos are now being used as racial pawns in the battle to maintain White Supremacy, a way to add more White people to the U.S. – being told that we are White without any of the benefits of White Supremacy?

Latinos are being sold an empty White privilege knapsack.

This reproduction of old mestizaje and raza cosmica theories must be avoided at all costs. It obliterates Blackness and Indigeneity. Researchers and scholars have documented and noted Latin America’s experiment with “racial democracies” that of there being no race which has only pushed Black and Native Latin Americans further into the margins. The racial category “Black” is therefore a powerful tool that continues to remind the government that they are not doing right by its people and an identity that can be used to politically mobilize a whole community to fight for liberation of an oppressive government. We must be careful that current theorization of Latinidad and race does not exclude Blackness but instead recognize its category in the Census as a political tool to fight for liberation and make us rethink and reshape White Supremacy. We must also teach Latinos about how the Census is used as a tool to maintain White Supremacy, and now using Latinos to reproduce it. It is important here to recognize that race is not the problem – racism is. But race COULD be the problem if we continue to ignore the ways Latinos are affected by racism. In other words, Jose Diaz-Balart – yes you should care how Latinos identify racially.

For example: How can a population who is taught that they are not a race, claim racial bias, harassment, or violence? If you identify as AfroLatino – what if you are attacked because you are Black not just Latino? Currently, bias against Latinos are categorized under “ethnic hate crimes”. But if Latinos were able to claim racial bias and violence – the case for racial discrimination would empower the oppressed – not appease the oppressors in making them feel that we now live in a post-racial society.

The flip side must also be recognized and explored: In George Zimmerman’s case, Latinidad was used as a proxy for not being racist? But yet – we cannot identify as a race? This deserves one big COME ON, SON.

We must feel indicted and empowered to delve into a new language associated with the racialization of Latinos. At the heart of the Census matter – basically it does not capture how we’re being treated, displaced, raped, miseducated, imprisoned, detained, deported, stopped, frisked. And if we return to what Sophia said – her feeling about choosing White as being used against her – more qualitative research must be done to fully understand what leads Latinos to choose White. And Black. And Asian. And Native. And Other.

Filling out the census is a hegemonic practice constructed to MAKE us identify ONE particular way. Filling out the Census, choosing White, sells Latinos an empty White Privilege knapsack.

Choose race wisely, mi gente.

 

* Much love to @sophiagurule and @BlackCanseco for sharing openly their thoughts about Latinidad, race and White Supremacy. It was an awesome conversation.

** Interestingly, this is a vestige of the popular “racial democracy” experiments in Latin America, where Black was erased, and mestizaje came about, regarding most Latin Americans as “colorless” which generally is a proxy for White.

 

Media Madness: The Curious Case of the Racialization of Latinos

In Uncategorized on June 11, 2014 at 2:40 pm

Ever so often, the public becomes enraptured with Latinos. For the past two months, this rapture has involved race and Latinidad.

For those of us who have been studying the role of race in Latino identity, we find this … interesting.

Interesting because U.S. media tends to go from “WATCH OUT!! THE LATINO POPULATION IS GROWING!!!” to “Damn. Maybe Latinos are becoming White after all?”

Do you see what I am getting at here? No?

Paranoia.

So for many of us who have been studying the role of race in Latinidad, we completely see through this paranoia inflicted by the U.S. government and reproduced by media. Not too long ago, we saw articles that also “warned” the American public that the Latino population was surpassing the Black population.

So the US media goes from “WATCH OUT! THE LATINOS ARE COMING!” to “HEY, NON-LATINOS – THEY ARE GROWING MORE THAN YOU” to “MAYBE LATINOS ARE BECOMING WHITE?” – what’s worse – these sentiments become attached to policies that are discriminatory against the Latino population.

This is one way that Latinos are made into “racial pawns” in the battle to maintain White Supremacy.

It is worth monitoring these important moments when Latinos scare EVERYONE into a frenzy. The stages, as outlined above, are clear. And each stage must be tracked.

I have to say – there has been more think pieces about the “Are Latinos becoming White” question than any stage. Perhaps it’s because Nate Cohn wrote a poor summary of a two line description of preliminary Pew findings. Perhaps it’s because Latinos have been experiencing one of the most intense anti-Latino climates in recent US history. Perhaps it’s because in the age of deporting and detaining immigrants (largely Latino), banning Latino literature, ending funding for Mexican American and Latino Studies, not teaching ANYONE abut the role race plays in Latino lives, and even not allowing Latinos to choose “Other” on the Census – some Latinos know that no matter what they pick on the Census, they are not treated as White people.

Just a thought.

So here is a list of articles that have pushed back and pointed out serious flaws in Cohn’s summary (who I call – the Analyzers), who have reported and added some analyses (who I call the Reporters), and finally one social media response via the hashtag #WhatLatinosLookLike. The rest of the list includes interesting perspectives into the issue but are not directly related to or spurred by this most recent frenzy. Finally, I add two articles related to how media is now using the Asian population as racial pawns in their fight to maintain White power via an pseudo expansion of White population.

You might note that most of the Analyzers identify as Latino and only one piece has reached a major media outlet (Huffington Post). The Reporters have a larger reach and therefore larger media audience and only some of the reporters are Latinos. While this issue is important not just for Latinos to reflect and write about, we must recognize the danger in reporting, researching, and analyzing Latinidad without Latinos. I explain more about what I mean about Latinidad without Latinos here.

In my next post, I will explain more about the need for more qualitative analysis about why Latinos chose white on the Census and why we are not equally as worried about the U.S. government’s need to create more White people.

 

How Frenzy about Race Begins: Performing Fear

More Hispanics Declaring Themselves White by Nate Cohn 

Are Hispanics Joining the White Mainstream? by Jamele Bouie

 

THE ANALYZERS

New York Times Piece on Hispanics and Census Based on Study Not Yet Finalized for Public by Rebeldes

When Latin American Racial Hierarchies Meet North American Racial Classification Schemas by Hector Cordero-Guzman

The Political Consequences of the Whitening of Latinos Myth by Dr. Victor M.

Changing Hispanic racial identity, or not by Philip N. Cohen

 Are Latinos Really Turning White? by Manuel Pastor

Nate Cohn Doubles Down on His NYTimes White Latino Piece by Julio Ricardo Varela

1.2 Million Latinos Tell Census They’re Now White, and NYTimes Thinks It’s Awesome by Julio Ricardo Varela

 

THE REPORTERS

Latinos/Hispanics checking the ‘white’ box on the census won’t make them Republicans by Denise Oliver Velez 

What Is Your Race? For Millions Of Americans, A Shifting Answer by Gene Demby

The Census Can’t Fit Latinos Into A Race Box And It’s Causing More Confusion by Roque Planas

Millions Changed Their ‘Race’ on the 2010 Census From What They Said in 2000 by Richard Prince

Are Hispanics in danger of becoming white? by Mary White

THE CENSUS CAN’T FIT LATINOS INTO A RACE BOX — AND IT’S CAUSING PROBLEMS by Samantha Leal 

The identity question: More Latinos checking ‘White’ on Census By Danielle Restuccia

The number of white Hispanics shoots up: Jarvis DeBerry

The Source: What Is White? by Paul Flayhive

Who Is White? by whentheninesrolloverwhentheninesrollover.wordpress.com

Latino Whiteness? They’re Asking the Wrong Question By Victor Landa

 

HASHTAG ACTIVISM

These Images Show #WhatLatinosLookLike by Roque Planas

 

Now White folks want to to be Latino – CALL NATE COHN!

White GOP Candidate Becomes Latino Democrat, Changes Name to ‘Cesar Chavez’ by Tina Nguyen

 

Side Note and History of the Creation of the Hispanic category:

The Invention of Hispanics by Maria Hinojosa

 

Race in the US

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva on Race in America

 

How Media Whitens Asian populations:

How the Asians became white by Eugene Volokh

How The Asians Did Not Become White by Scot Nakagawa

 

 

 

 

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