Sunday, January 5, 2014

Negotiating the 1.9%

1.9%. That is the percentage of Chicana/os that receive graduate or professional degrees at the time I entered Graduate school. According to research from the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center report (2006), only 46 out of every 100 Chicano students who start elementary school will graduate from high school. Of that 46 only 8 will get a bachelor’s degree, and of that 8 at best 2 will receive a graduate degree or a professional degree. While more recent studies have shown an increase in high school graduation rates and undergraduate enrollment, the rates of attainment at the post graduate attainment are still low. 1.9 % is inclusive of JDs, MFAs, MBAs, MAs, and Ph.Ds. It has been years since I first looked at study and I have never forgotten that number. I hate it. I hate how low it is, I hate how I feel defined by it. I think of all of the people who were pushed out, alienated, or who simply could not see graduate school as an option.
Yet at the same time that number explains so much.  To me, that number highlights just how efficient the culture of the academy is at producing and disciplining a majoritarian white space. It explains how lonely the process of graduate education can be for a Chicano/a. It explains why I feel unsettled in my choice to work in the academy. It explains why I feel at odds with the dominant values, as in what constitutes “good” research. It also explains why I feel so excited at the prospect of meeting other Chicana/os at conferences, why I feel invigorated after a good panel on race and the borderlands, why I find myself volunteering to help out with the Diversity Scholars Cohort.  When I see a graduate student of color I see a fellow survivor. I see comrades and allies and role models. 
At the time of this writing, I am days away from taking my comprehensive exams for my Ph.D. and I cannot help but think about where I fit in that number. It must be a fraction of a fraction.  I feel perhaps more anxiety about my exams than I should. I worry about the fact that I have come so far, but that in order to go further I must relinquish control of my educational future, I must trust in my own abilities to pass the text, but more importantly (and this is what frightens me) I must trust the process. It might seem to many a strange thing to be concerned about. The people who comprise my committee are dedicated teachers, I have a strong working relationship with all of them, and I trust and respect them.
However, that does not mean that I trust the academy. In order to survive this institution long enough to become one of the 1.9%, you have to be savvy about navigating the structures and the people that make the space what it is. I had to learn many of those lessons the hard way. I have experienced the academy as a place that is both hostile of difference and also a home. This is a place that produces truth in service of hegemony, as well as a place that gave me tools to resist marginalization and oppression. I have been silenced and also found my voice. Even as the educational pipeline attempts to get rid of us it also makes us stronger.
 I was discussing my feelings of alienation with a friend, a radical woman of color, who is in the dissertation phase of her Ph.D. I told her that despite my good grades, the praise and support of my teachers, I was unsure if I had made the right decision in getting my Ph.D. She told me not to let “Them” do that to me, and then she shared one of her experiences. She was speaking with one of her mentors, a Chicano who had just received tenure, and he said, “Academia does a really good job of making people of color and radicals feel like they don’t belong. It does this because it was designed to do this; just play their game, pass this stage, and the rest is yours.” The process and the structure insure that only the most useful, or the most skillful, or the hardest headed make it into a position to be called an expert, to be an authority. And I do not want to play their game.  Like many of you I realize that the academy is an important site for the production of truth, that the government will fund most of us. The state invests in us because it has something to gain from our presence in the academy. Call it tokenism, call it interest convergence, call it whatever you like, but the 1.9 % were not brought into the fold accidently.
I fought my here because I love to learn, I have questions that no one has answers for, and because I believe deeply in the radical potential of educators (teachers and scholars) to change lives. I know this because they have changed me. I don’t have the stomach for games. I want my work and my time here to mean something. I want to overthrow or at least challenge the structure that made me part of the 1.9%. We have been losing a war of attrition but if it is true people of color and radicals don’t belong in the academy, then every one of us who makes it is an act of defiance. So my question and challenge to you is this, what can we do to change the processes, to challenge the structure, to make a home for ourselves? More importantly, to those of you who are (like me) still in the process of your education, how can we help each other?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Intellectual Activism and Presence

I recently had the opportunity to have lunch with a former graduate student, now professor, who was in town. During our visit she gave me a copy of Patricia Hill Collins' On Intellectual Activism. I immediately connected with the Collins' discussion of intellectual activism. It took me back to the constant conversations I have had with students who are anxious to connect their work to a social justice paradigm. However, whether they realize it or not, many of the ways they conceive of activism are based in Othering or colonizing practices. They continue to have the belief that they must go out into some other community and "do the work." While I appreciate their intentions, I get slightly frustrated by the lack of reflexive turn to our own practices in the academy. Let me elaborate.

One of the things Collins and other scholars of color have argued is that our mere presence in the academy is subversive. Collins elaborates upon this by arguing how speaking truth to power is resistive and it can "often best be done as an insider" (xiii). She adds, "Challenging power structures from the inside, working the cracks within the system, however, requires learning to speak multiple languages of power convincingly" (xiii). In consistently increasingly hostile academic environments our presences are acts of intervention, especially when we hold positions of power. A student asked me what I did in terms of social justice work. My answer was, "I work in the academy." I say this because I know the continual challenges facing students, staff, and faculty of color, and when we reach positions that might give us some power, it is integral we remain. I don't have to go and look for another community to do social justice work. I simply have to survive and that itself is resistive. In addition, many of us are finally starting to see the fruits of our labor as we see concrete things like sexual harassment and racial discrimination policies finally being revised so that they actually take intersectionality into account rather than dispel larger patterns of harassment. I, or others, may fight for change in our academic work spaces, and even if we don't stay in that particular space for the long term, the social justice work and changes we have advocated for may help the next person. Additionally, many of us do research that examines the conditions faculty of color and/or queer faculty face in the academy. That work can be and is used to argue for policy changes in the university or it can simply be used to school people. Many of us teach social justice oriented courses as faculty of color in predominately white classrooms. We put literally put our bodies on the line. As scholars of color one of the most radical things we can do is be promoted to full professor. It is integral.

Years ago at a conference I heard a more senior scholar of color make the statement that only faculty of color get asked, "What do you do for your community?" S/he elaborated that white faculty are never asked that question. In that moment I found that to be a pretty profound statement. White faculty are not asked that question because more often than not, unless they are doing anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobia work, they are contributing to the project of whiteness. We are expected as faculty of color to constantly "give back" to some monolithic outside community which ignores the fact that our presence in the academy is radical and in fact doing something.

Since I started graduate school in 1998 I have held various positions, graduate assistant, assistant professor, director of graduate studies, associate chair, associate professor, and department chair. Moving between these positions I have seen how important it is to have faculty of color on graduate admissions committees, as mentors, as external reviewers, on search committees, etc. Because of the scarcity of our numbers our service load is often greater than what our white colleagues face. All of this behind the scenes labor is rarely considered.

I am not so idealistic to assume that all faculty of color have the same political commitments, but we all exist in an academy not made for us. What I am asking is that we in the academy be reflexive about our own academic practices and not simply shift the gaze to some "outside" community. I am asking that while we are quick to celebrate whistle blowers in the media, we are just as quick to honor whistle blowers in the academy rather than ostracize them. I want recognition for all the work we do. 

That's not asking too much is it?

Lisa Flores address some these issues far more eloquently than me in the latest essay of the Western Journal of Communication. Please take a look at it if you get a chance.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Connections Throughout the Year, or Haciendo Caras Here and There

After reviewing my past blog postings on AcademicZ (Gutierrez-Perez), I wanted this entry to continue advocating for Latina/o scholars to connect and collaborate, but how can I make a face (cara) that shares how much we need each other throughout the year? As Gloria Anzaldúa explains: "'face' is the surface of the body that is the most noticeably inscribed by a particular subculture. We are 'written' all over, or should I say, carved and tattooed with the sharp needles of experience" (124). For example, I am experiencing the in/between space betwixt my first year and second year as a doctoral student at a private Rocky Mountain university, and although I am here, I am also there in California thinking about my grandmother and the loss of my grandfather. In describing haciendo caras (making faces), Anzaldúa continues, "when our caras do not live up to the “image” that the family or community wants us to wear and when we rebel against the engraving of our bodies, we experience ostracism, alienation, isolation, and shame" (124). In this liminal space between my first and second year and betwixt here and there, I am (re)constructing my identity as a scholar and as a grandson alone. Haciendo caras is a metaphor for constructing one's identity (125), and as an embodied process, I must mine beneath the surface of my various and interconnected identities to break out of the faces I must wear in the academy in order to eat, pay my bills, and maintain a home. In critically reflecting on the "interfaces" between the many masks we wear, we must (or at least attempt to) "confront and oust the internalized oppression embedded in them, and remake anew both inner and outer faces" (125). For instance, Stacey Sowards analyzed the caras of Dolores Huerta as rhetorical styles or practices to show how "Huerta used these faces of emotionality (both conscious and unconsciously), which often left her audiences (especially growers and politicians) without response” (Sowards 232). In this blog entry, I disclose and reflect on the workings of my inner masks through three narratives of "belonging" to utilize a "politics of relation" as a strategy to invite the reader to consider voice, pedagogy, and critical love as ways to connect throughout the year.

Be Longing and a Politics of Relation

“The sites of our belonging constitute how we see the world, what we value, who we are (becoming). The meaning of self is never individual, but a shifting set of relations that we move in and out of, often without reflection” (Carrillo Rowe 25).

In the quote above, Aimee Carrillo Rowe defines belonging as an integral concept within a politics of relation and discusses how the two interact to move subjectivity "from location to relation" (29). By placing subjectivity within community, intimacy and awareness, belonging and a politics of relation inclines the self towards another (46), and "this is not to suggest that the ‘I’ disappears, but rather, that the ‘i’ is multiple, shifting, and contingent upon the relational sites into which she inserts herself" (9). It is asking the critical questions "about where you long to belong, whom you want to nestle beside at the end of the day, whom you call when you are in pain, or who accompanies you in ritual” (Carrillo Rowe 35). In my case, I am here looking at the latest birthday card from my grandparents, and it is cute but made for a grandson half my age. There is no money in the card because there has never been money in my always-on-time gift from my grandparents. As a working-class family, we have learned other ways to show our affection. However, this year the gift feels heavier, and it isn't until I read the single and lonely signature that I realize why: "Love you, Grandma." It is my first birthday without "Grandpa" signing my card. I cry alone in my office. Although I am here, my heart longs to be there nestled beside my family because we are in pain, and in this moment of ritual, I acutely feel the loss of my grandfather's company. Can you connect to this grief?

Belonging focuses on how power is transmitted through our affective ties with whom we love, the communities we live in, and who we expend emotional energy to build ties with (Carrillo Rowe 26). These relational politics are spatially and temporally bound (9), or in other words, it is a politics of "where we place our bodies, how we spend our time, the mundane and significant events that give texture to our lives all give rise to our becoming” (34). For instance, it is weeks later, and I am on the phone calling my grandma to thank her for the birthday card. She picks up and is apparently excited that I called, and of course, she wants to make sure that I got the card she sent. I write "apparently" not to insinuate hostility on my part or insincerity on my grandma's part, but as I listen to the hearing American sign language (ASL) interpreter embodying my deaf grandmother, I can't help but feel disconnected from my loved one. I am here trying to be there with my grandmother, and I am longing to be with her voice regardless if it slurs and features ASL broken English. I need to hear her easy laughter, her direct (like me) communication style, and her enthusiasm because I need to feel like I belong somewhere/anywhere. Within my affective relationship to my grandma, there are structures of power, location, and time implicated in where our bodies are and how our communication and time is mediated through technology and (dis)ability. Where do you belong? Why?

The goal of sharing my inner faces is to gesture towards ways we can connect beyond the conference panels, business meetings, and the all too brief hallway encounters. As Carrillo Rowe writes, “this inclination toward another involves seeing others to whom we belong as inseparable, not separate, from us” (36). For example, I am heading towards my grandmother’s house right after the school year has ended, and my aunt, cousins, and I are baking in the 110 degree weather. After a refreshing dip in the pool, we all head over to my grandfather’s grave, and as my mom and aunt begin to cry, I am here staring at a small marker in the ground. We couldn’t afford a proper gravestone, so I am staring at a simple stone, and I feel nothing. He isn’t here at the cemetery and he wasn’t there at my grandmother’s house. Where do I go now? In (re)constructing my identity, I know I must reflect on these memories to make una cara that can better manage my politics of relation within the academy and within my family, but I just lost one of my biggest supporters. Grief and loss are emotions that connect us all to humanity. Can you feel how inseparable we are to each other?

Conclusion: Connections Throughout the Year

Although any reflection of one's inner caras inevitably implicates our outer caras, this blog entry is not meant to critique my institution or the faculty to which I belong because I am well-supported, and although there are many great works examining the outer caras Latinas/os must wear (Calafell and Moreman; Delgado; Moreira and Diversi; Moreman and McIntosh), this blog entry aims to share my inner thoughts and feelings to hopefully connect to the reader through critical love. Critical love is "an ethic of care rooted in...humanization, dialogue, and strong emotions such as fear, frustration, and anger," and "to critically love across our identity differences in the scholarly sense entails bearing witness to struggle, reaching out to nurture, marking the presence of privilege, and advocating for humanization" (Griffen 216). It isn't easy working through the sudden loss of my grandfather in public with all of you reading; however, I know that many of us here have recently lost a loved one, so you understand how I feel here and there, don't you? 

As Bernadette Calafell writes, "Love is very necessary" (emphasis in citation, 436), and as Rachel Griffen clarifies, "I am not proposing a 'let's all hold hands and bite our tongues for the sake of peace' sense of love, nor is love being positioned as a fountain of endless optimism that dismisses the anguish of oppression" (Griffen 216). Instead, I am proposing that affective ties and how/why we expend energy in their construction and maintenance is a valuable dialogue for Latina/o scholars to consider. Last year at NCA, we discussed and encouraged each other to connect throughout the year, so in answer to this call, I invite all of you to participate in a roundtable discussion at this year’s NCA entitled, “Connections Throughout the Year: A Forum on Voice, Pedagogy, and Critical Love within Communication Studies.” Scholars from across the country and discipline and from various, multi-layered racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual identities have gathered to provide an opportunity to share inner and outer caras and strategize on how to maintain affective ties beyond the annual NCA conference. In this blog entry, I utilized my relationship with my grandmother and grandfather to construct three narratives on belonging here and there to try to connect with you (the reader) because we need each other throughout the year. As Latinas/os, there is a danger in sharing our inner caras with the wrong person or people, but for me here in this space, I know that I must be willing to be vulnerable because I have to work through this grief and loss somehow in order to (re)construct my identity. Again, I find myself reaching out to this readership bare-chested and in a weakened state somewhere not quite here but not quite there to humbly invite you to utilize this blog space to find support for and connections with each other throughout the year. For now, let me end by thanking you for being here and there for me. Abrazos. 

Work Cited

Anzaldúa, Gloria. "Haciendo Caras, Una Entrada." The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader. Ed. AnaLouis Keating. Durham and London: Duke UP, 2009. 124-139. Print. 

Calafell, Bernadette Marie. "Mentoring and Love: An Open Letter." Cultural Studies ↔ Critical  Methodologies, 7.4 (2007): 425-441. Print.

---and Shane Moreman. "Iterative Hesitancies and Latinidad: The Reverberances of Raciality.” Handbook of Critical Intercultural Communication. Eds. Rona Halualani and Thomas Nakayama. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. 400-416. Print.

---and Shane Moreman. "Envisioning an Academic Readership: Latina/o Performativities Per the Form of Publication." Text and Performance Quarterly, 29.2 (2009): 123-130. Print.

Carrillo Rowe, Aimee. Power Lines: On the Subject of Feminist Alliances. Durham and London: Duke UP, 2008. Print.

Delgado, Fernando. "Reflections on Being/Performing Latino Identity in the Academy." Text and Performance Quarterly, 29.2 (2009): 149-64. Print.

Griffen, Rachel Alicia. "Navigating the Politics of Identity/Identities and Exploring the Promise of Critical Love." Identity Research and Communication: Intercultureal Reflections and Furture Directions. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2012. 207-221. Print.

Gutierrez-Perez, R. M. "Reaching Out to the Other, or a Performance of Striving." AcademicZ: The Latino/a Experiences in Research, Pedagogy, and Service in  Higher Education. AcademicZ, 27 November 2012. Web. 2013 July 12. 

---. "On Mentoring and Love: Thanking Whom?" AcademicZ: The  Latino/a Experiences in Research, Pedagogy, and Service in Higher Education. AcademicZ, 1 May 2012. Web. 2013 July 12.  

Moreira, Claudio and Marcelo Diversi. "Missing bodies: Troubling the Colonial Landscape of American Academia. Text and Performance Quarterly, 31.3 (2011): 229-248. Print.

Moreman, Shane T., and Dawn M. McIntosh. "Brown Scriptings and Rescriptings: A Critical Performance Ethnography of Latina Drag Queens." Communication & Critical/Cultural Studies, 7.2 (2010): 115-135. Print.

Sowards, Stacey K. "Rhetorical Agency as Haciendo Caras and Differential Consciousness
through Lens of Gender, Race, Ethnicity, and Class: An Examination of Dolores Huerta's Rhetoric."Communication Theory, 20 (2010): 223-247. Print.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

New Study of Historically Black Colleges; Study: Hispanic College-Going Rate Tops White Rate

New Study of Historically Black Colleges
May 10, 2013 - 4:34am
A new report, "The Changing Face of Historically Black Colleges and Universities," was released Thursday by the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and the Center for Minority Serving Institutions. The report details the role of black colleges, outlines demographic trends in enrollments and discusses educational and financial challenges facing the institutions.
Study: Hispanic College-Going Rate Tops White Rate
An all-time high of 69 percent of Hispanics graduating from high school in 2012 enrolled in college that fall, according to analysis by the Pew Research Center. This is a greater proportion than that of white graduates from the same class, of whom 67 percent enrolled in college.
According to Pew, Hispanic college-going has seen a long-term increase, especially since the recession hit, whereas enrollment by white high school graduates has gradually declined since 2008.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Where are all the Mexicans? And/On Being ‘ChexMex’

People say I’ve always had a strong work ethic. Most attribute this quality to how my parents raised me, but I think of this particular ethic as more apart my genetic toolbox – apart of my Mexican-”ness.” Anyone who knows me well knows that I am the last person to hammer down an argument for Nature over Nurture – I believe we are more so the products of our socialization. And anyone who knows me at least somewhat knows I have always held down two or more jobs at any given time. No, I never mowed lawns. I never did landscaping or worked “back of house” at a restaurant or any other stereotypical Mexican occupations you may be conjuring up right now.
I’ve been working since before it was legal for me to begin doing so – since the age of fourteen when my family members paid me “under-the-table” at a shipping franchise in Texas. It was in college when I began to feel guilty at being only a student and started serving at every restaurant from fine dining to overnight diners. Currently, I am contracted by Clemson University for a full-time course load, adjunct teaching two courses at a local community college, and once again waiting tables for extra cash in my pocket and side (work) thrills. I say all this because I think my pulsating need to overwork in order to feel alive may be in my blood – in my Mexican genetics.
The inspiration for this post comes partly out of my current work experiences – particularly when I started working at a fusion sushi bar in town and quickly noticed there was not one Mexican on staff. Let me be clear, I have worked in the service industry off-and-on for almost ten years and one thing I could always count on was seeing Mexican cooks in the kitchen and Mexicans washing dishes. In fact, living in Texas and California all my life meant not going a day without a Mexican (pun half intended). Then I started to look around campus – around my neighborhood – around town. Where were all the Latino/a students and families and workers? Where was Raza and mural paintings and breakfast tacos from local taquerías? As I looked around all I saw was Black and White but no Brown.

My recent move from the blue state of California to rural up-state South Carolina forced me to notice the sheer lack of racial diversity here, of diversity in general. From L.A. to the deep South, I went from city grid streets and gridlocked traffic to winding country roads – from neighborhoods flying rainbow PRIDE flags alongside American flags to neighbors on tractors and country folk riding horseback along the streets. I remember saying to a colleague just yesterday, “It’s like gay people don’t exist here. I mean, I know they exist but they aren’t visible like they were in Long Beach. In California, people are proud of their gayness. Here people hide it.” I went from having a Chinese best friend and knowing an impressive Asian population on the West Coast to only meeting Asian foreign exchange students at Clemson.

When I told a friend about my Clemson hire, it was the Fourth of July and we were gathered on the rooftop terrace of his beachfront condo in Long Beach watching fireworks ignite over the Pacific. I remember looking out at the coastline and seeing fireworks shows all along the distance – from Seal Beach to Huntington and all the way down to Newport – and he told me something that I remember taking too lightly at first – that South Carolina was the first state to succeed from the Union.

I remember him telling me that I should be prepared for deep South racism. I said, “No way. Deep South is Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia!” – nothing to worry about, I thought – surely growing up in conservative Texas had prepared me this experience. And when I moved here in the heat of the 2012 election, I remember driving through my rural neighborhood and bring surprised by Obama sign after Obama sign in a region that is an unapologetically Red one. Turns out, I live in the “hood” because the more I began looking around the more I saw only African Americans.

White-Washing Myself; Marking (My) Whiteness

Growing up in the upper-middle class suburbs of North Dallas always made me somewhat ashamed of my brown-ness. Try to envision a golf course community – a Starbucks every two-square miles marking the outer territory – and a community in protest for the building of a Wal-mart not for the ill treatment of workers but for the “types” of people it would draw  into town. A childhood friend of mine – who remains one of my closest platonic friends today – would purposefully skip the bus so we could walk home together from middle school. She would joke with me, “My parents said your parents can’t afford a pool in your backyard!” And I would fire back, “My parents said your parents couldn’t afford a lawn guy and that’s why your brother mows the lawn.” Little did we grasp our keen understanding for irony and classism at the time. This has become a vivid memory of mine as well because I remember in that moment feeling ashamed that my two-story home was not as big as hers.

Growing up, I always felt naturally inclined to embrace an identity more on my mother’s end of the racial spectrum – my Anglo side. Do not misunderstand me: Spending family holidays with my father’s Mexican side was preferred and always something I more looked forward to. It meant never knowing which of my 30+ cousins would be there. It meant three generations gathering together on any given occasion and tamales every Christmas and piñatas on birthdays and a feeling of closeness – the feeling of familia – that went unmatched by my mother’s side. But I remember never feeling afraid to bring my friends around my mom’s side of the family. I now know the reason for this was because it was easier to embrace the idea of whiteness in a community where “Being White” meant being superior. White was the default. It meant performing yourself a class above the rest and looking down on others and being judgmental. I spent my whole life at the “borderlands” now even knowing it because I refused to locate myself here- or at least remained ignorant to the fact it was even a place inhabited – or perhaps was never allowed to see my brown face looking back at me in the mirror.

It wasn’t until my graduate work that I began to feel a sense of pride for my Mexican heritage. I took a Master’s level seminar called “Postcolonial Dimensions of Rhetoric” – which, oddly enough, was taught by a cooky elderly white woman who mistook my roommate/classmate Jesus for “Jose” or “Josue” every once in a while. It was in this challenging scholarly space that I was forced to confront my Latino identity and was ultimately allowed to genuinely embrace the concept of Chicano Power. I learned and internalized concepts like Victor and Edith Turner’s “liminality” and “communitas” as well as “Santa María de Guadalupe.”

Call me, “Chex-Mex”

Recently, our department has been conducting hiring for tenure-track professor positions – which, in academia, means flying applicant finalists out separately for several days and assigning a strict itinerary of dinners with the chair, meetings with the dean, brunch receptions, teaching demos, job talks, and research presentations. At one reception, I met a scholar where in our cordials we somehow began talking about my new puppy Dexter. When she asked me the inevitable question of what breed he belonged to – as they always do – and I didn’t know how to respond since explaining his origin is always time consuming and risks “tune-out.” My usual script is this: “Well, his mother is Hound and Labrador and his father is Boxer and Catahoula; but the Vet thinks he has Shar Pei and Pitbull in him. I don’t see it though.” But in this moment, I found myself swift and succinct:
“He’s a mutt. Like me.”

And the feeling that accompanied this response stuck with me because it struck me as oddly freeing. It was revealing in a sense because it felt “off the cuff” and honest. But also because I knew what I was doing in that moment. I was paving the way toward a discussion about my racial/ethnic identity. I was traveling the road less traveled – or the road I had always sought to avoid. When the conversation took this turn – although not immediately – I tell her what I tell many people who similarly ask me, “What are you?”

I told her, “I’m Chex-Mex.”

I mostly say this because I think it sounds catchy. And when I get the usual puzzled facial response, I enjoy the clarification: “Not like the cereal. Like half Czech, half Chilango.”
Meaning my abuelito was a native of La Ciudad de México
Who either legally or illegally immigrated to Texas and
Changed his surname to Castillo.
After the Castillian empire in Spain
As in Spanish royalty.
He had settled in Los Estados Unidos
Married a Texas-native in my grandma
Who was born to a Frenchman
Who fell in love with a Mexican woman
Where they had run away to Wichita Falls.

All I have are stories of my father’s father – and vague stories at that – about how he was a brick layer who did mosaics for a side living – about his alcoholism – and his punishments with the switch. I never had the opportunity of meeting my Mexican grandfather since he died in a fatal car crash on Route 66 on his way out to a job in California. The most vivid story I have about my Latino grandfather is my father’s memory of first hearing the news about his sudden death – of his mother screaming, crying, and pounding the walls in the next room of their small two-bedroom house shared by his seven siblings – Lupita, Olivia, Dolores, Elena, Candelaria, Ernesto and Alejandro – all of whom go by whitened nicknames to this day. In fact, my father told me they were not taught Spanish at home because the fifties was a time where many 1st generation and 1.5 generation children were instructed to only speak English as a way to more easily assimilate into American culture.

My mother’s familial lineage took an equally interesting turn of events. It seems as if Life just happens that way. I am coming to know that we can only be prepared for the unprepared. My grandmother was born full-blooded Czechoslovakian before the country was split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Her family came to America through Ellis Island during the early 20th century. I know this because, during a junior class trip to New York City, my mother made sure to have me look at their names permanently inscribed onto the walls at Ellis Island. I think it interesting how these markings of identity are allowed – as a way for governments to keep tabs – while certain markings of identity (see: Exit Through the Gift Shop) are considered illegal and subject to erasure. This reminds me of the subversive nature of Chicano Mural Paintings that mark Hispanic neighborhoods across the U.S. as a visual way for Latinos/as to (non)discursively stamp their existence onto white culture. To shout, “HERE WE ARE!” It was in my 11th grade year that I was becoming interested in filling out the branches in my family tree and – in some cases – raking up the dead leaves. My mother passed down a story to me that made me think about the power of memory and remembrance. And it is here in this space that I tell it again – perhaps not entirely accurately either since this is how I remember it told to me – which doesn’t make it any less accurate for me:

After making the long emigration voyage by boat, the Cvetkovich family had reached New York City safely and healthily. I imagine their arrival as something that happened right out of James Cameron’s “Titanic” – where Rose looks up at the Statue of Liberty with a blanket over her head as rain begins to pour – although much less traumatic than arriving in the wake of the S.S. White Star line Titanic sinking, I’m sure. When the family began to settle after the first few months, my great grandfather quickly became homesick for Eastern Europe. He was not coming to know America as the “land of opportunity” that had been told to him at home. His wife, on the other hand, loved the United States. One night, her husband abandoned her and her two girls (Sammie and Mille) and fled back to Czechoslovakia. He took only his son Nicky with him, who would later be reunited with his sisters years after his mother’s death. Nicky informed his sisters that his father did not take the girls because he saw their gender as a weakness. In hindsight, it seems Nicky’s male-ness made him the high-priced commodity of his family in his father’s eyes. 

It is just now that I am coming to realize how perhaps my scholarly fascination with masculinity studies stems from the fact that I come from a combined history of absent fathers. But here I am focused on locating race.

This abandonment made my “Gram” and her sister intensely close growing up and I could see this strong bond as a child myself. In my teenage years, she would later tell me stories of how the two used to lock themselves her mother’s the bathroom as teenagers to smoke cigarettes. Even as a six-year-old, I remember how alive she was around her sister upon our visit to Flint, Michigan for my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary. And when my grandma moved to Dallas upon a stroke which left my grandpa blind – where he died shortly thereafter – and my great aunt Sammie flew down for the funeral – it was Gram’s sister who was her rock. I remember sitting in the car as we drove Sammie to the DFW airport and the silence from my grandmother as my aunt Jody pulled into the airport terminal. I remember seeing the two life-long confidants say their goodbyes, their subtle embrace, and my Gram seeming more sad for her sisters long-term departure than her husbands life-long departure. And when Sammie died a few years back, I know my grandmother took it really hard. As it turns out, my grandmother does not know the real reason behind her father’s abandonment. I think she speculates that the reason was because he had another family in Europe. But my Gram would meet an Ohio native of Irish and (I think) German decent which would later give me – her grandson – a Whiteness I could attach myself to – an “acceptable” lineage needed to grow up a “half-and-half” trying to pass for Anglo in a golf-course community.

Upon talking to a friend/colleague of mine at Clemson who is on an expiring student visa from Switzerland, I was schooled about the intense racism between Western and Eastern Europeans – for instance, Poles and Czechs – between lighter complexions and darker features. When I look inward, I have to face the fact that I have less Whiteness than I remembered I thought I had – or at least that I performed myself with all my life. I had spent a lifetime performing myself along a White mindset when my body was distinctly marked the opposite. I remember how people would ask me in high school if I was Mexican and I felt obligated to agree with them – for to outwardly deny such would be a blatant lie and downright disrespectful to my Mexican family – and I would counter it with something along the lines of “I’m mostly white.” This took so long for me to pin down because of the invisibility and elusiveness associated with whiteness. It is only when we, as Nakayama and Krizek remind us, demarcate and label whiteness that we can begin to comprehend its slippery and ubiquitous nature. People still mistake me for Italian or Middle Eastern and I now correct them by telling them, “No, no, I am Chex-Mex.”

“Performance Cartography” & Locating Latinidad

As my search for more brown bodies in rural South Carolina continues, I cannot help but be reminded of a brave essay I came across recently by Karma Chavez (Take a look at the piece for yourself). She puts forth a “performance cartography” as one empowering way for stamping her marginalized identity onto Latinidad. As a queer Latina feminist, Chavez takes the concept of maps – which have historically functioned as colonial tools to reinforce white constructions of space – and reconstructs it alongside storytelling and “theories of the flesh” (see also: Moraga and Anzaldua, 1983). Theories of the flesh are profound for how they bring forth stories we tell from/about our “homeplace” (see also: D. Soyini Madison 1993). I hope to have done one such thing here – to have used my personal narratives and memories to work through issues of identity and subjectivity as they relate to race/ethnicity/nationality.

Since Latinos/as have historically used embodiment and stories to navigate the present circularly with the past and into future, I advocate that we similarly adopt an “embodied mindset.” More so that we seek out spaces of belonging, put forth competing discourses that intersect and overlap, bring about new understandings of ourselves, and remain always in the process of “becoming.”

Refs (In Order of Appearance) 

Turner, V. W. (1967), ‘Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage’, The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, pp. 93-111.
Nakayama, T. K., & Krizek, R. L. (1995). Whiteness: A strategic rhetoric. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 81, 291-309.
Chavez, K. (2009), ‘Remapping Latinidad: A Performance Cartography of Latina/o Identity in Rural Nebraska, Text and Performance Quarterly, 29: 2, pp. 165-182.
Moraga, C. and G. Anzaldúa. (1983), This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, New York: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press.
Madison, D. S. (1993), “That Was My Occupation’: Oral Narrative, Performance and Black Feminist Thought’, Text and Performance Quarterly, 13, pp. 213-32.

- By Ryan Castillo, M.A. - Lecturer in Communication Studies at Clemson University.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Conversations in light of sudden loss

In the afternoon on Jan. 8, just days before the spring semester started (at A&M and here at Davidson), I got a dreadful phone call from a grad school friend to let me know that a beloved professor and mentor from our time at Texas A&M University, Dr. Jim Aune, had committed suicide on campus. Dr. Aune was the Head of the Department of Communication at Texas A&M University, the institution where I achieved my Ph.D. Needless to say, this sudden and horrific loss has many in the academic community --especially rhetoric folks who worked closely with Aune, grad students still in the dept. and those of us not too far removed from our time there, faculty colleagues of Aune's and the staff members who helped to run the department smoothly-- absolutely stunned.There is no way to possibly make sense of such a sudden and seemingly senseless loss, though we certainly have been trying to do so. The funny, quirky, and more serious moments of interaction we've all had with Dr. Aune quickly arose as a means to process the grief and attempt to focus more on the positive legacy he left behind... despite the gaping hole of loss that is so painfully apparent.

(For a beautifully honest, hilarious, comforting and personal post from one of Dr. Aune's former advisees, see Dr. Thorpe's blog.)

The symbolism of a suicide that takes place on campus deepens the mystery for so many of us and makes for a unique set of questions that may never be answered. It is difficult to comprehend what sort of perfect storm would drive someone so accomplished, well-respected, loved and admired in his field to feel no other option or outlet from whatever his troubles were except suicide.

Aune's death has sparked many conversations about social support among colleagues at various types of institutions and academics in various ranks of faculty positions. Many feel an added layer of devastation in light of the now-famous and widely criticized Forbes article saying that professors have the least stressful jobs. The comments following this article online perhaps echo the knee-jerk reactions many of us feel are warranted to something in such poor taste. The backlash to this article has been intense and, to many, not at all surprising. One blog response in particular has gone viral among my network of academic friends.

Perhaps we might see these articles/conversations as two opposite ends of a spectrum that includes plenty of in-between gray area.

Of course, we should not take for granted the many luxuries that a professor's academic lifestyle includes. I, for one, enjoy not having to physically be anywhere on some days of the week, giving myself the option of working from my home office in my slippers and with a hot pot of coffee close by to boost my creativity and productivity. I marvel everyday at the beautiful region of the country I now live in. I have supportive, kind, and diverse colleagues, motivated, hard-working students, and resources available around campus that enable me further in many ways.

All of that is not to discount the intense stresses that come with this fantastic territory. Publishing is a necessary condition for tenure, even at a small liberal arts college. Teaching excellence is a top priority. Innovative ideas and the willingness to commit to service around campus, in the community, and broader discipline are highly valued attributes professors are expected to demonstrate. Juggling many things at once is a requirement of the job, as we all know, and undoubtedly is a part of many other careers out there.

But the perception that professors have it easy --once they get through course work and comprehensive exams, successfully complete and defend the dissertation, enter the somewhat unpredictable academic job market, and finally achieve tenure-track employment in the hopes of eventually becoming tenured-- is a gross discounting of the world we inhabit, despite all of its privileges. As many online articles have noted before, securing tenure-track employment is not a given once the Ph.D. is acquired. The opportunity to even work towards tenure is tough to come by for many Ph.D.s out there on the market, and as someone who was on the market twice (once ABD, once with my Ph.D. in hand) before securing tenure-track employment, I realize that there exists a whole other set of stresses to face on the tenure track. Again, there are also many beauties of the job that I am careful not to take for granted.

Perhaps Dr. Aune's sudden suicide on campus is, in part, a testament to the stresses that many academics face. It is truly mind-boggling that someone so accomplished would be driven to this act. Especially for those interacting with him daily around the department, it is hard not to think about what could have possibly made things turn out differently. Could I have seen something that indicated this was about to happen? Could I have done something to stop this? Did I just not pay close enough attention to his demeanor that day (among any number of days prior)? As the article talking about suicide among professors in recent years states, and as Bernadette and Vincent have blogged about sudden loss, devastation, and mentorship recently, I think this simple statement sums up what is so difficult to accept:
"One needs time to accept that one could not have done anything, to accept that even people who you admire and who seem very together can do that.”
Though I've been keeping in close contact with my Aggie family as we all try to accept this loss, this blog has been therapeutic for me to write. It also serves as a prompt to reiterate what Robert blogged about in November.

May we continue to be here for one another as social support, near and far, via technology and in person (even if once a year at NCA). May we continue to make use of this blog space to facilitate our sense of solidarity as academics in various positions and at various stages in our careers, as Latino/as, and as human beings who may feel overwhelmed at times yet grateful to do what we love. 

I hope you've all had a restful holiday break. May our new semester be positive, productive, and peaceful. Let us remember that we are not alone in our chosen life path as academics and all that that process entails.

Rest in peace, Dr. Aune.