Monday, December 17, 2012

We Are Sitting Here And We Are Together.

It is my favorite question to ask: why do you do what you do? 

As an educator, artist and ethnographer I am interested in the intersections of communication, education and resilience. I am also interested in what inspires those within academia to do what they have chosen to do, day after day. I have asked this question to hundreds of students, faculty and staff within varied educational settings. No one answers with similar reasoning, and their answers are as unique and vivid as the fresh faces that pack our classrooms each new semester and school year.  But recently I have started to wonder if I am asking the wrong question. After the recent mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, perhaps I should be asking how – how do we do what we do especially in response to difficulty and tragedy? How do we pick up the pieces? How do we persevere? Is everything really, truly, a teachable moment?

We gave thanks.

This year’s Thanksgiving holiday was to initiate a season of firsts for our family.  It was to be the first time that my parents Christine and Frank were able to spend Thanksgiving at my home. For the last 14 years my parents were the sole caregivers to my mother’s parents, my grandparents Paul and Charlotte. My grandparents lived wonderful long lives, free of major illness and disease. My parents were able to fulfill my grandparents’ wish that they be allowed to live out their final years and days in the home they had worked all their lives to establish. “Mija, I don’t want to die in the hospital,” my grandfather would repeatedly say. My parents helped my grandparents pass in peace, free from pain and fear. This meant daily, 24-hour care provided by my parents with little room for anything else, including taking care of themselves. As you can imagine this type of care is usually quite overwhelming and exhausting for the caregiver, but it was something my parents both wanted to do. I still don’t know how they survived.

This Thanksgiving was to be the first time in 14 years that my parents would be allowed to exhale and relax without a care in the world. The idea was that they would travel from their home in East Los Angeles to ours in San Francisco so that we might spoil them beyond their heart’s content. And we did just that. We giggled, talked, gave thanks, cried, ate and drank together during a massive feast that lasted over 10 hours. In this way, I thought, I could begin to sufficiently honor my parents and the legacy of my grandparents. We had a truly beautiful day together, that is for sure. But the next day, things changed.

At approximately 5:03 p.m. the day after Thanksgiving we receive the call. My sister-in-law has died. Diabetes. She was 41. She leaves behind her husband, my big brother Franklin, and their two young girls. And then a few days later, Franklin’s mother-in-law dies. My sister-in-law and her mother were inseparable, of course. Many joked they seemed partners in crime. Over a period of time our family gingerly discussed what some of us had started to realize but could not voice. Franklin’s mother-in-law suffered from advanced diabetes as well, but things we discovered began to point to a potential suicide in response to her overwhelming grief.

Words fail at sufficiently describing these last few weeks. The confusion, the weight of it all, but also a celebration as during this very same time my mother successfully defended her dissertation, thus demonstrating what her father had always announced, “My mija is smart!” The severe simultaneity of emotions seem meant for other, more robust creations than I. When unimaginable grief visits with such accumulation there is nowhere to escape and even sleep becomes only an easily entered into regret, as you will soon have to wake and remember and remind yourself once more.

I still cannot fathom from where my big brother draws his gentle-strength and capacity for tenderness. We speak on the phone alternating between tears, laughter and silence. I am not an optimistic person and I speak honestly with him about pain and loss and he does the same with me: we are brothers. But when I find myself lacking in words he takes hold of the conversation and of me and says:

This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with. I see her everywhere I go and I don’t know what I’m going to do. But my girls – I need to make it ok for them. I have to get up and put one foot in front of the other and keep doing what I’m doing so that my girls will know that mom is always with them: she will never leave them and I will never leave them. To be honest I just have to make sure they are taken care of and that they are close to me. Nothing else matters. I see that. I want them to feel what they are ready to feel. And when they are ready, I want them to talk about whatever they want to talk about.  And I want them to be back in school, because that’s what their mother would want for them. Their friends and teachers know what happened and they are asking for my girls. They want to be together because they want to help.

“We're going to be safe, because we're sitting over here and we're all together."

As information pours out from Sandy Hook Elementary I learn more about the teachers that acted quickly, locked down their classrooms and gathered their kids in a safe space as they all had been trained to do.  "If they started crying, I would take their face and tell them, 'It's going to be ok.' I wanted that to be the last thing they heard, not the gunfire in the hall," said first-grade teacher Kaitlin Roig. Roig’s comments illustrate the most basic tenet of teaching, to the best of your abilities keep your kids safe and prevent harm. Many are calling these teachers heroes (and they are) but many of these teachers are clear to say through tears that they were only doing what a teacher is supposed to do for their kids.

It is not an easy thing to be a teacher, no matter the grade level, even in lesser trying times. Politics, policies and people seem to increasingly encroach upon and threaten any holistic approach to educating and education for reasons that we are not always meant to understand. Sometimes we aren’t listened to when it matters most. And even as many of us are asked to do exponentially more with significantly less, we do it. We show up. We do what we do not because it is easy but because it is fundamental, necessary work. Being present and facilitating a classroom when all things are attempting to pull us apart is what makes the teacher necessary in a time of doubt, disagreement and danger. Violence, power, privilege and access intersect with all things and suppressing these conversations leaves us all in peril. The teacher is a facilitator, not a saint. Moreover, I believe they are something better. Teachers are wonderful, fallible, capable human beings and at their best they are weavers of critical thought, comprehension and reasoned action. Simply put, teachers help people to help themselves. And sometimes when things become too dark to comprehend, they may even hold a hand or two.

Where do we go from here?

Sadly, there is a national script for what to do after a mass shooting. Televised news and social media repeats itself with similar calls to action, arguments and posturing. I needed a break.

This past weekend my partner and I stood in line for two hours to secure the best seats in the house at an IMAX 3D showing of The Hobbit. I was giddy with anticipation at the thought of revisiting this franchised-fantasy. As the crowd swelled in a minuscule holding area and as the indoor temperature increased, I began to panic. My mind replayed the news and I began to (for lack of a better phrase) freak out. The teacher in me emerged and I began to talk to myself. I took myself through a series of questions meant to ground and alleviate my immediate apprehension; Where are you? Who are you with? What do you know about your surroundings? What do you feel? What do you know for certain? Are you deep breathing right now? After a few minutes my pulse slowed and my apprehension lessened. My partner asked if I was ok, “I can’t stop thinking about things.” He offered a loving smile and nod, absent of any words because we both knew there was absolutely nothing that could be said.

We stood silently as I thought to myself how I would get through this, all of it. What happens next? I have absolutely no idea. Then the doors to the massive theatre opened and everyone turned and faced the same direction. No one pushed and no one yelled. Instead, everyone was giddy, too. The line began to move and as I slowly began to walk the thoughts of my brother popped into my head – just put one foot in front of the other and keep doing what you’re doing.

We go on, together. We go on together because we must.

Vincent Chandler is a doctoral candidate in international and multicultural education at The University of San Francisco. He is a lecturer in composition and communication studies and has taught at San Francisco State University, Berkeley City College and at The University of San Francisco. He has also taught at the charter high school level and for programs in Upward Bound. He may be reached at

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Reaching Out to the Other, or A Performance of Striving

Walking to where my husband said he would pick me up, I consider my new role as a student-teacher at a private university. "How important is identifying with students? How does it affect your teaching?" (Hernandez). My husband smiles at me from our new vehicle purchased specifically for the snowy winters in Colorado and tells me that we need gas ("How will we pay for gas? Why did we take the risk of buying this car?"). It is Tuesday September 4th, 2012, and earlier that morning, I had already gotten lost on my way to my department's convocation event, which welcomes new doctoral and masters students. I'm depressed and sweaty, and before I get picked up, I have decided to again walk alone towards a building that I have never seen or heard. You see, Frank Tuitt, an Associate Provost of Inclusive Excellence, is giving a talk today on bell hooks' Teaching to Transgress: Education as a Practice of Freedom entitled "Education for Social and Political Change: The Continued Search for Education as the Practice of Freedom," so although I am emotionally and physically drained, I am determined to experience this lecture. In this blog posting, I weave my reflections of my first week as a student-teacher at a private university alongside my notes from a lecture on teaching to strive for a performance that urges my fellow Latin@ communication studies scholars to reach out to each other throughout the year. Utilizing an autobiographical performance as a response to some of the blog entries on this AcademicZ website, it is my belief and argument that an ongoing analysis of our blog entries and comments to each other should continue in order to strengthen our alliances as a Latina/o Communication Studies discipline.

As I walk, I am not quite used to the humidity, so I roll up the sleeves of my button-down turquoise dress shirt. I bought it at a Marshall's clothing store (it was on sale) before I left my California home to start my doctoral program in a new state. I'm depressed because I am alone and lost and my funding has been stalled by a bureaucratic system that doesn't seem to understand that I am the closest I have been to poverty in a long time. However, I am hopeful because this talk on bell hooks and the state of education has me excited about the possibilities of reaching out to the Other. About fifteen minutes later, I find my building by following a gaggle of freshmen undergraduate students, and I sit front row center eager to hear a female voice that has pushed me to strive for freedom many times before.

However, something is wrong. The male voice is saying all the right things ("This is the most diverse freshman class we have had since I have been here"), but I cannot quite connect because I am in a sea of whiteness. I am reminded by Bernadette Calafell in a recent blog posting that "this may be a red flag. Sometimes a department has had a history of problems around race, gender, and sexuality, and they naively think the way to change this is to hire a person of color (as if we magically transform a space with our presences like unicorns) or the university puts the pressure on them to do so." Although Calafell is discussing faculty positions, it feels like students are being used in much the same way. My notes are covered with critical questions like "isn't the classroom the 'real world'?" and "Citizens? Is that the only goal of education?" Again, I am feeling alone and lost and I'm remembering Bernardita Maria Yunis Varas' recent AcademicZ posting: "When I became a citizen, I was expected to forsake my country for the United States.  But how can they not understand?" I stop building my bridge to the Other and write disappointedly in my notes that "this is not a conversation with bell hooks." The male voice is saying all the right things, but shouldn't the institution change because of this diversity? Students of color are not just a quota on a piece of paper.

Leandra Hernandez's struggles discussing the realities of academia with her female Mexican-American student perhaps comes closest to how I felt in the moment: "Was it even my place to divulge such information about how I’m very saddened at times by the unwelcoming culture here? Should I put on a straight face and pretend that racial/ethnic differences are not a problem here?" Like a random bolt of lightning on a humid Denver afternoon, Tuitt brings me back into the space by attempting a performance where he dialogues with bell hooks on how to care for the souls of our students. He says that teaching and learning comes easiest for those who focus on the soul within the mind-body-spirit matrix of a person. He professes that "everyone can learn" and that as teachers we have to "be exciting." Is this really what bell hooks would say? Should it be my goal as a teacher to simply entertain?

"Once again, we are referring to a discussion of whether or not we subvert the classroom's politics of domination simply by using different material, or by having a different, more radical standpoint" (hooks, 1994, p. 148). I cannot care for the souls of my students alone. It takes a village. I am resistant to pedagogies that ask the instructor to turn education into entertainment or to strive for success alone without a community to draw strength and guidance from. I write in my notes: "What is the students' responsibility for a pedagogy of freedom?" As if to answer my question, Tuitt urges his audience to "resist the temptation to present oneself as an all-knowing expert." I nod appreciatively because I am beginning to hear my literary hero's voice again. He continues by stating that a "democratic setting is created through sharing of personal experience" and "students must enter the classroom ready to be active... they must want to learn." Maybe, I am beginning to build a bridge to this African-American male. Why did I hesitate before?

Bernardita Maria Yunis Varas writes passionately about how "the difference as I have come to recognize vividly in grad school comes from life and lived experience, in moments, emotions, relationships and people." Like the blog entries on AcademicZ, Tuitt and hooks place a significant value on voice and its power in the classroom. Tuitt emphasizes that we must "teach with multiple pedagogical styles" and that we must "build a community of learners" by "modeling how to use voice by using and sharing [our] personal experience." Maybe, there is something here that we can use to survive this academic space. Maybe, there is something here that we can use to connect to Others.

"Coming to voice is not just the act of telling one's experience. It is using that telling strategically--to come to voice so that you can also speak freely about other subjects" (hooks, 1994, p. 148). The talk ends, and like a good audience member, I stand and applaud. As I walk to where my husband said he would pick me up, I am suddenly proud that I know what it is like to not have the money to pay bills, gas, groceries, and entertainment. I am proud to be Xicano and queer because these histories of colonization and oppression have placed me (and Others) on a very different trajectory. I am proud because I realize that I do deserve to be in this privileged space. However, like hooks, Tuitt mentions how "learning and knowing is not enough. We must take responsibility to do something with it." In other words, now that I am here--what will I do?

In the tradition of queer scholarship and women-of-color feminisms, such as in Gay Latino Studies: A Critical Reader or Chicana Feminisms: A Critical Reader, I want to offer this performance as a response to three blog entries on the AcademicZ blog for Latina/o Communication Studies. Specifically, this is a response to "Excuse me, Perdón. And other translations" by Bernardita Maria Yunis Varas, "Being Honest to One’s Students and One’s Self" by Leandra H. Hernandez, and "Post Tenure Blues" by Bernadette Marie Calafell. To me, these blog entries are already in discussion with each other, and as a chorus, these blog entries highlight the importance of striving towards a practice of freedom for Latin@s in academia. What will I do? Given the harsh realities of being Latina/o in the academy, I will urge everyone to respond to the blogs on this AcademicZ page and to write whenever you feel alone or depressed. Somehow, I made it through that first week, but I can't help but wonder if things would have been better if I would have reached out to you all instead. This space to voice my experiences has given me the courage to fail, and collectively, our experiences on the margins have given us all the strength to get up and fail--and get up again. I find hope in this striving towards freedom. Will you take up my challenge? Will you be the community that reaches out throughout the year? I humbly ask for a response, because with others who understand what is at stake, we have a better chance of doing more than just surviving.


Arrendondo, G. F., Hurtado, A., Klahn, N., Nájera-Ramírez, O., & Zavella, P. (2003). Chicana Feminisms: A Critical Reader. Durham, NC: Duke University.

Hames-García, M. & Martínez, E. J. (2011). Gay Latino Studies: A Critical Reader. Durham, NC: Duke University.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York, NY: Routledge.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Rest in Peace Nick Trujillo

Monday, October 8, 2012

Hispanicism, Catholicism, and the Presidential Vote of 2012

If and when your children and your grandchildren ask you about what role, as an electorate, Hispanics and Catholics played during the Presidential Election of 2012, what will your response be?  Will you mention the importance of demographics?  Many might wish to describe to their children how it is that Hispanics came into being when, according to Zvi Dor-Ner’s account in his now-famous book:  Columbus, they first landed on the island of Hispaniola.  The crews in Spanish ships he captained:  the Santa Maria, the Nina, and the Pinta prayed giving thanks to the Almighty and sang the Angelus in praise of God for having delivered them from the dreadful sea monsters of the deep and their hellish, dark domain.  Many times during the voyage the men were on the verge of mutiny!  Flash forward:  Our nation is voting to see which candidate will be the best Captain of our mythical flagship, the USS America.  Will America vote for change, Mitt Romney, or will they avoid a mutiny and vote for the current highest officer, President Barack Obama?  

In either case, they will be required to have the support of both Latinos and Catholics.  While “Latinos” is used more to describe the peoples of Mexico, Central America, South America, including Brazil, and the Caribbean, “Hispanics” has a broader connotation to include Spain and Portugal, as well.  (One ought to remember that at one time in the historical past the Iberian peninsula was united under one power.)  For speakers of both Spain and Portugal, it becomes easier to learn each other’s languages than is the case for other neighboring countries.  Historically, both Spain and Portugal have been rivals due to their domination of the sea lanes before the naval ascendency of England.  Today, Brazil is the engine that drives South America!  In an energy-dependent world, Mexico’s petroleum is much sought after. In 1983, less than 30 years ago, Argentina proved they could stand up to Great Britain in a quest to retake the Falkland Islands to restore its original name:  Las Malvinas.  Venezuela with their mighty oil reserves, of course, has also attempted to challenge the other nations of Latin America for leadership of the southern hemisphere!  
Why this mini-discussion of past and recent history vis-a-vis the Americas?  Perhaps, it is well to comprehend the wars between the nations of the Americas as each claimed hegemony of its region.  Certainly, the United States of America’s claim to Manifest Destiny gave the nation a self-proclaimed right to dominate North America.  The early wars with Canada, and later with New Spain, i.e., Mexico, and with Spain, itself, at the close of the 19th Century enabled the US to expand far beyond the Louisiana Purchase from France, to include half of what was previously Mexican territory.  While most of what is related here is “old hat,” the fact that many of the people of Mexico became US citizens overnight is seldom mentioned, especially when there is so much todo about so-called “illegal Immigration!”  Who are these swarthy-complected people that are invading our borders?  Why, they are all of the aforementioned and the peoples--for the most part--of the Caribbean as well, that’s who.  Small wonder, then, that they comprise a population in excess of 55 million people within the US!
In the election of November 2, 2012 hearsay language coming from political pundits state that the US Presidency cannot be won unless one of the candidates is able to amass more than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote (CNN, October 6, 2012)!  No such comment is made about any other political electorate!  Upon closer scrutiny we find that Hispanics are not necessarily a monolith, since the US census has determined that there are Black non-Hispanics and White non-Hispanics.  What does that mean or imply?  Does it mean that some Hispanics are Black and others are White.  Yes, that is the connotation.  If you are a member of that group, you need only declare Hispanic on the census form.  Some, no doubt, check both:  Hispanic and Other, as may be offered on the form.  Are Filipinos Hispanic?  If listed as Asian Pacific, then perhaps it is time they be listed “Asian Pacific Hispanics” or just Hispanics.  Their language consists of three stems:  Chinese, Indo-Malaysian, and Spanish.  Their food and clothing and dances reflect the culture of Spain.  Whether or not they might be listed as Hispanics in future census depends, at present, with the census bureau.  If they were mixed with the potpourri of those who make up Hispanics, then the Hispanic electorate would be substantially augmented.  Take into account that last year Asians and Hispanics had the largest increase in the US census.  Thus, the old adage that where there are numbers there is strength.  That’s why Hispanics make a difference!  Where do they reside?  Most anywhere in the US, in the territories, in the commonwealth of Puerto Rico, in the US Military, and on and on!  They live in the Southwest, the Southeast, and the Northeast, by and large.  Pick our largest states and you will find them living in the largest cities:  San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Antonio, Houston, Atlanta, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Kansas City, Denver, and you name it!  Winning is all about numbers!
What about the Catholic vote?  Yes, Latinos are their most sought-after group, because of their birthrate and their religious-cultural heritage that began with the conversion of native-Americans to the Faith.  Certainly, the vast majority of Hispanics are Catholic.  Hollywood, in every war film I have seen, goes out of its way to have a terrified Latino soldier make the Sign of the Cross before hitting the beach!  The Evangelicals, of the religious right, have aligned themselves with Catholics to defeat Obama!  Unlike past years, however, moderate Catholic bishops have cautioned against allowing priests to threaten their parishioners with moral consequences, if they vote for the President.  In the past and in the present, attacks on Wade versus Roe have been a no-starter for some Catholics who prefer that they, and not the government, decide whether a pregnancy ought to progress.  Certainly, Catholics do not subscribe to the use of abortion as a means of birth control!  The central issue is one that pertains to a woman’s health and well-being.  (No attempt is being made here to speak for the Church; rather, the attempt is to convey the sentiments of the many with whom the writer has spoken.)  In the future, the Democratic Platform may wish to modify Roe versus Wade to appease the Catholic Democrats within their ranks who view abortion as an abomination, except in cases of a woman’s health, rape, and incest!  Hispanic Catholics are, oftentimes, hard-pressed to vote for the best candidate when religion may become a barrier.  
Separation of Church and State is more of a myth than a reality.  Just look at how often the name of God is invoked in the printing and minting of our currency, in our swearing upon a Bible before presenting testimony to a judge and jury, and when commending a soul to his/her Maker, a fallen soldier.  What makes this election more dramatic is the presence of Hispanic youth who are now eligible to vote.  From where I stand, these new arrivals have greater power than they may realize.  If they vote for the Democratic ticket, they could add to the Hispanic bloc and help the incumbent, President Barack Obama, win a second term.  Nevertheless, the pundits agree, along with the majority of polls that Republican Governor Romney won the first Presidential Debate.  The President will have to overcome his lackluster performance to win the second debate!  The Vice-Presidential Debate could also make an incredible difference.  Both speakers are evenly matched:  while Vice-President Joseph Biden has 40 or more years of political experience, his opponent, Paul Ryan, chairs the powerful House Budget Committee in the US House of Representatives!  The debates, I believe, will have an impactful effect on the election; nevertheless, as of this writing the polls favor the President for a second term.  
See you at the debates and, please, encourage your colleagues and friends and those of La Raza Caucus and La Raza Division to vote!   

Con carino, 

A. Anthony "Tony" Oseguera, PhD, Professor Emeritus

International Broadcasting
Eastern Illinois University

Anderson, SC  29621   
October 7, 2012 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Too Brown or Not Brown Enough: Latinos, Politics in 2012 and Beyond

2012 marked the first year that Latinos were featured as major speakers at both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.  The next step, ascendency to a presidential candidacy, seems inevitable.  Unfortunately, Latino politicians have been subjected to the same set of potentially unfair expectations that frequently beset many young minority professionals. On the one hand, they are marked as insufficiently authentic representatives of their communities. The Daily Caller, for instance, noted Julian Castro’s poor command of Spanish[1] while Texas Republican Senate candidate Ted Cruz was chided by his primary opponent, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, for refusing to conduct a debate in Spanish[2].  On the other hand, they may also be designated as too ethnic: In Castro’s case, his was guilty of association with his activist mother, who was described as being a radical and a racist[3].  Unlike the prior form of criticism, however, Democrats are unlikely to levy this form of criticism against Latino Republican politicians.[4]
Criticism of Barack Obama in some cases, first as a candidate, then subsequently as President, appeared to follow a similar trajectory.  Jesse Jackson, for instance, criticized Obama for “acting like he’s white” based on Obama’s initially response to the arrest of six Black youths in Jena, LA on charges of attempted murder after a school brawl[5].  On the other hand, Glenn Beck famously noted that he believed that the President “was a guy with a deep-seated hatred for white people.”[6] Moreover, as with the aforementioned Latino politicos, criticism of Black conservative politicians has been limited to the questioning the authenticity of their ethnic identity[7] rather than demonization alleging animus toward any racial majority.
 Criticisms like these initially led me to believe that an event like Obama’s victory in 2008 was unlikely. I found it more plausible that the first president of color would likely be a member of the GOP for the same sort of contradictory criticisms that I cited above.  Surely, an African-American Republican would face some criticism in some quarters as being insufficiently representative of his race.  However, given the nature of the Democratic base, these arguments would likely fall outside of the mainstream of political discourse and would surely be ineffective ways to mobilize support among Democrats against a Republican candidate.  Conversely, because political claims of racial radicalism are almost exclusively the domain of conservatives against progressives, a Republican candidate of color would have little to worry about, presuming they successfully maneuvered through their own party primaries.
Yet, Obama’s victory in 2008 defied these expectations.  A number of factors can explain that victory, none the least of which was the degree of dissatisfaction with the status quo. .In any case, these concerns continue to color my perspective on the likelihood of a successful Latino candidate.  The two Republican candidates I referenced above, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, are both of Cuban descent, while Democrat Castro is Chicano.  Cuban Americans have a long history of support for the GOP[8], while Mexican-Americans have long-standing allegiance to the Democratic Party[9].  Using the designation “Latino” as a pan-ethnic identifier may mask very real differences among ethnic groups in favor of the broader narrative of demographic dominance.  According to the Pew Research Center, among the Hispanic population in the United States, 64.9 self-identify as being of Mexican origin, versus 3.7 percent who self identify Cuban origin.[10]In the case of the Republican Party, trumpeting their diversity with references to a constituency that has long embraced their message and represents a relatively small portion of the overall Latino population may ring hollow. Defenders of the party, however, can effectively make the case that the Republican Party during George W. Bush’s administration was more keenly aware of this and made greater outreach to the larger Latino population, a point that GWB’s brother and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has been emphasizing of late.[11]
More interesting might be Jeb Bush’s personal stake in this debate, as he himself is married to a Chicana, Columba.  Not coincidentally, political observers have long speculated that his son George Prescott Bush is an eventual heir to the Bush political dynasty. [12]Since he first emerged at the 1988 Republican National Convention at the age of 12, the young Bush has been burnishing an impressive resume befitting a future political mainstay, including military service in Afghanistan.  I have been telling my students this for well over a decade now: an eventual Presidential bid by George P. Bush seems almost inevitable.  That is a far cry from his first public appearance, where his grandfather and then Vice President George H.W. Bush described George P and his siblings to President Reagan as “Jebby's kids from Florida, the little brown ones.”[13]

That Latinos are so frequently cited as an emerging electoral force should come as little surprise by virtue of sheer demography. What that means in practice remains to be seen.  However, if George P. Bush becomes a viable candidate in 2016, his ethnicity and political affiliation may afford him advantages unavailable to his Republican and Democratic counterparts.

[1]  Geoffrey, Malloy. “DNC Speaker Julian Castro ‘Doesn't Really Speak Spanish’” The Daily Caller. Last modified September 5, 2012. Accessed September 20, 2012. <>.
[2] Graves, Lucia. “David Dewhurst Challenges Ted Cruz To Debate In Spanish.” The Huffington Post. Last modified June 4, 2012. Accessed September 20, 2012. <>.
[3] Burka, Paul. “BurkaBlog : The Second Battle of the Alamo: Fox News vs. Julián Castro’s Mom.” Texas Monthly.  Last modified September 10, 2012. Accessed September 20, 2012. <>.
[4] Such references may exist, however they remain outside of the mainstream political dialogue.
[5] Burris, Roddie A. “Jackson Slams Obama for ‘Acting White’” Last modified September 19, 2007. Accessed September 23, 2012. <>.
[6] Associated Press. “Glenn Beck: Obama Is a Racist.” CBS News. Last modified July 29, 2009. Accessed September 23, 2012. <>.
[7] Republican political consultant Ron Christie devoted a whole book to the subject.  See Christie, Ron. Acting White: The Curious History of a Racial Slur. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 2010.
[8] Miller, Bettye. “Cuban American Voters Remain in GOP Corner.” UCR Today. Last modified January 30, 2012. Accessed September 23, 2012. <>.
[9] Lopez, Mark H. “The Latino Vote in the 2010 Elections” Pew Hispanic Center. Last modified November 3, 2010. Accessed September 23,2012. <>.
[10] Motel, Seth, and Eileen Patten. “The 10 Largest Hispanic Origin Groups: Characteristics, Rankings, Top Counties.”  Pew Hispanic Center Last modified July 12, 2012. Accessed September 23, 2012. <>.
[11] Camia, Catalina. “Jeb Bush: GOP Needs to Win Back Hispanic Voters.” Last modified January 26, 2012. Accessed September 23, 2012. <>.
[12] Sharp, Deborah. “George P. Bush at Center of Campaign Buzz.” Last modified June 18, 2000. Accessed September 23, 2012. <>.
[13] Associated Press. “Bush Defends ‘Little Brown Ones’ Term for Grandchildren, Tells ’Pride and Love’” Los Angeles Times. Last modified August 17, 1988. Accessed September 23, 2012. <>.

Friday, August 31, 2012

* Latino/a Higher Education Enrollment Milestones *

     As we all embark upon a fresh academic year, I would like to draw your attention to this blurb that caught my eye in a recent email from Inside Higher Ed
     Latino enrollments in higher education passed several milestones in 2011, according to a new report from the Pew Hispanic Center:
  • Latino students are now the largest minority group among four-year college and university students.
  • Latino students now make up one quarter of community college enrollments.
  • Total Latino enrollment has passed 2 million students, or 16.5 percent of all college enrollments.
     Having made the transition within little over a year from grad student to new Ph.D. to full time lecturer to tenure-track faculty member, the preceding news comes as an encouraging testament to the value of higher education and the importance of accessibility and opportunity. 

     I have thought a lot about types of institutions lately, especially while getting to know all my new faculty peers at various formal and informal orientation events as we all anticipate our new positions and the campus culture here. While I have experience teaching at big state schools, a community college, an open enrollment "commuter" university, and now a highly selective liberal arts college, I know that undoubtedly the student demographics influence the examples I choose to make the course content relevant and applicable to my students' lives. 

     In a recent faculty development workshop I attended, we discussed the role nonverbal communication plays in our perceived credibility, likeability, and authoritative command in the classroom. There was brief mention of how race, ethnicity, gender, and other nonverbal identities we wear on our external shells factor into how we are seen by our students. I made the point in the workshop that it is often the case that when minorities are in positions of power, they are more noticeable because they are not as common. This can be negative because we may experience more challenges to our authority from students. This can also, however, be a positive because we can provide mentorship to our students and embodied diversity. 

     Increasing numbers of Latino/as enrolling in universities and colleges is a sign of progress. There are more initiatives these days towards also increasing faculty diversity to reflect the diversity of students in higher education. While there are many kinks to work out in this process of inclusiveness and truly embracing difference, I am happy to at least see that the trend is growing progressively. As a young Latina professor, I am eager to see what the future holds as a result of the diversification of higher education. I want to start this year on a note of optimism. Cheers to you all for a productive, positive, and peaceful semester!  

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Latino Performatives: No Consensus on Betweenness

I am a biracial White-Latino communication scholar who lives in the Midwest in the southern tip of Illinois in the college town of Carbondale. I am a performance poet and educator. Originally from California, I moved to Illinois to pursue my graduate education. I was raised by my white father and stepmother in a predominately white area in the Bay Area. Mi madre Mexicana was diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was just one year old so I grew up somewhat alienated from my Latino identity. My dissertation is about reclaiming my biracial Latino identity, telling my mother’s story, and locating myself in relationship to place. I have come to call myself a “merry Midwest mestizo”—a self-naming for my hybrid Latino, White, and biracial being in the world. My dissertation follows and extends the work of Latina communication scholars (Viramontes, Calafell, Chavez) who have examined the meaning of Latina/o identity outside the context of the North American Southwest. I identify and give meaning to my biracial identity in the context of, what I call, the “Midwest-South.” My dissertation deals with the spaces between: between and White-Latino, between California and Illinois, between the Midwest and the South, between racial identities, between my White, Mexican, and Latino identities, and between my brown and white identities, and all their messy intersections. I often use aesthetic qualitative methods like poetry and performative writing. What follows is more a conceptual work in progress that takes a step back and examines the slippery-ness of the “Latino/a,” particularly as it stands among the black and white racial binary.

In a powerful framing article, in a special issue of Text and Performance Quarterly on Latina/o performances, Bernadette Calafell and Shane T. Moreman, discuss the difficulty of translating “Latinidad” into an English term at the confluence of performativity—“Latinivity?” they ask (123). Following their lead, it seems to me, that “Latinidad” is already defined in some very real sense by performativity, in repetitions, in reiterations, in ways of being. Latinidad is accomplished through mundane performances of race (in relationship to) culture, ritual, and ways of being. Taking the performative turn with race would allow us to see, like John T. Warren understood, that performance is a constitutive component of our racial identities, moving away from static or essential understandings of race, to a more fluid one.

This understanding may mirror the complexity of the term “Latina/o” itself. “Latina/o” is a strangely precarious discursive racial designation that is caught up with umbrella terms like “Hispanic,” and “Chicano,” or a myriad of other self-identifying terms. “Latino/a” may have more to do with self-identification than ascription by others, but at the same time never independent of ascription by others. In my experience and my experience growing up biracial in a white context, I think that identification with the term sometimes has a strong relationship with speaking Spanish; the way identity so often is immersed in language. Growing up without my Mexican mother in the home, I never learned to speak Spanish. To this day, not speaking Spanish is big issue of mine. Latina/o functions like any umbrella term, unifying a group, but at the same time also glossing substantial differences between groups of Latinas/os. In short, what I like to call “brown” doesn’t hold still; it can’t easily be held down. It seems as though a defining feature, if there is any, of “browness” is its slippery-ness. Racial betweenness actually comes to constitute the identity category. Brown. Sometimes lighter sometimes darker, but always very hard to pin down. Of course, “brown” is color, but not a race.

My experience with the 2010 census may serve as a case and point. In April of that year, along with people all over the country, I received my census form. I filled it out along with my roommate at the time, for the household that we both comprised at the time. As we filled out the first page dealing with how many people lived in the household and asking for an “X” to be put in the proper boxes, right away, I, as a person living in the household, encountered a fascinating problem. The problem stemmed from questions 8 and 9. The former was concerned with “Hispanic Origin,” asking if the person was “of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin,” while the latter was concerned with the person’s race. What was fascinating was that there were two separate designations prefaced by words in bold black type: “NOTE: Please answer BOTH 8 about Hispanic Origin and Question 9 about race. For the census, Hispanic origins are not races” (my emphasis here). For question 8, there were four or five possible answers, including one box for Mexican, Mexican American, and Chicano, a box for Puerto Rican, a box for Cuban, and a box for “another Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin.”

Question 9 was presumed to be exclusively concerned with the question of race. The census provided an opportunity to “mark one or more boxes,” which as biracial person, was a welcome improvement from previous surveys. Then the question provided a dizzying 13 possible races that could be checked, including “Other Asian” and “Other Pacific Islander” which were to be clarified by writing in the boxes with  “Laotian” or “Pakistani” as examples. “White” and “Black, African Am., or Negro” were, of course, present. But what was absent, what was nowhere to be found, was brown. Brown did not exist. There was no “brown” race according to the 2010 census. Brown is a color like tan or crème or khaki. But brown is not a race.

The whole activity highlighted for me the ways that “Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin”—whatever you want to call it—has a possible incoherence that deconstructs the process of racialization itself. Struggling to fill out the census reveals race, with its history as pseudo-science (is it skin color?), and it’s colonial legacy (are we now the race of the conquerors?) as a dubious socially categorical, measurable, static phenomenon. It’s not just culture implied by “Hispanic origins;” it’s not just biology or phenotype implied by a racial category; it’s not just a region or a country (Cuba or Puerto Rico), it’s all of them. Or none of them. Or simply one of them— sometimes it could just be one, no less powerful identity marker, that makes a Latina/o identify a certain way.

Critical Race Theorists have for decades talked about the ways that race get stuck between the binary of black and White (Delgado and Sefancic). Racial binaries bind racial thinking. Race as an issue, comes to mean White people in contradistinction to African Americans or Black people. In the general mind about race, not much exists in between. It’s a black and white thing. But really, the census highlighted for me the potential for brown to take the whole thing down: racial categorization cannot seem to handle the betweeness that is already at work in people of Latino or Hispanic origin. Some of us our light brown, some of us are dark brown, some of us speak Spanish, some of us do not.  Specially designed surveys can’t encompass it. Historically, for example, Mexicans are already a mix of two historically hitherto discretely “distinct” races: Europeans (Spanish) and Native American Aztecs. So what did the Census Bureau do? They went right around it by parsing Latino from race, re-mapping the black-white binary onto a group that was always already between.

In defiance, I chose “Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin” and then I checked “White,” and, after that, I checked “Native American,” I wrote in “Mexican.” Of course, I violated the logic of the survey, nullifying its measures. I should have written “Brown.” There is already black and white. Looking back on it, I should of put in Aztec for the “name of my tribe.” That response would have been historically accurate. Needless to say, a couple months after I had moved from the house, a census person came knocking on the door to clarify the information for our household. She cleared it up, most likely glossing some part of our racial identities for the sake of categorization. But I share the story because right away it demonstrates that brown doesn’t hold.

Certainly there are Black Latinas or Afro-Latinas throughout the Americas. Latin America today is much more “Black” than people often know or acknowledge. There are 150 million decedents of slaves in central and southern America (Cevallos). This historical racial influence on the United States should not be overlooked.  Many of the slaves who ended up in Louisiana had already spent time in the Caribbean. At the same time, there are lighter skinned, White passing Latinos. There are many Mexicans with blond hair and blue eyes. And there are of course brown Latinas/os — Latinas/os who are both and somehow neither. Latina/o is already a mix that cannot be extrapolated, bifurcated, or divided, without undo pain by the terms “White” or “Black.” It may be both. It may be one. It may be neither. The term cannot be separated from a complicated biology, history, and culture.

As Latinas/os, our very existence, then, seems to undermine black and white categorical thinking. Brown bounces, slips, doesn’t hold still, changes in the light, and is contingent on what one is standing next to. It may be imbued in performativity. Or language. Or history.

There are far are more questions than answers. If Latinos in North America, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean came about through years of mixing, then where does “the mixed race” lay as a discrete race? What of the African influences on Latinos, because of the slave trade throughout the Western hemisphere and the world, from Virginia to Argentina? And it gets even more complex as we consider biracial people of Latino descent—are they not mixes of mixes? Latina/o seems mixed all the way down. Delving at these questions demystifies racial thinking, getting at more accurate accounts of peoples’ histories, undermining race as discrete phenotypic thinking. And when we add performativity to the conversation it changes and complicates Latina/o even further, troubling essentialist static notions of race. The term is already immersed in a confluence with performativity and other factors. That is, skin itself is already between, already mutable, changing according to history, context. Sure it’s contingent on who your parents are and who your parents aren’t. Or where you stand in the family photo...Café con leche like coffee mixed with milk. Piel Morena o peil Blanca, dark skin y light skin, Aztec noses or African noses, Blond hair and blue-eyed Mexicans, Light-Skinned Mulattos. It’s Afro Mestizaje in the Caribbean. African Creoles in New Orleans. Mestizaje is the process of mixing and thus a slippery-ness must be part of “Latina/o.”

The space between—Latinidad, my Mexican-ness, my biracial identity, California-Illinois, metaphor, and mestizaje (hybridity in the Mexican context)—is a very rich concept for my dissertation and for my identity literally and figuratively. I want to continue to embrace knowledge at the intersections of race, space, landscape, metaphor, poetry, personal narrative and performative writing. I want to stick between.
Works Cited 

Calafell, Bernadette Marie and Shane T. Moreman. “Envisioning an academic readership: Latina/o Performativities per the form of Publication.” Spec issue of Text and Performance Quarterly 29.2 (2009): 123-130. Print. 

Calafell, Bernadette Marie. “Transforming Landscapes through Performance: ‘Y Soy Chicana/o’in the New Latina/o South.”Latina/o Communication Studies: Theorizing Performance. New York: Peter Lang, 2007. 13-51. Print.

Cevallos, Diego. “Latin America: Afro-Descendants Marginalized and Ignored.” Inter Press Service News Industry. 19 May 2005. Web. 30 April 2011.

Chávez, Karma R. “Remapping Latinidad: A Performance Cartography of Latina/o Identity in Rural Nebraska.” Spec. issue of Text and Performance Quarterly 29. 2 (2009): 165-82. Print.

Delgado, Richard and Jean Stefancic. Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. New York: NYU Press, 2001. Print.

Viramontes, Adrienne. On Becoming Chicana in the Calumet Region: A Phenomenolog of Decolonization. Diss. Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. 2005. Print.