I Am A Woman Of No Consequence

Inspired by Teresa Córdova’s “Power and Knowledge: Colonialism in the Academy” in Living Chicana Theory (1998) edited by Carla Trujillo.

As a first-generation college student, and working-class Xicana in a doctoral program, se que soy una mujer cualquiera. I write this for the fact that it is, and in this moment, I am in the process of re-calibrating my goals and healing from a traumatic semester as a graduate student. You see, I get lost from time to time because of the pressure I feel to leave my less powerful self behind in order to become a Great Academic. You know, the kind that is head-hunted by universities and whose work is scheduled reading in course calendars across the nation as a must.

But, let’s face it; that will never be me. Soy una mujer cualquiera, and as such, those are not nor have ever been my dreams. I decided to pursue a doctoral degree some years ago because I wanted to help my community, because as much as comp-rhet people have considered and written about POC in their classrooms, I dare say they still don’t understand. Or maybe they do, but they still believe their way of knowing is the only way to succeed.

I care, learn, and write in a brown body. I care about, learn about, and write about people in brown and colored bodies. Y por eso soy una mujer cualquiera. My work will be considered, if ever considered at all, work from the margins. You know, optional readings or the readings scheduled at the end of the semester because whiteness comes first then issues of “diversity.”

Soy una mujer cualquiera. I can state the problems I see, but I can never name them problems unless I use a white way of knowing to point them out and discuss them. Soy una mujer cualquiera.

Becoming Unbecoming

I am feeling things today.

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Stop collapsing all POC into one homogeneous group. Stop ignoring the hierarchy set in place according to the color line.

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I’ve read so many opinions on this, and it’s astounding how hard it is for people to realize that the POC category does not automatically lead to peace, harmony, and understanding; we are not all the same, and we do not all experience prejudice or racism in the same way. Comments like, “Surely a Latino in the US knows what it is like to experience prejudice, so why?” or “the cop was not white” completely flatten the issue and erases the fact that, while Latinx people are, for the most part, POC, there is always a certain amount of privilege that comes along with having lighter skin in the Americas because of European colonization. It doesn’t mean we are loved and accepted, but it does mean something.

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Almost ALL retention/student success initiatives! [find “solutions” for gaps that don’t fight systemic inequalities]

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High impact practices, where discussions of “study away” rather than “study abroad” are seen as inclusive. Retrofitting practices that “work” for white middle-class students is not inclusion. But it is evidence of the exclusionary practices of today.

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Academia isn’t worth it. Writing about things people only care about in theory isn’t worth it. Doing things in the community; that’s where I need to be.

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I need to reject the colonialist epistemology in order to talk about the things I need to talk about. But, let’s be real. Using brown scholars others my work. It puts it in the margins. In the optional readings. Who am I writing for anyway?

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I think about my friends, mentors, and professors here. I think about how well I perform middle-class whiteness.  How many of them know that I am my mother’s 8th child (out of a total of 9)? How many know that I grew up poor, that my (paternal) grandmother bought my father’s children 5 outfits for school each summer, that I grew up on government assistance and medicaid? That I have been to the dentist only a handful of times in my life, and 3 were this past year? How many of them know what I mean when I say “I grew up migrant,” that during hot as hell summers my immediate family and extended members of my family would travel to chop the weeds in cotton fields, that when I was too young to help I sat and played in the dirt and took them water? How many of them know that my mother only has an 8th grade special ed education? How many other them know that my (maternal) grandfather was illiterate? How many of them know how unlikely it is that I am even here?

If they don’t, do they know me?

That part of me is not welcomed, and even if it was, it wouldn’t really be understood, so why waste my time?

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Becoming unbecoming means, simply, being myself, not preforming middle-class whiteness. It means embracing an epistemology and rejecting another. It means choosing to speak and write as an Other to Others. But that’s not becoming. Because what happens when white and whiteness is not centered? How can they make sense of me?

“How does a brown body know?” A reflection

The reading that inspired this post:

Cruz, Cindy. “Toward an Epistemology of a Brown Body.” Chicanca/Latina Education in Everyday Life: Feminista Perspective on Pedagogy and Epistemology, edited by Dolores Delgado Bernal, C. Alejandra Elenes, Francisca E. Godines, and Sofia Villenas, State University of New York Press, 2006, pp. 59-75.

Since first joining the conversation, I always rejected the notion of objectivity, as well as the rationality/feelings dichotomy–“by inviting feeling one does not automatically leave out the thought process.” As I continue to read Chicana feminist work and reflect on my experiences as a student and my teacher identity, I realize there is more to this rejection than a simple stance I took years ago (and found white authors to cite accordingly).

I think my move from South Texas to Oklahoma awoke me–the ache of wanting to be surrounded by people who just get it. This displacement/dismemberment from my culture isn’t the first; it’s just another, further leap into success that made  it undoubtedly clear how my “brown body, in its migrations between first and third worlds, act and is acted on by the political and economic forces of globalization” (Cruz 62). The move was a shift in current, and I could not articulate, but I could feel  being swept into the Dominant waves of Terry Eagleton’s Westward voyage (Cruz 62), and for many years, it is the direction in which I aimed to travel. It is the direction we are taught to desire though West is given other names like “college degree” and “social mobility.” For many of us, a college degree is how we achieve social mobility. But no one ever tells you what you are giving up, that those goals aren’t just about attaining good jobs that pay better; they are about accumulating whiteness, and in that process, rejecting our Otherness.

I’ve read scholarship that has the audacity to claim that deciding to pursue a college education is a commitment to the subjection of, in my words, whiteness. But what that scholarship conveniently ignores is that the people of the working classes, especially the people of color from the working classes are constantly bombarded with messages our entire lives that tell us who we are is not good enough, not enough to succeed. Eagerly, from the combination of seeing our families struggle and seeing ourselves as inadequate, we accept the terms and conditions of whiteness. Some of us reject it. Some of us push through it. Some of us live in the continual flux of acceptance, rejections, and pushing through it.

Talk to me about retention, and I can tell you about what I’ve read, but mostly, I’ll want to talk about what I saw and experienced as a FYS instructor. In academia, I am taught that the scholarship trumps my experience every time, as contradictory, as inefficiently practiced that scholarship is, it wins. Academia tells me that empiricism matters more than my experiences. Academia tells me that I cannot be trusted, that I should not trust myself. But if I happen to read something in a journal that supports my experience, well then, that’s a different story. How does the brown body know in academia? It doesn’t, so it’s given “objective tools,” “logic,” and “reason” created by and reproduced for white bodies.

I have never and still don’t desire to publish anything I write for class, as much as my professors attempt to have us write publishable papers or conference presentations. I never really knew why, but I always said told myself it is because I don’t take class work as seriously as I would my own work. As I am working on my first publication (as a co-author), I get to see, feel, and hear my true voice.  At the end of this semester, I began reading Chicana feminist work to recover from another semester in a PhD program. I was shocked with what I discovered. I read people who sound like me (use a personal voice), who use two languages like I do, people who reject dualism and the dichotomy between emotion and reason…I share this with the Chicana feminists I have never read before from the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

I felt that the further along in academia I tread, the more disconnected I become from my cultural identity, the more I reject myself.

Brown bodies are still being colonized. As a result, our bodies accumulate similar needs and wounds, although though separate in time and space.

The brown body knows lived theory.