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Black(ness) in Bold: Black Professors, Black Experiences and Black Magic.

a dialectical display of revolution, research, ideas, theory and love.

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Dissertation

An #EcuadorianAmerican, #DissertatingLatina Chronicle: A Response to “Latinas don’t have the DNA to be successful” Narrative

“Little Latinas don’t have the DNA to be successful”, said (allegedly) Wanda Ginner, an alumna and board member for San Jose State University’s Tower Foundation.

I read this report as I was doubting my ability to be a successful candidate for postdoctoral and faculty appointments. I took a break from writing my personal statement where I wrote “My professional and academic work reflects my desire to be a professor one day”. I typed it and quickly erased it as if writing out loud sounded ridiculous. It was in that moment when I read what was reported in Inside Higher Ed, that I, a Latina, may not be good enough; and even if I did feel like I was good enough I know that someone, somewhere believed – firmly – that I was not good enough for the academy because of how people may perceive this line right here: “A Native New Yorker, Blanca is the daughter of Ecuadorian immigrants”.

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My DNA, reflected in my face and on my body and in my speech will always be indicators to someone in power that I may never be successful.

So what do I do? I continued to plow through my faculty applications. As I expressed my desire to become a professor one day, I remembered that my dad only attained a second grade education and my grandparents were farmers who were also illiterate. My father, also a farmer, knew at 9 years old that he wanted a different life for himself. He left home to pursue a life outside of agriculture.

Let’s think about that for a minute: he didn’t leave home because he was treated poorly; he left his home because he no longer wanted to be poor. At 9 years old.

What were you doing at 9 years old, Wanda Ginner?

In his 30’s, my father decided to leave Ecuador entirely and come to the U.S. where he was told he could make dollars, not sucres (i.e. former Ecuadorian currency). Prior to leaving Ecuador, he made arrangements with an acquaintance already in New York to help him with housing in Queens. This man also promised he would show my father how to take the trains. Instead, he purposefully left my father alone on a train in New York City, where my father barely knew the language and had no friend to call. My father ended up on 110th Street in Manhattan. This was 1968.

He found himself lost on 110th Street at night, so he went to a hotel, a hotel where he encountered drug dealers and prostitutes, locked himself in a room, and prayed for the morning to come. When it finally did, he did what he was accustomed to doing since he was 9 years old: explore his surroundings. He walked north and noticed St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital on 114th Street and Amsterdam. He walked a couple blocks more and saw a large campus. He entered and asked the security guard “What is this place?”.

The security guard said, “This is Columbia University, one of the best universities in the world.” In that moment my father told himself “I can work at either of these places and my daughters can come to school here.” He saw this as an opportunity for him and for a family he desired to have. My father worked at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital and learned English at Columbia University.

Unfortunately, his daughter did not make it to Columbia University as an undergraduate…but I did complete my doctorate in Higher Education and finished my dissertation entitled “Beyond Incidents and Apologies: Toward a New Understanding of Campus Racial Conflict” at Teachers College, Columbia University.

So much for that unsuccessful DNA that us poor Latinos have, huh?

Despite this strong spiritual foundation, my doubts roared (and continue to do so) at me – can I really be an intellectual, a professor, and academic?

Self-doubt aside, you know what DOESN’T help? Reading my fears on the news: “Latinas don’t have the DNA to be successful”.

The microaggressions and anti-Latino sentiment feel like a 1,000,000 cuts.

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Dr. Vega’s HEOP students

The little Ecuadorian girl from Harlem who grew up watching Rocky movies and still pops a Rocky movie in when she has to get ready to rumble with her writing shakes that dirt made of doubt off her shoulders. But that dirt/doubt gets piled on, over and over again. I have heard similar comments throughout my graduate career from faculty, I have held my hermanas/os in the struggle after they have heard related remarks, and because my focus of my dissertation is campus racial conflict, I also have to read about anti-Latino sentiment in news reports and reflected in my respondents’ interviews.

I would like to kick that dirt/doubt off my shoulder but that dirt/doubt has been piled high for Latinas/os in the academy. Really high.

For these reasons, I created the hashtag #dissertatinglatina. In the spirit of political autobiography, I documented the trials and tribulations, victories and triumphs, that I as a former dissertating Latina experienced on the road toward the professoriate. Using social media as a platform, my hope is to counteract the negativity surrounding Latina intellectualism and academic potential. Between tweets and selfies, although not sufficient, my hope is that the hashtag provides some support to other Latinas/os who are in a similar struggle of doubt.

While there are various critiques over the “selfie”, I believe that selfies particularly among people of color are powerful tools to counteract what Junot Diaz describes that White Supremacy does to Latinas/os – turn us into vampires, monsters who are genetically incapable of being successful, a people without reflection. Like Junot Diaz, I want to make a couple of mirrors. I take selfies and write my experiences as a dissertating Latina because I am tired of living in a culture where Ecuadorian women are told they are ugly or are invisible; I get sick just thinking that I live in a society where people really do feel that Latinas/os do not have the DNA to be successful.

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Dr. Vega with some of her HEOP students

 

My silence about my pain or success does no one any service – and I refuse to be in collusion with people who believe without any evidence that Latinas/os are genetically incapable of being intellectuals. I refuse to fall into the traps of White Supremacy where people who believe in Latino inferiority then feel that they have the power to make us successful.

The audacity of the Latina/o intellectual is this one: “[We] are just better at life than you”  [Richard Sherman]. We have to find a way to heal those million cuts/microaggressions we receive and still find the time to think, write, and research. We have to navigate hostile racial terrains on our campuses, while creating supportive environments for students of color.

This sounds like powerful DNA to me. Don’t you think?

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A native New Yorker, Dr. Blanca E. Vega is the daughter of Ecuadorian immigrants. She earned a doctorate (Ed.D) from the Higher and Postsecondary Education program at Teachers College, Columbia University. She recently defended her dissertation entitled: “Beyond Incidents and Apologies: Toward a New Understanding of Campus Racial Conflict. Blanca earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology from Brandeis University and a Master of Arts degree in Higher Education at New York University. Dr. Vega is currently in the process of transitioning to #DoctoraLatina from #DissertatingLatina and continues to capture these moments in the spirit of political autobiography using social media.

Dr. Vega’s research, teaching, and administrative work centers on access to, persistence in and completion of postsecondary education for underserved populations. Her work is informed by her interest in the role of race and racism in educational settings. Dr. Vega has publications and has done research in the following areas: campus racial culture and critical race theory; undocumented immigrants in higher education; and performance funding in higher education.

This post was originally published on Dr. Vega’s on November 18, 2014 at 8:16 pm here: https://raceworkracelove.wordpress.com/2014/11/

#BlackMenGreeting – Recognizing Each Other’s Presence and Humanity

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DeVaughn Ward and Pastor Al Johnson greeting local kids on their first day of school in Hartford, Connecticut.

A couple of weeks ago the #blackmengreeting hashtag made its rounds on social media. I was reminded of when I was doing interviews for my dissertation. I asked my participants to reflect on an incident in the past year and a half that spoke to the significance of their presence as Black male teachers in their schools. There is this silence that I allow to stretch for moments as they sit there in their reverie. Garreth tells an anecdote where a parent who had the reputation of being aggressive approached him at the beginning of the school year and asked him how he was going to ensure that her son was not going to end up a part of the school to prison pipeline. He says that he was completely taken aback by the question, as it was literally his second week of teaching. He explains her demeanor changes as he introduces himself and she learns more about him:

I think that a big part of it was she trusted me on a deeper level because I was a Black male and some of the experiences I had because of being Black and male; and throughout the year we were able to foster a good relationship and ultimately she trusted me a lot more than I think she would have had I not been a Black man. 

As he talks there are nods of assent from the other three participants and it becomes apparent that this is an understanding of experience that the others can speak to, too.

Alex adds that the way he interacts with the kids at his school makes him feel like his presence is a little different than just being their teacher; that there is something familial about the interactions; where he could easily be an uncle or big brother. He says:

It’s that family relationship where you can be mad at one another and still have respect for one another outside the context of the classroom. It’s a tough thing for me because I’m trying to be the teacher and they don’t always want me to be that and they want me to be something else and if they feel like I’m being too “teachery” they let me know.

Jay reiterates that being Black is enough sometimes – that being the only Black male on the teaching staff is enough and that kids sprint out of their lines to greet him or to hug him, and that he knows that it’s an acknowledgement of self.

When Ricky starts talking I am struck so deeply by his passionate stance. He literally vibrates with it as he talks. He informs us that he works at a school where 98% of the population is Black boys and that he is one of 3 Black men on the teaching staff. He says that he wants to be able to create a perfect balance between keeping a strong relationship with students and meeting academic excellence. His voice breaks a bit when he says that he tries to grow as much as he can as a professional but “without taking out the edge and rawness (he) came in with”. He goes on to say:

It’s tough because my colleagues in higher positions don’t like it, because it isn’t what the norm is. But I’ve come to realize that I really don’t care because they won’t mess with you when you are getting the results -they won’t mess with you -and that is something that I’m trying to push myself to do right now is to become the best teacher I can possibly be in this system in any system and don’t keep…don’t lose that realness and edge that I have.

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Source: yourblackworld.net

I am so profoundly struck and I see his anxiety and his worry that he will lose his edge; that he will get caught up in a system that doesn’t love him.

“Talk more,” I say to him; to them, “I see you shaking your head…and there is a lot of shaking of heads and head nodding as he (Ricky) is talking; because I think you are talking about the same thing. Talk more about what that edge is.”

He looks to them as he starts to answer…they nod to him. An affirmation. A dap. They see him. They see themselves. He says:

The edge is an unspoken respect or unspoken vibe almost, that we have. The kids know, it’s like when I see another Black man in a setting where we are not the majority and we are the minority – we always connect. If I see you walk past, I’m going to say ‘what’s up’- I give you a head nod. I give you the dap. We know what it is. It’s the same with the kids. It’s like a special power and it’s a gift – at first I thought it was both a gift and a curse, but it can’t be a curse because it can only help you push the students to where they need to be academically – it works hand in hand. Other people are great teachers and I can’t take that away from them and others are great at this and that subject but I’m great at what I do. It flows professionally and into the professional realm of our career.

When he is done talking we are silent; all of us are caught in reverence. Ricky has articulated beautifully this connection we feel as Black educators, as Black people and I know I am not the only one in the room encouraged to hear it described as a ‘gift’ and a ‘special power’.

Alex explains the dap in the school setting:

It was equally as shocking for me in retrospect to realize how much the Black nod is really, like a real thing. I think it happens in school as well. The kids are looking for us to affirm their existence and their reality, and you realize that you look to them for it, too: What’s up, how you doing? That’s the reality… yeah, that’s how we roll you know- it’s not like us to ignore each other’s existence.

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Marcelle Mentor is South African & a Ph.D. candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University. She is a former high school English Teacher. Her academic interest focuses on Critical Race Theory, with an emphasis on Black Masculinity. She is an activist, a mother of two teenaged sons; a scholar and teller of stories.

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