A word to my fellow grad students (y para cualquiera que guste escuchar)
As people took the streets after the election, conservatives began to write and complain that liberals were throwing a tantrum. That the stomping of feet and the shedding of tears was a childish response and went against democracy. i rejoice in my heart to see people speaking loudly against racism, misogyny, xeno and homophobia: hate. For half of this country, Trump personifies such attitudes (here’s a note by Julio Gutierrez that you can read about it). For me, too.
yo vi la elección como un afterthought, seguro de que un proceso electoral del que yo no fui parte y con el cual me relacioné de una manera mínima -insignificante si se quiere- tendría como resultado la primera presidenta de Estados Unidos. Even when Trump said he might not accept the results of the election, we all laughed and ridiculed him. The we that i speak of here is often a we that is made up of too many different worlds to condone the expression of hate based upon difference. We are either Latin American, Spanish, or from elsewhere in the world. Or else folk from the United States that have chosen to spend years of their life studying a different language or languages, a different culture or cultures from their own. Millions of people for whom such practices are not a priority elected Donald Trump as their president last week. For the left, this is quite a wake up call, un balde de agua fría que les (nos) dice que por mucho que valoremos ideales de igualdad y justicia social, estudiamos, escribimos, vivimos separados de manera abrumadora de la gente. Ante el mundo de carne y hueso, somos elitistas, nos jactamos de ser mejores que otras personas porque se supone que entendemos como funciona el mundo. Y esto no es algo que solo pasa en Estados Unidos. Creo que todos vemos algo de nuestros países, de nuestros procesos electorales, de nuestra desconexión en terminos de profesión y de clase, etc. Pero bueno, no estoy aquí para hablar de eso (aunque les dejo otra nota muy buena que lo trata mejor de lo que yo podría.
After the election i thought about my sisters, who all live and study in the United Sates. i watched distasteful and aggressive comments come up on their facebook. i walked in the streets of Kansas the day after the election and was hyper-aware that it (like Texas, where i live) is a red state and the election has thickened previously drawn lines between us and the general (white) population. i dreaded what was to come not in the political sphere where plans are drawn and laws passed (although that isn’t very encouraging); i dreaded what was to come after (part of?) the country basically accepted outright that hate was not only an acceptable part of a political platform but also perhaps a desirable precedent to set in their everyday lives. “Hey, if the president can talk that way about Mexicans why do i gotta watch my mouth?” “Hey, i too miss the good ol’ days when we didn’t have to worry about offending somebody with my words because of their sexual orientation!” “i too am sick of people coming into my country and making me change the way i live my life.” i would agree with many conservatives that dismiss liberal distress by saying “Trump didn’t create these situations.” They’re right; he didn’t. But it seems to me that the election has exacerbated them as behaviors that weren’t wrong but just had to be hidden from the public eye and can now be openly wielded again.
Like most people in my profession, i was emotionally affected by the outcome. Muchos de nosotros somos forasteros en esta tierra. Muchos de nosotros estudiamos no solamente nuestros países sino también otras regiones. Y el hecho de que estemos en este país nos sumerge desde ya en una cultura que no es la nuestra pero en la cual se supone que pensemos y contribuyamos elocuentemente a nuestra disciplina. A los gringos que estudian español o Latinomérica también siempre se les ha hecho la pregunta capciosa cuando revelan sus objetos de estudio: “what do you wanna do with that?” or, simply, “why?” (con cara de que tienen un cerote debajo de la nariz, diría mi mamá). So, beyond my initial wave of fear and disappointment, i started to think about my work.
The truth of the matter is that i have been struggling monumentally with my dissertation (said every grad student ever). But i had some truly great days leading up to Tuesday. i drove to Kansas to present in a conference where i covered the spectrum of feelings from disappointment in the opaqueness and closed-offness of the academic community to which i belong; desire to just quit and go back home and get a job as a bar tender or bench builder or card dealer; and renewed desire to actually make a contribution to that field in its pursuit of better understanding (and hopefully, in some way, of contributing also to) the world. This semester i have finally been realizing what one of my dissertation co-directors has been saying to me from the beginning: “vos lo que tenés que hacer es encontrar tu vos, escribir lo académico como escribís tu poesía.” Y tiene razón. yo siempre he visto mi escritura académica como un rompecabezas que armo pero que no tiene nada que ver, en última instancia, conmigo. Como un ejercicio. Like something that is not part of this other self that is a human that doesn’t want to pretend that he is better than anyone else or understands anyone else’s life better than they could.
i think these are things that we all struggle with and we all would articulate them a bit differently, so i leave them now to get to the point i am trying to make. Thinking about my work as a constant thing, as a relationship that i need to understand and nurture has helped quite a bit with my dissertation. i found myself having “aha” moments. I’d like to share one with you:
i was driving back to Austin from Lawerence, Kansas. It was 3 in the morning and i was driving through fog. My mind was racing for many reasons, but my dissertation was one of them, and i was frantically recording voice memos on my phone about the cloud i had just driven through. “This is what jurisdiction is like! It’s like a ghost that floats above a certain space and implies that someone, somewhere has authority over it! I’m in fuckin’ Oklahoma right now, and it feels like this fog is Trump, although he won’t be president for another two months, it’s Trump.” (Two-minute elevator speech: i am trying to understand the organization of and authority over space in sixteenth-century Guatemala through colonial texts for my dissertation). Of course, i wouldn’t want to tell my advisor that i made a breakthrough (o un pequeño pasito, es difícil decirlo) on my dissertation at 3 in the morning, severely caffeinated, driving through Oklahoma. And then i realized two things:
“Of course i wouldn’t want to tell my advisor…” i, too, like you scroll through facebook pages of PhD comics y me identifico con el comic de un grad student que se tira a los arbustos cuando pasa su advisor. We all should be writing our dissertation instead of looking at PhD comics. In fact, i should be writing my dissertation right now. Hay una culpa que siento al no estar haciéndolo. Pero al fin y al cabo de lo que me estoy dando cuenta es de que tenemos una oportunidad grande frente a nosotros. Tenemos la oportunidad de convertirnos en educadores y pensadores que son honestos ante su trabajo. That’s why i am sitting down to write this – and i apologize, i know that if this was a facebook post you would have to click see more and wouldn’t even set out to read it all because of how long it was.
I’ve always considered myself an anomaly. Un costarricense en Estados Unidos que termina aprendiendo K’iche’ y haciendo investigaciones sobre Guatemala. Y siempre quice aprehender esas divisiones con toda la fuerza de murallas inmovibles. A mí los latinos me chingan porque soy gringo, y en Costa Rica se cagarían de la risa y no dejarían de chotearme por usar una palabra como chingar. i speak the english good y en español también me la juego. tajin kinwetamaj le ch’ab’al k’iche’ choqe. Estaba en Kansas en mi conferencia y conversando con miembros del guild que es ser profesores de literatura – or any other field – en Estados Unidos. (By the way, that’s what we’re doing, and being honest about it is only going to help you realize what you need to do now and also what you’ll be able to do once you get there – and for many of us even that it isn’t what we should be doing). And i was speaking with a former professor of mine in a group with several others. Y le conté que iba a empezar a estudiar nahuatl el semestre entrante. “Ay sí, qué buena idea, empezar a estudiar Nahuatl en tu quinto año de doctorado,” dijo otro profe en son de burla. Y me dí cuenta de una cosa:
There are not that many people that are like us: that come from a different place and speak a different language but live in this here place and are engaged (to whatever extent) in the political arena and in the exchange of ideas and information and (and i think this one is the key) in the education of others. And i do not mean to exclude students from the United States who have a legitimate investment in the places and topics upon which they focus their studies. Al contrario. This is a lesson that i learn all the time. Even with my dissertation director, who has always been willing to help me figure out my work; who has always been compromised to aid me in saying what i need to say because she deems it important; whose commitment to her own work never ceases to encourage me. Por mucho que la respete, por mucho tiempo pensé que ella nunca podría entender: entender lo que escribo, entender cómo me siento, entender mi relación con mi trabajo, entenderme porque es gringa.
That, my friends, is not easy to say. But it is also the truth. And i do find it relevant to utmost extents that we reflect upon the power dynamics that result in US universities being the leaders of research when it comes to our countries and our literature and our politics. That we reflect upon the fact that we are all in this country -whether we were born here or came here for study and work- and that we have an intercultural contribution to make to it and to ours. Look at your department: it has Chileans and Spaniards and Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, Guatemaltecos, Catrachos, Nicas, Salvadoreños (hasta algún tico por ahí mal puesto), y también un montón de gringos. But if we automatically dismiss any of them as unable to deal with our fields of study; if we value their opinion less because of the cultural experience that we assume they have, then i think our process is not really that different from that of a Trump voter that we talk down so much because we could never understand how they came to think how they think. When that professor made fun of a desire to learn Nahuatl, i thought: are we scared of multiculturality? puede un pensador mexicano decirme honestamente que es una mala idea que yo aprenda nahutal, independientemente del momento y del propósito? hay que dejarse de varas: si nosotros no luchamos y hablamos y escribimos por la aceptación de un mundo multicultural, nadie va a hacerlo.
This is a frightening time. Being a student has always been a frightening endeavor because we know not where we are headed, because we are often displeased with the system of academia that we find ourselves in, because our choices in studies are less profitable or make less sense to some. What i want to say to you today is that we are a group of people that is in quite an interesting intersection of circumstances: we have the possibility to interculturally contribute to education. Whether that be here in the United States or elsewhere, it is imperative that we do so. That is what this election has made me realize. That is what this election has emboldened me to do. Ya llevo años en esto y parece que lentamente todo cobra importancia: tenemos una lista interminable de requisitos: que escribir, que publicar, que las listas, que los exámenes, que la mortal tesis… Pero también tenemos una lista interminable de potencial a alcanzar. We have our choice about it. Many of us are not happy about academia, and that’s good. Running away from it because it isn’t how we wished it was will not change it. And – for the love of god – if you realize that this isn’t for you, by all means run. Invest your energy elsewhere. As we have all realized, change doesn’t quite come from our potential articles and books. We know that, politically speaking, it involves a lot of privilege to say that you’re going to run away from this country because you don’t like the results of the election. Leaving academia now that we are here is comparable in the sense that we have been presented with privileged opportunities (sure, the opportunity to be in debt for years, or to watch the humanities crumble or all the funding go) though I think more acceptable. There is actually things you can do outside of this, things that will probably have a more immediate effect, even. But if we’re gonna stay, we have to realize that, yes, our privilege and self-centeredness are things that we have the responsibility to recognize. But also that 1) we can be voices for (small, granted) change within and we can use our opportunities to focus intellectual efforts on pressing problems and 2) we actually need to figure out how to connect our studies with the world in a more palpable way, and your voice is welcome in that process (and even if it isn’t, keep on speaking up).
En fin, invítolos: démonos cuenta de que nosotros tenemos una oportunidad única para ser educadores interculturales. De que nuestra lengua, experiencia y vida puede ser testimonio en contra del odio. No importa si queremos irnos a la mierda y salirnos de la academia. yo creo firmemente que uno educa a cualquier persona que se encuentre. No importa: Escriban, organicen, estudien, den clases, aprendan idiomas, enseñen idiomas, hagan antropología, cuéntenle a le gende de dónde son y quiénes son, no dejen de hacer ruido. Se los imploro. El odio que este país está experimentando no es tan diferente al que vemos en nuestros países. La escala de esta elección nos ha hecho pensar a todos. Ahora seamos honestos. Seamos honestos con nosotros mismos, con nuestro trabajo, y seamos honestos con nuestro prójimo. Hagamos nuestro trabajo, que por algo estamos aquí.
caigan en cuenta, hermanos,
nadie es profeta en su propia tierra.
por eso nos encontramos por estos rumbos ajenos.
es por eso que nuestra lengua es acróbata y justiciera.
sobre los hombros llevamos a los nuestros,
a los de ayer y a los de mañana.
a los de hoy, por desgracia,
se les han olvidado muchas cosas:
el polvo sobre los pisos de madera
las fogatas en la arena
y las montañas.
sobre todo las montañas
porque, sobre todo, somos alpinistas,
moiseses perdidos en busca de mandamientos.
somos peregrinos y el monte siempre llama.
nadie es profeta en su propia tierra,
pero caigan en cuenta de que
en esta tierra,
los que tengan ojos van a vernos
y los que tengan oídos van a oírnos