The Greatest Lessons

Before writing an apology, you must first swallow pride and everything with it. I’ve been thinking long and hard, meditating deep and wide, and even took more time to meditate before consulting with a Buddhist monk before writing this. “There is no dishonor if your intentions were noble,” he said, “but it might be good to write something to balance.” And in this, everything: my pride, my ambivalence because I did want to help my community, and even the trespass against my brother and mentor, Cinto.

I have had the strange good fortune of having incredible mentors, those who represent National Endowments for the Arts, Griffin Prize, Los Angeles and New York Times Best Sellers, schools from Harvard to New York University, from academies like the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies. And I think Cinto as my personal mentor, probably one of the most significant especially because of the home we share and envision.

Because I don’t want to make this sappy, I’ll make it succinct: Cinto represents everything I’ve been able to claim after 2010: My first job as Administration for Fort Worth ISD was a direct result of his network, which I believe also signified his vision in me. From there, I made sure to progress and have been able to – I’m now writing from NYC.

Jacinto, though I’ve never told him because I do not like to emote, is actually a kind of father figure for me. I’m not close with my father. I don’t remember most of him from childhood. I’ve tried to write poems about my father, but only the memory of clanking metal and a garage full of engines comes through. My father and I are still figuring out our relationship, and so it’s strange to have found a man who not only shares my visions but also has had the generosity to guide me, moreso, and as of late, also to forgive me. And I’m sorry to have trespassed on him.

As bitter as the pride-pill goes: I must say I should have checked my sources. I want to re-iterate that I never accused Cinto of anything, and that thought never entered my mind. That those sources made strong statements and still wished to remain anonymous, there is no grounding for what was reported. I also want to re-iterate that I believe that strong educational programming requires intersectionality – the inclusion of mathematics, science, academic and professional development – in order to ascertain global competitiveness; something the North Side, and other communities, has needed for quite some time; and I also believe that Cinto is the one to stand at the helm.

There is already much division in the world; enough hate to spill over into the afterlife; too much distrust in a time of great change and possibility.

In a strange way, I’m glad that here is the opportunity to show the power of compassion, resolution, and the spiritual bond between brothers, family in this community we share.

I’m taking a pause from this blogging stuff – believe it or not, the blog is only a little bit older than the post, so still very young – and I am still working, writing my second book, preparing for two conferences, and wondering why I’m trying to add more when my life is now New York (though, of course, my roots are always with North Side, my Mexicanness).

Cinto and I discussed ways to create steam with the arts, and that’s when I proposed a call for submissions – that the blog would showcase talent from the community. Cinto, being Board Representative for District 1, asked for Diamond Hill’s and North Side’s representation, and naturally I said of course. After speaking with my publishing company, Cloud City Press opened its arms to this collaboration

What this art is going to look like, we don’t know. We thought of creating “themes”, but that might be too restrictive (unless that’s what y’all want). All I can say is, there’s an open call for art – poetry, flash fiction, prose, graphic arts, videos, singing, collages, news about arts, the possibility is with you.

Please send your submissions, questions, etc, to: professor.mex@gmail.com

What better way to demonstrate the transformative nature of forgiveness than this announcement – an idea born from two North Siders with the CommUNITY in our mind!

Thank you all, for my greatest lesson.

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Lady O: A Mutual Birthday Wish for Equal Education

Lady Obama,

Birthday cheers from one January spirit to another!

I am writing not just to celebrate your birthday, but also to remember the younger Princeton scholar whose thesis has allowed us to see the struggle that still remains today. I thank you for your thesis, for being part of the Education Summit, and for not changing.

On your birthday weekend is also the Education Summit, and so I believe this is a great wave of synchronicities in which your vision, our vision — that of a more inclusive university, where students from marginalized communities feel welcomed as individuals, where the next generation represents a culmination of dreams and hopes that are necessary for addressing the questions of tomorrow — can come to closer realization; a birthday wish, if you will.

And, so, in addressing these questions arise another set of questions:

  • rising student debt

  • rising college President pay rate

  • the DREAM Act

  • the Achievement Gap

  • the School-to-Prison Pipeline

  • Texas’s State Board of Education’s cultural erasure

  • Increasing recruitment and retention for students of color from marginalized communities into institutions of higher education, especially the “elite”

  • Creating cultural awareness on campuses so as to foster an environment for first-generation students and/or students from marginalized backgrounds
  • institutional racism in form of the glass ceiling on the total population of student, faculty, and staff of color at elite institutions

  • and even the more philosophical problem of making students from marginalized communities feel more included at these institutions.

I’ve read Mr. Obama’s poetry and critical thought — and in this capacity would like to share that I, too, am a poet and critical thinker. I believe we share this affinity for a love that transcends boundaries, hate, and confusion, and also the need to create a better world through that human connection. I believe that love compels to me speak and act.

Lady Obama, I thank you for the candor of your thesis, for the connection I felt albeit we represent different spaces and times; and I also feel that I have been made more aware of my Latinidad after having attended Macalester, a predominantly white, “elite”, private college in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Macalester provided my first mattress, first bedroom, the promise of consistently healthy meals, a gym, community garden, artistic spaces, a neighborhood in which I could feel safe (though I was arrested at gun pointed, pressured to identify a suspect, but declined because I could not recall any of the three faces), and I ultimately found, on my own accord, spaces in which I felt culturally accepted — the Department of Multicultural Department, and our English and American Studies Departments. I think it’s understandable that the latter would be one of the more diverse, and so I came to appreciate the English Department for the diversity it did contain. Outside of these departments, there is very little overall diversity in the college.

I stayed within the American Studies and English Departments, because they were the few spaces where I felt first like a student, and second like a person with a certain skin tone.

Last year, I wrote an article addressing the 10-year 20% glass ceiling on the total number of faculty and staff of color which Macalester hires — a trend that seems to operate at other “elite”, “hyperselective” institutions of higher education, too. It all came about whenever Wang Ping — the oldest English Department faculty member, a judge for both the National Endowments for the Arts and Griffin Prize of Canada, director for the international Kinship of Rivers Project, and who authors consistently ground-breaking poetry — spoke up about having been denied several promotions, which were instead given to newly hired staff with a fraction of her publications, and who were also usually white and male. In my article I present the need to address this glass ceiling as a perpetuation of institutional racism, and also the need to resolve it.

While Macalester used its monetary resources to fund lawyers and attempted to impose those costs onto Wang Ping’s personal finances, we ultimately won against her deposition. We were happy to have won, because it was also a symbolic gesture that the (majority white) administration at Macalester accepted the identification of institutional racism; however, and around the same time, the college “let go” of another Asian-American faculty member, and thus “balanced out” the population of faculty of color on campus — a mathematical prediction I conjecture in the article. It was and is at this point, what we saw, again, the perpetutation of the glass ceiling.

It appears to me that we have thus reached the next frontier in Civil Rights: representation as faculty, staff, administration, and presidents of color in institutions of higher education — especially those of “hyperselective” status.

I made aware that the critical committees at Macalester — namely the Faculty Personnel Committee, that which decides fair pay, promotion, tenure — remain majority white, and so do not reflect the shift in paradigm Macalester theoretically upholds; its four pillars are: multiculturalism, internationalism, civic engagement, and academic excellence. And yet when I erected these four pillars by discussing the problematic nature of Macalester’s 20% glass ceiling on faculty and staff of color retention, which has occurred for at least 10 years, the following year, in 2014, Macalester’s committee did not diversify but rather regressed by voting out the remaining 3 faculty of color and replacing them with white members instead.

I am writing to you, because I believe that higher education is in a state of emergency. Lady Obama, I was happy to read your thesis, because it made me feel as if I was not alone. And I do believe there are other students out there who feel the same way.  Indeed, a recent graduate from Wheaton focused on the retention rate for students of color, and between our two articles there are clear trends which affect students, faculty, and staff of color on campus in very similar ways.

I am writing because time is critical. The question is how to bring in more students to the universities and increase their matriculation and retention, especially if they represent historically marginalized communities. I graduated from Macalester not just because of my personal drive, but because I surrounded myself with faculty and staff of color with whom I could identify, who could understand me as a person, and thus guide me in the exact ways I needed. It is crucial for students to find their true mentor.

I find it hard to compromise that the same majority-white faculty members, who perpetuate the power against faculty and staff of color, are also professors; that these “teachers” see first my skin and then, maybe, recognize my brain; moreso, that they keep behind the faculty and staff of color, whom one day I wish to be, I thus begin to question: If these white faculty members and committees do not recognize the gifts of my professors — and if these decisions reflect in institutionally racist patterns, which thus reflect their aggregate individual attitudes and behaviors towards scholars of color — how will they recognize the gift in me, in my classmates and colleagues?

Please, let me be clear in saying there is great support from individual faculty members, especially faculty of color, who were — and even to this day, are — dedicated to see me and many alumni of color thrive. It’s usually the majority white administration and majority white committees which continue to hold back students of color, by repressing the individual faculty and staff of color, who are interested invested in creating structural support.

The road toward becoming the faculty, staff, professor, administrator, president of color is also a difficult journey. Just today at the dinner table, my sister — in her second year at a community college — informed me she did not qualify for financial aid; and had to pay out of pocket. I myself, though an MFA student, had to take out loans so that I could have a place to live, food to eat, a metrocard to last me, and even now do not have my own computer. The debt I have incurred is one I will be paying most likely well into retirement.

It’s not uncommon to hear people from my neighborhood — the North Side of Fort Worth, a community of majority-migrant, ESL, first-generation people of lower income — to weigh out either the short-term pay of a vocational job with the long-term debt with which higher education has now become “equitable”. And I cannot necessarily blame them. The average student debt has increased by 63%, roughly $25 thousand dollars, in less than a decade; and though there seems to be a movement against the banks’ avarice, at which rate or when this might be addressed seems far from predictable. Further, this equation is in certain ways a privilege in and of itself; because the North Side is majority-migrant, some people will never have the opportunity to weight such a decision — the opportunity for higher education is indeed more of a dream, and this is why we call my brothers and sisters DREAMers.

I want to clarify that I’m not trying to be a “downer” on your birthday; rather, I see this as a celebration: that, because of your work with the community, people like me, who call the North Side home, have risen despite circumstance; that, I believe, your thesis from ‘85 had something to do with the liberation I’ve found today; this is, I believe, the butterfly effect at work, and I am able to “converse” with you through this letter even now. And we can celebrate the gifts that have been gifted through some strange synchronicity, earned through determination and vigor, by giving back — as we already do, and by this, I thank you again — to those who are still in the circumstances and times we can identify as our personal past.

Lady Obama, your thesis appeared in 1985, and yet the sentiments of nuanced discrimination, alienation, not-being-brain-enough still resonate when I graduated in 2010. I see my baby sister, niece, and nephew, and fear that their generosity, tenacity to learn, and even how they question unequal polities (“Why does A get  ______, but not me?”), will go unnoticed; that they will have to navigate the already convoluted racial constructions in higher education; that, if they decide to become poets, they will use their voice on dismantling racism, and not on the creation of love (I hope to have dismantled at least some of it, so that their focus could be on love). I know we are far from this ideal world, but I believe reaching the mountain top begins with steps like these. This summit is the perfect way to begin these hard, serious questions; to recognize that the future has given an opportunity to provide justice for even the inequities our former selves have lived, the same experiences others live today.

Mr. and Lady Obama, I thank you for the Summit, for your warm hearts and the many ways you make this country more inclusive. I thank you for the thunder you made with your theses, your poetry. I thank you for the ability to say thank you, for the opportunity to tell you what we might have known all along.

It is a pleasure even to think that these words might meet your eyes. It wasn’t until your election and residency at The House that I first began to feel a part of this great nation; that you represent the hope we have heard all along awakened in me a new sense of possibility.

Best,

Daniel Vidal Soto
AKA Professor Mex

PS: My mother wants me to relay that Mr. Obama’s election was the first in which she voted (and, of course, what a mother requests of her son, he must obey!).

Texas High School Will Graduate New Generation of Stereotypes (Updated)

No, this isn’t an article from The Onion.

North Side High School — located in Fort Worth’s “North Side”, a predominantly Latino, migrant, first-generation community — has decided to create a new generation of stereotypes by mis-allocating $13 million that could have been used to expand its already existent and largely successful medical magnet program; and instead reduced the medical magnet school with plans to remove it altogether, and opened a new culinary arts program that does not intersect math, science, or business administration, which would otherwise prepare its students for a globalizing, increasingly competitive university market. And yet, the North Side is not alone; this trend — underresourcing vital educational programs in schools that are predominantly People of Color, and shifting from the professional to vocational — is a statewide phenomena. For sake of this article, however, the case study is North Side High School in Fort Worth Texas.


Let me first jump back a few centuries and put NS in an historical context. In the 1960s, there emerged “Mexican schools” in order to address the “Mexican problem” (too many Mexicans, that is). The fear by white administrators and politicians was the realization that the large Mexican population would one day graduate and fill in positions of power — doctors, lawyers, professors, public intellectuals, etc. The Mexican Schools had two parts: mechanics for the men, and cosmetology for the women. It was a way to funnel Mexicans outside of the professional route, and into the vocational. North Side still has these programs, and so has remained stuck in this systemically racist framework.


Let me also be clear that I am not critiquing anybody who has graduated from these programs. My father graduated from the mechanics program at Diamond Hill; and while my mother dropped out of middle school, graduated from cosmetology school. Being their son, they always told me go for the books not the vocation. My mother once broke her spine, which didn’t allow her to stand for long periods of time to cut hair, and had to quit her profession, leaving my father with the financial responsibility. However, my father also had to miss one-and-a-half years of work after needing two hip replacements surgeries, after he had been exposed to chemicals from his work. My parents told me go to the professional and not the vocational, because they were protecting me from the struggles with which I grew up.


I understand the struggle, the need to find a steady job, because it is survival that is at stake. I am a son of North Side, and write this letter because a new culinary arts program will only graduate a generation of stereotypes. We need doctors, not chefs.


I understand artistic expression. I myself am a poet. But I was admitted to the university because of my experience working with university laboratories through the medical magnet program, because I was taught how to articulate my thoughts. My biggest critique about the magnet program was that it was allocated only to a select few; so, I would have imagined that the $13 million would have been used to reach the other students who are typically ignored — ESL, “at-risk” students, students of color.


I’m not willing to see my prophecy fulfilled — I’m not willing to lay waste to $13 million, or the future of students which is definitely worth more that $13 million, too. I believe in the possibility of all human potential. Yet, in this system this belief is seen as nothing more than superstition, idealism that doesn’t reach anywhere.


I spoke to a few current students at North Side who said they did not feel that they were learning anything worth while. Another student said at an opening, the culinary arts provided sandwiches — to which I responded, “They had better been some dang good sandwiches for $13 million!”. Our students are aware that this is a symbolic way of telling them, “Lower your standards. The professional is not in your path. Stick to the stereotypes. This is what you are. What your blood has always been.”, and I cannot agree.


I cannot agree, because I also have the perspective of a former Administrator for Fort Worth ISD. I worked in the Department of Student Engagement — the very department that works with the “at risk” “bottom 25%” of FWISD’s students. I’ve also spoken at and have an upcoming publication by the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies, which address exactly this phenomenon of institutional racism. I can therefore say there is favoritism, classism, and racism, because, in meetings and polities, there is favoritism, classism, and racism. Our schools are named after the “Sides”, and the communities are just as segregated — North Side, Latino; East Side, African American; Southwest, mixed, more affluent, and relatively more successful that the aforementioned.


The way FWISD grants money to schools is based on local taxes, and so schools in poorer neighborhoods are often also underresourced; conversely, schools in more affluent areas are better resourced, and we see these differences in test scores, university matriculation, drop-out rates, and the education gap. We also see it in the school-to-prison pipeline — the disproportionality in which schools refer students to the juvenile system, which in turn creates the record that is used to justify a student’s placement in jail or prison when they reach adulthood.


Let’s take a moment to recognize an amazing disparity: FWISD has well over 100 elementary schools, and just over 10 high schools. This 90% drop in representation leaves us to question: Where do those students go? The bottom percentage will most likely end in prison. The next tier will end up in a minimum wage job. The following vocational jobs (ie: “chefs”, where the NS’s future is headed with its “culinary arts”). Then a select few — most often those in the magnet program — will be trained for the university and thus professional paths.


With the simple math — dropping from 100 elementary schools to 10 high schools — and with the experience as Administrator for FWISD, I can firmly say the majority (really, 90%) of your, our, children and their future, aren’t safe. Statistically, the future is very grim.


So, when we do have the funding, when there is the possibility to change this course, I can’t help but wonder why we’d regress. Progress would be a recognition that “Mexican schools” — mechanics and cosmetology — would be dismantled, a part of history. Progress would be the expansion of the medical program, the inclusion of engineering, science, math, technology. I believe in arts and believe it should be included, but $13 million is unjustifiable, especially if they do not intersect with subjects that will prepare them for an increasingly competitive world; and the decision to misallocate such an enormous fund leaves me questioning the Administration and Board’s priorities — how they really envision and uphold the potential of our students.


This might be the North Side’s problem, yet it intersects with Texas’s changing educational landscape. The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) has motioned for cultural erasure and false histories, and have gone as far as redefining the Civil Rights Movement as a “movement for unreasonable expectations for equality”; and so, in context with North Side’s allegiance to create new stereotypes, I begin to question how the Administration and SBOE wants to steer the future of its students of color.


It seems the SBOE knows and recognizes the potential in educating our students of color, and are pressed to re-employ the “Mexican Schools” of the 1960s. But it is 2013, and we have learned. We, too, know that times are changing; and we know that we, too, are America. That we have always contributed to this country — and have existed in this space long before the creation of the “United States” and “America”; we are merely ending this cycle of institutional repression. We are reclaiming our future, and demand the recognition of our gift.


UPDATE: A teacher from the North Side reports that: “There are insufficient funds to use the facility as created. Much of the equipment will never be used. They weren’t asked what should be ordered.” First: how is there “insufficient funds” when the budget was $13 Million. We need to keep the Board, the Administrators, and Principal accountable. Where did the money go?

When America Accepts Its Own Blackness — I will then Identify as Mexican-“American”

Smitherman asks how Black English can be legitimized in academia, and I want to reflect on my position as a tutor and role in legitimizing Black, Third World, Colored Bodied intelligentsia. I find it easy to align with these marginalized communities because of my own identity as a first-generation, Spanish-English bilingual, self-identified Mexican. Although I was born in the United States, I do not necessarily identify as “American”, which has been normalized to mean white, male, and United Statesian (I remove and substitute the translated “Estadounidense” in order to disestablish the linguistic hegemony of the “Americas”). It was only until recently that I did begin to entertain an “American” identity, but only after Smitherman corroborated an observed distinction between “Black” and “White” “America”. I do not identify with “White” “America”, because its systems were never designed for me or my fatherlands; and it is this same system that encapsulates and oppresses a “Black” “America” with which I do identify. I am therefore comfortable in saying I am Mexican American, so long as it is the same Smithermanian America which accepts its own Blackness.

​Because the student population at LIU – Brooklyn constitutes diverse linguistic backgrounds — even outside the populous ESL student representation — I cannot help but theorize how to accommodate an emerging globalization; further, by recognizing the rich, complex grammatical natures of these linguistic backgrounds, I am reminded the realm of possibility in English language, which again pushes my drive to funnel creativity throughout the session. I have proposed in former writings that there is a distinction between colloquial and academic English — the former being the conversational use of language, and the latter more an academic performance; of course, there must be a clarity between the two — a translator, moderator, medium, what the Writing Center identifies as a “tutor” which I have come to recognize also as a significant position of power within Smitherman’s framework.

​I have always found myself attracted to the particular field of addressing the development of academic fluency with students who represent linguistic backgrounds outside of the native English speaking. I am coming to understand Smitherman less an anti-assimilationist and more a preservationist (and moreso among others) for the Black lexicon and intelligentsia that had been created up until the book’s publication. The reader must experience a paradigm shift by relinquishing subconsciously and consciously held white supremacist views on the construction of English language in order to internalize Smitherman’s pedagogy; in the exact same way, tutors must experience a paradigm shift when working with any student who identifies under any framework (gender, sexuality, nationality, linguistic background). I believe the most effective tutoring occur when a paradigm shifts within the tutor; when I delve more deeply into the students’ understanding of English, I can also observe more deeply the form and means of communication as an extension of their individual thought, which again helps me develop the student as an independent writer and thinker.

​The practice of fostering the development of independent thinking and writing largely and historically has been withheld from people of color. Education knowledge, and the command of language create the politicization of colored bodies that challenge the systemic oppression, of which education itself is a part. This goes back to Smitherman’s question of legitimizing Standard Black English, but the answer always circles back to the university or academia; indeed, Audre Lorde says “The master’s tool will never be used to dismantle the master’s house”, and thus reminds the reader not only the necessity of complete social reconstruction, but also the danger in reconstructing new forms of oppression when the “master’s house” has been reclaimed. Because I am rooted in the third world as a first-generation, bilingual, queer man of color, and now have a position as a writing tutor — which in reality is a position of power and therefore an avenue to reclaim and re-establish what Smitherman proposes — I can empower my fellow brothers and sisters by acknowledging, recognizing, attempting to learn (because I will never truly know or understand their culture to their degree, and any other understanding is an act of cultural violence and an extension of colonial mentality), and developing their language skills in an academic framework so as to assure their success and challenge the system’s status quo.

​Smitherman motions the reader against assimilation, but I also want to ask the tutor to understand their privilege and power in legitimizing — or de-legitimizing — their students’ intelligentsia. Yet I believe that after all of our readings and my observations, there is a distinction between modern and post-modern academic praxis. We tutors are trained to identify a student’s needs as “higher” or “lower” order concerns, and yet this very premise creates its own set of problems.

​The existence of ” ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ order concerns” (H/LoC) is hierarchical and can therefore only be applied to linear pattern of thinking; and thereby ignores the student who thinks recursively. It can therefore be surmised that “H/LoC” are but one way of attempting to map out the complex — certainly more complex than a binary bound in such arbitrary notions as “higher” and “lower” — circuitry that is thought. When the notion of “H/LoC” is thrown own, it allows the tutor to address the students’ more specific, complex, grammatical interactions; whereas the framework of “H/LoC” isolates mistakes in a grammatical vacuum where other frameworks cannot interact therein, although they most certainly do in the reality of the students’ paper. By utilizing the “H/LoC” binary as a filter for identifying and assessing student strengths and weaknesses, the tutor’s teaching methods have already excluded students whose learning patterns exist out of the linear; this dissonance between what the student thinks and articulates becomes more apparent when only these “H/LoC” methods are applied, because they do not recognize the “higher” thought in face of the “lower”. There’s a presumption that there isn’t a larger argument despite the bad grammar through which it is delivered; and this is problematic considering a large constitution of our students represent diverse linguistic backgrounds and so “bad grammar” or a “lower order concern” is actually more important. Indeed, grammar is the very path toward uncovering the students’ thoughts to themselves. Achieving this clarity requires a framework that can exist within the chaos of language — not one that is bound in two labels of “higher” and “lower”.

​And yet when I made this distinction known within the parameters of the class which is supposed to supplement my tutoring, I was met with punitive measures. It seemed another measure to assure conformity, or what Smitherman might identify as assimilation. I thought it interesting that I, a first-generation, Spanish-English bilingual, queer man of color, who had achieved some position of power and had recognized the anti-colonial potential, was met with opposition from my very own instructor; in this respect, it seemed as if history was repeating itself and I was having to legitimize my own intelligentsia with my professor who could not recognize my own agency.

​This is yet another problem Smitherman seems to ask: when is the legitimization going to occur? I want to take this question further and ask when is the legitimization going to occur, if not in 2013 when the “New World” is supposed to represent a shift into the post-modern. Again, it seems the answer lies not in the student, but rather dismantling the internalized white supremacy of individuals who occupy positions of power, no matter how sublime or minute the act of racism may be. I myself was underestimated by this supremacy; my intellect was overlooked and challenged in a way that was no Socratic but interrogative. Though I have an upcoming publication by the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies; despite having taken the Mellon Mays Seminar in Critical Race Studies at Macalester; despite my own ontological and epistemological account of growing up as a queer brown man in a poor brown neighborhood; despite the apparent need to identify frameworks being “higher” and “lower” order, I had to, class after class, state my perspective and legitimize my own logic, because the instructor would not acknowledge my insight. Indeed, on the last day of class, the instructor remarked — for once, not a punitive statement against my voice — how it appeared that I was well read into the “post-modern” lexicon and pedagogy. I don’t feel as if I should have to give my credentials in order to establish legitimacy, and I believe that Smitherman would not only agree but would also question how nearly half a decade could pass without its respective social progress; how an institution can claim to be that of “higher education” and still harbor systemically racist practices.

So, to answer Smitherman’s question about legitimization, my essay had to become a form of resistance; and when I contextualize my sessions with the students I serve — first generation, people of color, queer people of color, English as a second language — who are dodging systemic traps, one of the biggest funnels being “the education”, I begin to question how little “things” have changed since Talkin’ and Testifyin’s release. I have been trained to “speak truth to power”, and yet at this crossroads I am forced to reconcile the possibility that the paradigm may shift and I may contain this power. The question then becomes what to do with this power — perform the white patriarchy with which I’ve been colonized, or break the colonial chain and embrace global evolution.

WORK CITED:

Smitherman, Geneva. Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America (7th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977. Print.

How Hipsters are Zombies

I want to first establish that my college dorm was my first bedroom, and that mattress my first ever bed. It was exciting to have a space that was private — although I did have a roommate, who, racist enough, played the racist Mexican South Park episode in front of my parents on final move-out day — a place to call my own. Up until my matriculation to Macalester, I had slept on the couch of our 2-bedroom, 1 bath, 1 kitchen, and that was it save an awkward leftover-of-a-square room we called “The Little Room”.

I came to NYC with a little over $1K in my pocket — a very modest amount, I admit — and no established room and board. The first two days I stayed with some professor at my university who was warm enough to open her doors to me for a couple of nights. I heard from a friend of mine that a room was open for rent in Queens; it was $450/month, but only because it was in the basement. I remember walking in and it smelt like Acuna — my father city, which used to be extremely rural up until recent industrialization — and I actually welcomed the scent. It smells like stale water over concrete; the cold breathe of mildew of basement — really, there’s no other smell like basement. The front door of the refrigerator was won over by a colony of black fungus. Even after scrubbing with bleach for hours, the black dye stuck to the white door. On the inside was an army of fruit flies, dead and piled in the egg carton rack, the plastic shelves lined with their wings and bodies stuck motionless on some mysterious brown molasses. There is no full, actual stove but a two-coil plug-in camping stove; one of the coils doesn’t work, but it’s enough for me to boil enough noodles for the week.

Is reclamation as objective as the oppression which ties it? Most certainly, perpetuating all that violence only disrupts the collective consciousness into a disequilibrium; re-colonizing in order to accomplish the paradigm shift would only perpetuate the performance of white patriarchy, and so people collectively will not attain peace together. However, I am thus forced to ask: mathematically and in terms of human population, how are racially white bodies occupying the majority of positions of power?

Even internationally, power requires a bend toward whiteness and white ideals of beauty. Whiteness operates in sync with wealth, because money is the very system used to perpetuate these hierarchies. Though, it appears that class is becoming the normalized divide, not dissimilar to the normalization of racial segregation before Civil Rights. There are pockets of random upscale apartments just gentrifying Bed-Stuy’s streets — like alien pods descended from the privileged above, Elysium, if you will — none of their residents interacting with the rest of the neighborhood — isolated, open-windowed so you can see their natural Fir’s and chandelier matched to Christmas Lights. You can tell who is from the neighborhood and who is merely gentrifying. They usually take the form of hipsters.

The hipsters usually grab their bag around a colored brother; and I’m not talking about the white Hassidic Jews either. Because gentrification occurred along with the Hipster Influx, I am understanding “hipsters” more as a blind economic force — who are racially unconscious and unaware of how their wealth affects NY neighborhoods that have been typically more racially and economically diverse; that the influx of new peoples to New York have usually benefited by integrating into the neighborhoods, whereas the socioeconomic phenomenon of Hipsterdome has remained largely exclusive and centers on issues of white suburbia — thus removing Bed-Stuy, Brookly, and New York in general from its typically socially, culturally, and politically vocal, aware, and progressive artistic movements.

Fort Worth’s Black-Brown Coalition

To the Cesar Chavez Committee of Fort Worth:

I am excited to hear that there is a possibility of creating a bridge between the Black and Brown community, and believe that we are connected in numerous ways. Unfortunately, both of our communities have become the object of systemic oppression: indeed, our communities are less likely to be employed, matriculate to the university, are more likely to be incarcerated and have lower life-expectancies than that of of our white brothers and sisters.

That said, I believe the first step is: Address redistricting. The voting lines do not represent the actual communities; and more often than not, communities of colors’ agency is usually diluted by white, rich neighborhoods because redistricting includes them — and effectively creates a system that caters only to the rich and white.

It has often been expressed (by my colleagues who work in the City), that our people are tired; we feel the weight of history’s oppression and question whether or not this year will be *the* year to advance. I believe this fatigue can be rooted in redistricting, because many will say “but I vote and nothing happens”; the problem is that their/our vote is being cast with a racial and class dynamic (white and rich) that is not our own; so that when we do vote, it only serves the white and rich. The first step in creating social change MUST reflect in the political realities by which these polities are performed.

I also argue that — in addition to these *political* changes — we must have *social* changes, which usually take the form of artistic movements, community events, whether in-person or electronic. So, my question is: how can we create this community, this space, for the historically marginalized Black and Brown communities to engage?

A quick anecdote: I reached out to a colleague of mine who works as a City Councilmember for Fort Worth, and somebody else who works in Human Relations. I proposed to them the same question — how to engage and build the bridge between our communities — and I was met with resistance. I was told this coalition would not happen. However, I was granted an arts program that would intersect these racial histories, as a means to create deep, transformative, and genuine bonds between our communities. I had to decline, however, after having heard from NYC (I do, however, plan to return and continue this work in Fort Worth; so, if it can begin now, that would be tremendous).

I think this e-mail is also a step toward building our solidarity. Perhaps we can even create an e-mail to our Councilmembers, asking them to create a space for cultural exchanges. Fort Worth has always been diverse, and with the emerging globalization, the need for community rises.

Police brutality is but one evil we must counter, and evil has a thousand faces; likewise, our light, gifts, cultures, and spirits must act as guardians against the general societal brutality aimed toward our brothers and sisters.

So: let’s remap Fort Worth’s voting lines, so that they reflect the actual community and our peoples’ votes will directly create the change they seek; ask the City Council for a space for community engagement, or even for a representation of people of color that is mathematically proportional to Fort Worth’s real population; let us brainstorm ways to engage the community (this might be difficult, because even our own respective communities have mountains to climb — and so we must build bridges within and between our respective communities); and pick, as a group, I would say, pick at least 3 areas which intersect with our communities and make them this group’s personal goal. This group is filled with tremendous talent and willpower; I’m sure if we found common goals, we would meet them.

As this is the Cesar Chavez Committee, I think it would be a great way to have something — a space, a speech, something symbolic, deep, and genuine — to express that the Brown community wants and needs the Black community for our advancement, and vice-versa. Our freedoms our inseparable.

Coming from a younger generation, where all of my friends were Black, Brown, or Asian, I believe that demographic between 18-25 will help create the momentum toward’s realizing the solidarity both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Chavez dreamed.

Looking forward to working with y’all.

Best,

Professor Mex

Modernity and the MOMA: Bring Wang Ping to her 10,000 Waves

To: Glen D. Lowry, Stuart Comer, Martin Hartung

Modernity at MOMA: Unite Wang Ping with her creation, 10, 000 Waves

Modernity is a long-debated subject. Are we inching toward modernity, or merely at its tail towards post-modernity is a question stretched as far back as even Nietzsche.

Let us take a moment, then, to recognize what modernity might mean in terms of the arts. If we were to listen to Nietzsche, he would assure us that art was birthed out of resistance — whether between man and society, or the Dionysian and Apollonian forces within himself. That art is a measure of spiritual resilience, one must also begin to wonder how to recognize art in a world that is evolving “from” or “to” “modernity”; indeed, after the Zaumniks, Dadaists, and Situationists, the distinction between artistic and mundane, and “structural” and “anti-structural”, became less recognizable.

What is that medium, then, that elevates the mundane into the artistic? How to become relevant in a world where a Campbell soup can is, quite literally, artistic history?

Favianna Rodriguez, visual artist and now Stanford professor, has lined the streets of California, New York, and the world over with her monarch butterflies saying “Immigration is life! Immigration is beautiful!”, and so we understand in these globalized cities that we people are just part of a grander human movement and experience. Especially so in a place like New York — where Ellis Island’s immigration center just in 2014 celebrated its 100 year anniversary — the need to understand the unfolding complexities of migration must find its way back to the people.

And so the people have been able to grasp the artists’ cry at the MOMA; which contextualizes the struggle, makes the art that much more irresistable, our hearts that much more open, and likewise our hunger seeks out more nourishment.

Unfortunately, New York also has a reputation for reaping the rewards of its residential geniuses, while also completely disregarding the person themselves. Case and point, Nikola Tesla — whose name is a street on Bryant Park and 42nd — created free energy for all the world, and yet died poor. In this respect, I see no difference between the MOMA benefitting from the poetry of Wang Ping through 10, 000 Waves, and not having Ping at the exhibit.

I would expect it to be understood that having the original artist would only deepen the audience’s experience, and the general ambience of the museum. Why is there so much struggle to do this for Ping (– especially when there is a direct connection between Ping and 10,000 Waves)? As it seems like an elementary understanding, this (my first introduction to MOMA) makes me question its administration, its views on art and artists, and its general decision making.

At the same time, and given how the United States has historically oppressed the agency and voice of migrants, I’m also not surprised that the recognition was transferred away from a Chinese migrant woman. It burns even more to think 10,000 Waves is an exhibit about migration — what is the justice in this? Doesn’t the exclusion of Ping and her voice actually dissolve the message behind 10,000 Waves; if so, at what point is the MOMA merely performing the superficial representation of freedom, while simultaneously cutting the agency of an artist — a person who speaks truth to power, what ever the medium? If, as Nietzsche says, art is a form of resistance, how is the MOMA actually perpetuating this type of colonial violence? When will the MOMA step up and toward modernity?

Even further, I begin to question who is the audience, the subject, and who is allowed the privilege of the “gaze” when I see the tickets are $25 and the book $100 — which, from my own personal experiences as a son of migrants — would seem beyond the scope of migrants. Are migrants the object, made objectified? What is MOMA doing to assure that migrants are a part of the audience? That the socioeconomically privileged (because seeing this exhibit is a privilege in respect to money, time, leisure) are granted this gaze again reinforces the historical practice of “otherizing” any community that is outside those who are rich enough to commodify the others’ experience? What then is a house of muses, if not everybody is welcome; if we let the social construction that is money interfere with the deeper message?

I, myself, am the son of Mexican migrants, am first-generation — the only person in the entirety of my family to have graduated college — and believe that having Wang Ping is in many ways fundamental to grasping the power of Ten Thousand Waves. I don’t understand why so much energy must be conjured to balance this invisible resistance; and would expect MOMA to embrace Ping as she stands alone, with her work, and most certainly at the helm of 10,000 Waves.

I feel that there shouldn’t be resistance, if those who direct the MOMA are artists; I’m otherwise led to believe there’s something deeper at stake — why else the resistance. If there is no resistance, there should be no problem.

This is very much like Langston Hughes’s “The Problem with Intermarriage”, in which he proposes the simple solution of not “inter-marrying”. We understand the solution is actually quite complex, and yet there is something invisible and internalized which blocks society from moving forward. Excuse, at least for this circumstance, my binary thinking. I think, similarly, there are two solutions: have Wang Ping over to experience her work, or take 10,000 Waves out completely. Or maybe explain why there’s resistance in the first place.

I hope you do consider your place in context of modernity. I hope you move toward it.

Sincerely,

Professor Mex