On August 11, 2016, I stood in front of the Trinity School faculty and shared my heart for the work of equity and inclusion. Here, you will find the transcript of my opening presentation.
As a nation, we are currently living in times that reflect issues we thought were behind us. Racial inequality, wage gaps for women, housing and development that displace the economically disadvantaged, xenophobic immigration policies, religious intolerance, hate crimes against the LGBTQ community and a very charged political climate are among the various topics we are bombarded with on a daily basis. We are all in this room together and it would seem that there is not much we can do to change this world in which we live. However, I would like to challenge you with the idea that not only is there strength in numbers, the work you do as an individual has power beyond what you can ever imagine.
Just a little over a year ago, I attended what would become one of the most impactful experiences of my life both professionally and personally. Some of you may have heard me talk about the NAIS Diversity Leadership Institute. This was a week of intensive work around issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in our schools. During this week, something happened. My blinders flew off! I began to see that culture, race, sexual orientation, religion, ability and all of our otherness has a marked influence on the way we operate in our world, how we see others, and how they view us.
Now here’s the issue. Once you see something that powerful, it’s impossible to unsee it! Trust me, I’ve tried. I’ve tried to go back to being the person that never watched the news, that thought people needed to get over the race problem already, that had major biases against my own Latino culture, and rarely voted!!! Yes I admit that before this year, I had only exercised my right to vote twice! Not exactly tell tale signs of someone who feels they have power and voice to contribute to their society. But I cannot go back. So I move forward.
Moving forward means that I am willing to recognize that I have blind spots and stories that have been written for me about myself, my culture, and those that are different from me. Moving forward means I choose to engage with what is real about those stories and what is not. Moving forward means I hurt sometimes when I realize how I’ve contributed to perpetuating stories that oppress and diminish others.
It means I choose to live as authentically as possible and bring all of who I am to my various spaces; school, work, place of worship. Authenticity.
It means I open the door to higher levels of awareness, paying attention to things I may have never noticed before. Awareness.
It means I take action. Not huge world changing, news making kind of news but small decisions everyday. Action.
Opening the door to awareness has sparked a curiosity, which has led me to some of these small decisions. In the past year, I have found myself watching documentaries, participating in conversations about social justice issues with people who don’t look like me, thinking of ways to incorporate cultural appreciation into everything I do in the classroom, and doing what I feel can be the most transformative act of social justice – telling my story. Today I want to close out by sharing a piece that reflects a little of my journey of embracing and reconciling with my culture. It is titled Waking Up Latina.
To wake up Latina means to return to that proud four year old moment when I finally knew all of the lyrics to “Alegre vengo de la montaña, de mi cabaña que alegre está!”
to put on my Bomba skirt for the first time and dance to a drum beat that has lived in my soul for a thousand years
believing that Hispanic is a race, going about life with an ambiguous sense of racial identity
walking into a room and not knowing where I fit, not being white enough or black enough or Latina enough…never enough
learning from a young age that the greatest skill is that of adaptability
arroz con guandules, pernil, y tostones
the joy of connecting with my blackness
the process of accepting my whiteness and acknowledging the privilege of my light skin
a longing to reach for and touch my indigenous roots
praying the rosario before bed and never missing church on Sunday
the pride of my language and the unmatched beauty of a Spanish bolero
an ongoing process of decolonization of my mind and reclaiming of my independence
unraveling a painful and messy history while standing in awe of the resilience and heart of mi gente
mangú con salami y queso frito
falling in love with the curls in my head and realizing that pelo malo doesn’t really exist
having a conversation with another brilliant Latina and rejoicing at the revelation that she is really a mirror
reconciling with all that it means to be who I am
knowing that I stand on the shoulders of fighters, revolutionaries, scholars, and artists
To wake up Latina means that I now become the shoulders. I now become the mirror. And a little girl might say “she looks like me” and instantly know deep within herself that she is more than enough.