As part one of the Ph.D. course assignments, I was asked to trace the history of how my family and I came to be in Turtle Island. This reflection interrogates the way in which my mom came to this Indigenous territory, describes my educational upbringing, and outlines my aspirations and motivations. Additionally, I use my stories to share my motivations and aspirations within my field. I introduce texts read in class and highlight how my story aligns with the theories, frameworks, and perspectives introduced by the authors. Specifically, I highlight the three themes outlined in our class: 1) complication of the term of justice, 2) disrupt normative knowledge production and 3) relationality in being. I do so by sharing three specific stories within each of the themes: 1) the story of my mother coming to Turtle Island, my educational journey, and my current goals and aspirations.
The first theme of our course was on complicating terms of social justice. My mother immigrated to the U.S. in an effort to provide her future children the opportunity for prosperity, but also in order to leave behind the civil war taking place in El Salvador. The civil war in El Salvador was disastrous in that people were killing one another, but also in the traumatic remnants of its past. Immigrating to the United States was seen as an opportunity for my mother to be able to pursue the American Dream where she hoped she would find justice, freedom from oppression and prosperity for her future family. In our readings North (2006) problematizes notions of social justice claiming that we all interpret this grouping of words differently. I would expand and say that additionally, we visualize different end goal as well. Within the context of El Salvador, the U.S. was funding and training the military to defeat the guerrilla uprising. I believe that Quijano’s (2000) ideas on the coloniality of power present themselves through U.S. intervention in other nations. Additionally, there are reports that the FMLN, the guerrilla group, was also participating in the abduction of children into forced combat and the raping of women. The complexity of the issues taking place in my mother’s homeland caused her to flea the country that she so deeply loves. My mother believed that in the U.S. she would find equal opportunity, little did she know that things were going to be different than what she expected. She moved from a war filled country to find oppression described in what Young (1990) refers to as the five faces of oppression.
The second theme that I am addressing is disrupting normative knowledge production. In this section I recall my educational upbringing and how I began to question the standard ways that I was being taught to think and learn. Part of my educational journey in the k-12 sector involved going to multiple schools; I went to 5 different elementary schools, 3 middle schools, but only one high school (not in my district). My mother said that I needed to attend a school outside of our district because I was friends with the wrong crowd i.e. siblings of known gang members. Although I was born in the U.S., I didn’t learn English until the age of 8; thankfully, I was able to relate to people through playing games such as kickball and basketball. Through my educational upbringing I would say that I did not really question what my teachers were teaching. My mother told me that the instructors held knowledge and that I needed to listen so that I could learn from them. Mignolo & Walsh (2018) would argue that eurocentric notions of authority are what created an educational system in which I felt that knowledge was held by specific individuals.
I don’t recall how old I was when I first started thinking about race, but I remember being young. I would have moments where I knew that there was something different between some of my friends and the characters we saw on television. I associated this difference partly to our language barrier but knew that it was more than that. One of the very vivid instances of racial aggressions in my life occurred when I was 11. We had just moved back from Texas and I was helping my mom find work. We were walking to different stores asking for applications (my mother did not know English, so I would go to translate for her) when an Asian store owner told me that she would never hire someone like us. I told my mom what was said, and my mom started to cry. My mom takes a colorblind perspective on race but will acknowledge that it is difficult for people of color; she says that we have to “echarle ganas” (put effort towards our goal) and will succeed.
I graduated high school with a 3.6 GPA, but because I was given a D in my 12th grade English class I was denied admission to California State University of Northridge and San Jose State University (the only schools I applied to). I was distraught because I knew that my work was solid; I had behavioral issues because I was bored, and the teacher did not appreciate my way of being. She was later fired because they found that she was giving grades without actually tracking how students were progressing, I was devastated that I wasn’t accepted because I had done what was expected of me and got nothing in return. The day I was rejected also happened to be the day that Navy recruiters were on school grounds. I signed up to speak with a recruiter but could not enlist because I was only 17. My mom was livid, she said that I was stupid for wanting to enlist and convinced me to give community college (CC) a try.
By the time I started CC I knew that something was wrong with the way the world was structured, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I became involved in student government and organizations that were a bit more political. I found that I could not relate to the individuals in these organizations because of our backgrounds. I ended up moving to Berkeley to complete CC because all of my friends had dropped out of CC and I saw myself heading in that direction. Many of my friends were undocumented and needed to work to help at home. I also worked but I was privileged enough to qualify for financial aid, so tuition was never something that I worried about.
I was able to transfer to Berkeley where I really began to learn more about the structures of oppression within our society. My lack of knowledge of higher education was so bad that I did not actually know that Berkeley was considered a top university in the nation. Growing up I only knew UCLA and USC because those were the schools close to home and they had good sports programs. Whenever I am asked where I went to undergrad I laugh at the types of reactions that I get. Peters (2017) explores the importance of rankings in our society and I can see what impacts it has on people’s interpretation of my ability. Graduating from Berkeley was one of the happiest moments of my life, however, I also knew that I didn’t want formal education to be my only completion. There is plenty of work that can be done to support the community.
I chose UCLA for my M.A. because it was close to home. I had no financial literacy and took out major loans for my program; in hindsight, I should’ve gone to Michigan because they offered me a full ride. My year at UCLA was a blur. I was commuting from home and rarely spent time on campus, so I failed to build community on campus. I completed my degree and started working soon after knowing that I would eventually go back to school. My time in higher education was were I really began to disrupt my own understanding of knowledge production and whose knowledge is valued. I wish that I had been more purposeful about actively participating in decolonial work within higher education. Many of the works we read in class have shed light on the possibility of decoloniality within the academy.
Currently, I am a Ph.D. student at Michigan State University where I am focusing on the Central American diaspora and decoloniality. I try to practice decoloniality in my work by understanding that we are all subjects within the colonial matrix of power. I attempt to bring decoloniality into my work by bridging that gap that we have created between the mind and the body. There are many temporal ways of being (Shahjahan, 2019; Bennett & Burke, 2018) and being aware of this, I try to be inclusive to other ways of understanding and knowing. I aspire to creat space for students to ask questions and grow as intellectuals. Additionally, I hope for students to feel good about who they are and become agents of change within their communities. [Word Count:1515]
Bennett, A., & Burke, P. J. (2018). Re/conceptualising time and temporality: an exploration of time in higher education. Discourse: Studies in the CulturalPolitics of Education, 39(6), 913–925.
Mignolo, W. & Walsh, C. (2018) On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Praxis.Durham: Duke University Press
North, C. E. (2006). More than words? delving into the substantive meaning(s) of “Social justice” in education. Review of Educational Research, 76(4), 507–535.
Peters, M. (2019) Ancient centers of higher learning: A bias in the comparative history of the university?, Educational Philosophy and Theory, 51:11, 1063–1072, DOI:1080/00131857.2018.1553490
Quijano, A. (2000). Coloniality of power, eurocentrism, and Latin America. Nepantla: Views from South, 1(3), 533–580.
Shahjahan, R. A. (2019). On ‘being for others’: time and shame in the neoliberal academy. Journal of Education Policy, 1–27.
Young, I. (1990). Five faces of oppression. In Justice and the Politics of Difference (pp.39–65). Princeton: Princeton University Press.