This piece is a response to the Gloria Anzaldúa conference I attended in the fall of 2010. The conference was a visceral experience for me and I made many friends who helped me to see my life in many new ways. I present this piece as a personal testimonial to my past and present experience as a Feminist.
My heritage from a Feminist, Chicana and activist perspective is something of a mixed bag. Not a mixed bag because my family were not part of these movements, but because they often never identified themselves as such. I remember one of my aunts who was an activist in college, a speech therapist, teacher, principle and school district administrator, in addition to being a parent and community leader, once said (paraphrased) “I know you want to go to go graduate school, but be ready to be caught in aimless academic politics.”
Her comment was something I never took lightly, and was a piece of insightful food for thought, that I would use for the rest of my academic pursuit as a catalyst for keeping myself in check.
Another aunt of mine received her masters in anthropology and many referred to her as a house wife (in a way insinuating a lack of use for her degree), however, little did I know, that when I was a child, she in fact did community action work and raised her children with a consciousness that was refreshing and worldly.
However, my heritage begins even further back, my father’s mother talks of her ancestor Jovita Idar, for whom she was named after, who was a gnarly women that ran a newspaper along the US-Mexico border who had to literally defend her rights to publish.
Her work is something I would only come to understand and appreciate in my early 20’s.
My fathers dad’s sister, Mary Louise Lopez, an artist and teacher who’s work contributes to the essence of what the feminist movement and Chicana identity has also been inspiring. Her ability to live the way she has and create inspiring works for cultures across the globe has been amazing to watch. Knowing that she was able to develop her work beyond herself and our community is part of what has driven me to keep going.
My familia’s affect on my feminist views is beyond even these examples, as my aunts and cousins and in general my ancestors have served as examples of women who have lived their lives not as labeled feminist, but as women who have lead their lives with a passion for helping others, while achieving their own goals, but within their careers and within their families.
The culmination of my lived pasts/consciousness when added with my experiences in the ACTLab working under the “Goddess” Alluquere Sandy Stone has brought me to this tender place where I “feel” in ways that have drawn tension between my lived experiences such as my research in the male dominated field of Automobiles. This “feeling” remind me of a time when I told my middle school football coach that I could not play because “I didn’t want to hit anyone”, this “feeling” is something I often had to hide and code switch.
The self alienation of having this “feeling” is something that has been my own vice. Some might call it a borderland, however I see it as a firewall. A network firewall, where I have to negotiate terms and protocols in order to transfer information from one network to another. A firewall is a network device that allows you to control the input and output between two networks or multiple networks.
It is this technological tendency that also further alienates my feminist side, but I digress (due to technology being a male dominated field).
What I mean by saying that I am a firewall, is that being “myself” is something that happens within my own networks, however, when transmitting (aka code switching) information through my consciousness to other networks, who I am, what I look like, where I come from and what I do is processed and converted into metrics for which other devices decide whether my packets will be accepted.
The Feminist and Chicana Networks
This removal of self and emotion from this explanation of how I interface with others is often how I feel when putting myself out there in general. When I was first introduced to feminism and Chicana studies, my emotions and excitement were quickly mixed. I was so excited to meet people who felt the way I did, who saw the world from a lens that reminded me of my own. These initial experiences were in graduate school and at the time I was fighting to survive as “myself” in academia to prove to my aunt that “self” could survive through the torture of academia.
And it was these initial experiences that tore me part. I was not accepted. I was a man, a heterosexual one at that! I have a loud mouth; I am large in general. My enthusiasm is often seen as arrogance. These are not opinions, but feedback I have received.
When I would participate in discussions, even if I were quiet, as soon as I would make a comment I would be given stares and looks or called flat out.
I remember teaching a women and gender studies course, Trans Border Violations, a course based on Gloria’s works and trans gender theory along with Sandy Stone. We would hold informal group discussions for those interested because we had so many students interested in having further discussion. We would meet up at a coffee shop and get down to business. I was the only heterosexual male in the group. I was suppressed by the group. My opinions quickly taken away. I took this personally and to heart. Each week I would analyze what I said and how I acted in an effort to try and feel accepted. Within the readings we were exploring we talked about sexism, racism and injustice. As we would talk and discuss I felt and “feeled” the way I usually do, but when I spoke that “feeling” was muted, I felt choked. I felt trapped. I wanted so bad to a part, not an equal let me clearly state, but at least an “other” within the group.
At a point I felt maybe it was just me and that I was going crazy, so I called upon a peer of mine. He joined us one week and he as well experienced the out casting. I asked my wife to attend, a woman who is often seen as “harmless” due to her introverted demeanor as well as a small Latina women. She was quickly accepted and brought into being part of the canon of the discussion. So as I sat there, muted each week and felt sad and anxious.
While these discussions were taking place I was TAing and holding office hours and the same students would come and seek technological help from me. In some ways I felt that is what they saw me useful as, a technological Tool (pun intended) box. However, as they would hang out in the lab during my office hours something happened. They began to see my “feeling” with other students, students who were open to seeing me beyond my body.
Around the third to last week of the semester, I will never forget our weekly discussion, we were passionately talking and I was finally becoming more involved and feeling more accepted when one of the women said to me “you know Joey, you are alight!”
Irony. The struggle to be accepted by a group whose discussion and relationship was rooted in this struggle is something I deal with when meeting up with Chicanas.
One of the hardest groups to identify with, for me, is the founders of the Chicana movement. Their looks at me for the first times pierce my body. I feel like a child, my mind races, my emotions are at full tilt. With these groups I am often seen and referred to as a “kid”, both throughout my graduate program and as a tenure track professor. This might be partially due to the fact that I am close to their children’s age.
This gap on the surface appears to be generational, however I feel it is more of a cultural gap. Cultural in that in Chicana culture there is an inherent generational totem pole. This rigid pole is one for which I have had to code switch between for my whole life. From sitting at the children’s table to being given less then my siblings by my extended family due to my age, these experiences translate to how I feel when interfacing with Chicanas. It’s their knowledge of the past, their “true” experiences compared to my gringo tainted experiences, that separate us. The cultural separation of men and women in terms of social activity and interaction. An example is when I attend my wife’s yearly family gathering and the women are in the kitchen and the men in front of the TV watching football.
These experiences again translate to my presence in the Chicana scene. I am not Mexican enough, I am not a women, I do not speak Spanish, thus my acceptance is not inherent, I am an outsider. And in essence my “feeling” has been lost, blocked by the network, not code switched.
Alas, I am an “other”. I travel with few, my packets look odd and are shape shift able, however they are not all conquering. It should be noted though, while this story lacks humor, be aware that I take this all in stride. I am an electron, a spec in time, a being of importance only relevant to its surroundings. The surroundings for which attract and detract from my being and consciousness do require irony and humor for me to “feel” and “exist”.