The following post was inspired by two other blog posts and an assignment by one of professors in graduate school. In other words, as you have seen on my blog a lot of my stories interweave with each other. They all contribute to the dense fabric that makes up my ever-evolving, never static identity. ENJOY.
As I was sipping my delicious peach cream martini from the rooftop of a prominent bar in Manhattan I glanced around and noticed that most people, lucky enough to enjoy this experience, were, or appeared to be, white. It’s truly a small percentage considering the hundreds of people that walk the streets of New York City, not to mention the amount of diversity amongst pedestrians! There are obvious factors to take into account, such as the possibility that the faces making an appearance on the rooftop are mostly those of tourists, although I think I can still pose the same question. This thought exactly is one of the reasons why I am pursuing a PhD in bilingual education. Analyzing how certain individuals make it, to say a rooftop to enjoy a view and cocktail, seems to have always permeated my mind to the point of frustration, making me wish I could see beyond the “benefits” of race and social class (i.e., gender, immigrant generational status, ethnicity). In other words, sometimes I wish I knew less, questioned and analyzed less. Frankly put, sometimes I wish I could change the way I interpret life; sometimes ignorance is bliss.
The theoretical concept of intersectionality has forced me to reconsider the aspect of my identity I have honed in on for most of life: ethnic/racial identity. The readings and critical class discussions have made me realize how much the other aspects of my identity have influenced how I participated in the construction of my overall identity.
This paper will address how my ethnic/racial identity has been shaped by the intersection of my other identities: gender, class, & immigrant generational status. My multiple identities were partly shaped within the context of the school setting. In other words, the social location from where I will deconstruct my overall identity comes from one context that has resonated with me the most: the academic school setting.
The concept of intersectionality describes identities in relation to each other where each one constitutes the other. An individuals’ social location within this intersectionality helps shape the experiences we have within certain contexts (Moya, 2002). For instance, if we think of my ethnic/racial identity in relation to my immigrant generational status, gender, and class in the context of a school setting where the majority of the students share a similar background one could argue that my positionality carries nearly equal footing with others. In a completely different context, where my social location (as previously described) is completely different from my peers one could argue that my positionality has also changed. According to Holland, Skinner, Lachiotte, and Cain (1998), “Positional identities have to do with the day-to-day and on-the-ground relations of power, deference, and entitlement, social affiliation, and distance—with the social-interactional, social-relational structures of the lived world.” (p. 127). This analysis will explore how aspects of my identity were negotiated and mediated using cultural artifacts or tools to (re)position where I stood on the hierarchy of social relations (Garcia, 2012; Holland et.al, 2008).
In the eighth grade my family moved from a predominately Mexican and working class city (Santa Ana, C.A.) to a predominately White and middle to upper class city (Mission Viejo, C.A.). By moving to a very different city aspects of my identity and how they related to one another also seemed to change. Additionally, there were several pivotal changes that occurred almost simultaneously. My father passed away changing the way our home was organized. In retrospect, this is when my mother gained her sense of agency as the matriarch of our now entirely female home. My identity as a female, though I did not realize at the time, was now being shaped by my mother’s transformation from a devoted wife to an independent woman who really wanted to see her three daughters take on more feminist roles in society outside the home.
Due to my father’s passing (cerebral aneurysm) our economic status changed because he left behind several life insurance plans. My mother saw this as an opportunity to try and provide us with a better education and safer neighborhood to live in. The ways my change in class intersected with other aspects of my identity was influenced by the new context (as mentioned earlier) I found myself in a predominately white, middle to upper class neighborhood.
The aspects of my identity that seemed to have changed the least as a result of the move included my ethnic/racial identity and my immigrant generational status. Interestingly, it was those two aspects that seemed to have also changed the way the school setting positioned me. In Santa Ana I was positioned as the smart student by teachers and by my peers and in Mission Viejo I was placed on a remedial track. Slowly and painfully I began to see myself as just that: remedial. When I graduated from high school in 1994 I had an academic GPA of 2.49 and I ranked 226 in my class of 367. Most, if not all, of the courses I had taken were not college prep. They were courses for students who, as one teacher described, “designed for those who will go straight to work” after graduating.
This remedial status followed me through community college and my first semester at UT. I started community college with high hopes of exiting the remedial reading, writing, and math courses I was placed in (again!), which I did within a few years. Once transferring to UT I failed my first semester and was put on academic probation due to my 1.5 G.P.A. During my second semester I was removed from academic probation and I wish I could say the rest is history, but it wasn’t. I still felt like that remedial student and in many ways it has prevented me from exploring other aspirations.
Fortunately or not, it took pursuing a doctorate to understand what happened to me and how I really am not the person the track I was put on labeled me as. This past academic year (which is also my fifth year in a doctoral program) I have repeated parts of the following mantra to change this perceived remedial student identity of which I have carried the weight of since junior high (1989):
My Identity Mantra
I am not a remedial student.
I’ve got this.
I can write and articulate just as well as privileged peers.
I am not that other(ed) person.
I have agency.
I can create spaces of agency.
I know when I am living in a figured world that oppresses me.
I know how to mediate and negotiate oppressive spaces into agentive ones.
I can identify and counter discursive practices that position me as weak, dumb, quiet or submissive.
I have tools that will help me construct the identity I need to achieve my academic goals.
I am not that person.
I am who I say I am.
Holland and Lave (2001) described how individuals or groups enact their sense of agency by acknowledging their histories. By learning about and coming to the realization of how the school system can track immigrant and minority students I have come to terms with the fact that our public school system is not perfect. One of the ways I have been able to create spaces of agency within oppressive setting like the classroom (in public schools and higher education) is through the use of cultural artifacts. Holland et.al (2008) described these artifacts as occurring in the moment whether they are “verbal, gestural, [or] material productions—emerging from the situation” they are taken up by individuals and used as tools to navigate and reposition oneself in order to open spaces of agency. Reflecting on my academic trajectory and how my ethnic/racial identity has, and will continue to change, I have to admit that I cannot pinpoint exactly how I was able to reach my current social location as a privileged, middle to upper class Latina pursuing a doctorate. Perhaps I am in many ways like the woman who climbed up the house (Holland et.al, 2008) and was able to perform a great deal of how I navigated the academic institution that positioned me as remedial for many, many years.