By Brenda Sendejo
On March 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, the 2012 Tejas Foco Regional Conference of The National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS) convened at Texas State University, San Marcos. Scholars, writers, artists and community members gathered to recognize and celebrate scholarship, art and knowledge of nuestra cultura. Over 200 conference participants attended more than 60 panel sessions with a rich array of topics. I participated in an intergenerational panel of Chicanas with two students from our university and feminist scholar and historian, Martha P. Cotera. Through testimonio, personal narrative and historical analysis, panelists showed how Our Lady of Guadalupe-Tonantzin has acted as a symbol of Chicana identity and catalyst for social change over three generations. The perspectives on the intersection of spirituality and social justice spoke to the conference theme, “This Is Us: Cómo Nos Ven, Cómo Nos Vemos / Changing Chican@ Identity in the 21st Century.” Our respective lenses on our relationships to La Virgen reflected who we are Chicanas today, and how we have developed politically, spiritually and intellectually over the decades. But our experience at the 2012 Tejas Foco also served to show how, as a Chicana/o community we believe in and are committed to mentoring and producing scholarship con corazón.
I invited Susi and Melissa to participate on the panel because I had seen how deeply Chicana feminist scholarship has impacted them and resonated with their lived experiences. I suspected attending their first Chicana/o Studies conference could be a powerful experience for the students, and this proved to be true. Being with them at the Foco took me back to my first MALCS conference several years ago, where I found a space of validation and community where discussions around integrating our scholarship and teaching with activism were central. I continue to be inspired by mujeres whose paths I have crossed through MALCS and by those in the NACCS community. Through these communities I’ve learned that intellect has little meaning, unless it is passed down to future generations used to make a difference in the world. And, importantly, that it must be motivated by corazón. This year’s Tejas Foco was my first opportunity as an educator to see how the impact of this on my students.
I recognized Susi and Melissa’s starry-eyed looks upon meeting Martha and later, other scholars whose work had impacted them so, as to this day I still get that same look in my eyes. I watched as the students’ eyes lit up upon walking into the ballroom and hearing mariachis playing the familiar, “Volver.” They were in a space where they were in the majority, rather than the norm of being in the minority on our campus. These first generation college students have been involved in various struggles and social justice work over their lives and at our predominantly white liberal arts college. Therefore, entering the conference, a space of acceptance where they, their stories, cultural heritage, and histories were embraced and validated, was a moving experience for them, and for me to witness. Our panel presentation would prove to be a similar experience.
The panel audience of approximately 12 attendees was comprised of scholars, including MALCSistas, Profesora Norma Cantú and conference organizer, Profesora Ana Juárez, students, community members, and two members of our campus community. The panel itself represented a legacy of Chicana feminist scholarship and mentorship. We explored the ways that the historical and cultural legacy of Guadalupe-Tonantzin has manifested in the social activism and spiritual identities of generations of Chicanas since the movimiento. Martha discussed how La Virgen saved second wave feminism, Susi presented on how La Virgen aids her in moments of choque as a Chicana activist, and Melissa discussed how she invokes her mother and her teachings of La Virgen in persevering as an activist. I discussed teaching about Guadalupe-Tonantzin to Chicana/o students through a spiritual activist pedagogy that informs our understanding of Chicana identity.
Sharing their personal narratives for the first time in public elicited, as one would expect, strong emotions from both Melissa and Susi. As others and I have done when talking about the difficult and empowering moments in our lives, the women shed tears. I recall the saying, “Tears are not a sign of weakness, but a sign that you have been strong for too long.” These women epitomize this kind of strength, and it was apparent that the audience could feel this as well. One of the students, overcome with emotion, was having difficulty continuing on with her paper. Dr. Emilio Zamora assured her from the audience that she was doing just fine, and would later tell her that her tears were a sign of maturity. I watched as more such moments of support unfolded, as in a tender moment where Martha told a joke about a statue of La Virgen in Crystal City that lightened the mood and almost brought us all to tears of laughter. In the Q & A Dr. Cantú assured one student self conscious about her writing not to worry, that she was fine and that she can just get a good editor, for the ideas, the feeling, the intellect, the corazón were there. Following the presentation they received well-deserved accolades for their presentations.
My heart grew full witnessing this outpouring of communal support for Susi and Melissa and their work and lives, and I am truly grateful for a wonderful Tejas Foco Conference whose organizers and attendees embraced student research and growth. Melissa and Susi will carry this experience with them always, as will I. Moments like these and working with students like them help keep my spirit in tact in the academy; they are healing for me, and, I hope for them as well. Our panel on Guadalupe-Tonantzin’s continuity as a symbol of Chicana strength, perseverance, ability to overcome adversity, and as a catalyst for social justice was in itself a symbol of these things. This legacy of mentoring and doing scholarship con corazón characterizes us as a Chicana/o community. This is us.
Brenda Sendejo is on the Faculty of Southwestern University and an At-Large Representative of MALCS.