It’s a week since the 2012 El Mundo Zurdo Conference at UTSA. I feel a rejuvenated sense of purpose about my work, my heart is full, and my mind and soul inspired. I sat at my desk working on an essay today, and as I did, I periodically glanced over at the brightly painted rock I got at the conference. I got the beautiful rocks with quotes by Gloria Anzaldúa for friends, and minutes before the conference ended decided to go ahead and get one for me. The lavender rock with the words of Gloria Anzaldúa, “Do Work that Matters” called out to me as the one I should keep (Zapotec curandera Doña Enriqueta Contreras once taught me that lavender is the color of healing). The rock serves as a reminder to me that I do the work that I do because I believe that it matters and because I hope that it makes a difference in the world. The rock is also a reminder to myself to stay on that path and focused on doing the work as a teacher and scholar. Because, while it’s a rewarding path and at times a healing path, it’s not an easy one. I reflect here on the conference, thinking about the stakes involved in doing work that matters and how we sustain each other and ourselves in the process.
At the opening plenary of the conference Northern New Mexico College President, Dr. Rusty Barceló discussed what I view as doing work that matters. She talked about working to diversify the academy as we make our way down our individual — and often lonely — paths at our perspective institutions of higher learning. We are often the only, or one of few women, people of color, and/or LGBTQ staff, faculty, or students “at the table,” whether in a meeting of college presidents, department meetings, diversity enrichment committees, or in our classes. Dr. Barceló talked about the meaning of diversity and instances where we might be “at the table” with regards to representation, but have no voice. Engaging head on with issues of diversity means more than increasing the number of faculty and students from underrepresented groups at our institutions. It’s about the inclusion of our voices and responding to our calls for equality, inclusion, and an end to institutional violence. It’s about working to ensure recognition for the diversity work we do in our teaching and research at tenure and promotion time, and it’s about helping to promote the idea that a real commitment to diversity — in perspectives, life experiences, and beliefs — must permeate through all facets of an institution.
Doing work that matters can be frustrating and draining. It requires opportunities for us to rejuvenate our spirits through community, at conferences such as the MALCS Summer Institute, SSGA and NACCS. In the interim between seeing our comadres and compadres whose support, encouragement, spirits, and intellect fill us, in between moments when students remind us that the struggles we faced and continue to face as women, people of color, and queer people in the academy are worth it, and in between the inspirational conversations with colleagues who “get it,” we need to cultivate strategies for sustaining ourselves, strategies for being in those spaces and doing work that matters. I would guess that tenured professors, junior faculty, community members, graduate students and undergraduates all experience those in between spaces. I’m fortunate in that I possess the resources to attend conferences, trips to Anzaldúa’s grave in Hargill, a cell phone to call my comadres from grad school when I need a little pick me up and reassurance. But what about when we don’t have those resources in place to lift our spirits? Where do we turn in the interim to help pick us up in the struggle to do work that matters? Where do those who don’t have access to conferences and comunidad nearby find fulfillment in moments of alienation, homophobia, sexism, racism, in our hometowns, universities, communities, familias? I write this for those who have been or are or will be in that in between space and don’t have those resources. I was there once, and I so I offer our community an invitation. It’s an invitation to share via this space, to share your virtual words of encouragement and consejos, strategies for how you sustain your mind, body, and spirit in the interim – between now and the next conference, or between now and any other moment that feeds you. And so I put this out to you. I ask you to respond to this blog entry with your strategies for continuing to hold on to that light from within. Some of us have the privilege to get to attend conferences. Others do not. Others are alone, sin comunidad, fighting the fight and I write this for you. There is a lot of healing that needs to happen, mentoring, guidance and this is just one small, humble attempt to see if we can work as the strong community we are to offer support to one another in this wonderful space that has been created.
Dr. Barceló offered a reminder that as we pursue our career and personal goals as we all do, that we keep this awareness about us; keep an eye towards working for inclusion and diverse ways of thinking and being; for inclusivity and creating change. While it’s not an easy place to be, perhaps we can locate allies and continue to use this and other spaces of community to remind us that we are not alone as we navigate nepantla towards the goal of shifting consciousness and conocimiento. It may feel like a lofty goal at times, but it is one in which I have much hope, in particular as I reflect back on Dr. Barceló’s talk, on the numerous fierce and stimulating presentations, performances, and experiences at the conference, and the work of Gloria Anzaldúa, constant reminders, like my lavender rock, to keep moving forward in doing the work that matters.
Brenda Sendejo is on the faculty of Southwestern University and an At-Large Representative of MALCS.