Hey! I’m Not a Basket Case and I Don’t Regret My Ph.D.

Disclosure: I finished my Ph.D, in English in 2011.  Since then I’ve worked as a freelance editor, writing consultant and adjunct.  

There have been a number of articles lately in Slate and The Chronicle (and elsewhere) expressing regret for the time spent getting a Ph.D., feelings of failure, warnings to others not to go and generally expressing what, to me, reads like a great deal of entitled exhausted (?) angst.  In response, Emory Ph.D. student Tressie McMillan Cottom wrote an excellent blog post on reasons why students of color should look at getting a Ph.D. and the power said degree has in helping one make their way through a white world.

Yes, finishing my dissertation and getting my Ph.D. were the hardest things I’ve ever done.  Yes, there were bad times, including moments when I was sick, out of money and (the worst) faced with racism on the part of my fellow graduate students who openly expressed their suspicions that I hadn’t gotten where I was on merit but  was a product of affirmative action (which, whatever my merits, I am). But getting to work on my Ph.D., becoming the first in my family to be called “doctor” was and is the greatest privilege of my fortunate life. I got to spend a decade studying literature, mostly Chicana/o literature, which continues to inspire me to tears at its beauty. Along the way I got to teach, advise and edit undergraduate and graduate students. I got to do all this while my sister worked cleaning houses, serving food, doing retail and generally working at whatever she could to get by without health insurance or any security, asking me to recommend books she could read for thirty minutes or so before she goes asleep.

At the same time, I also found a community of Latina scholars, including my dissertation advisor, who have heard and understood my pain, especially the pain of feeling alienated from my mostly all white department, who have told me I’m good enough, who have supported my scholarship whatever my affiliation or lack thereof.  There is a history in Chicana/o scholarship of research being done be people in a variety of positions — there aren’t generations of Chicana full professors at research universities.  We’ve always struggled from the margins. Important work is and has been done by librarians, grammar and high school teachers, administrative support people and community activists. I’m not ashamed I’m not in a tenure line position — those before me weren’t necessarily either.

Yes, part of me reads these articles and understands. The job market / adjunct situation is bad. Rejection sucks. Uncertainty is hard. But nothing is ever certain. My family is proud of the adjuncting work I do, proud of the editing work I do, proud of me. They wouldn’t understand (or care) about the difference between a tenured and untenured position. To them all employment is uncertain, all work has dignity.

I wonder if some of what gives me strength and makes me see struggle for the beauty and gift that it is, are the very writings I study.  Whether it’s the passion and life-long activism of Betita Martinez or the raw celebration of life and pain of Gloria Anzáldua, Chicana writing is about feeding one’s soul in order to then go out and do what can and should be done.

As Ella Diaz remarked when I expressed surprise at the number and tone of the articles out there, perhaps we should create a reading list of the works that keep us sane, that sustain our souls and share them with those who feel their degree wasn’t worthwhile.  I think what it comes down to for me is I believe the work I do on the literature I work on is important and valuable. I will do it however I can for as long as I can as hard as I can.

Because when I see Latina/o scholars I think we’re beautiful.

 

Introduction to Latino/a Studies Syllabus

[This is my attempt at creating a Latino/a studies (well, so far mostly literature) course. Do let me know what you think. If you have any ideas for films that could be included, please say! Thanks!]

Course Description:

While Chicano/as and Latino/as have been integral to U.S. history and culture, why have they are frequently and consistently been depicted as either outsiders or foreign and how is Chicana/o and Latina/o identity negotiated? In this course we will examine Latino/a and Chicano/a cultural production and its relationship to both larger U.S. culture and other U.S. racial and ethnic groups. We will also question the development and / or existence of Latinidad — the relationship between and common culture among Latino/as in U.S. culture and how it manifests itself through cultural expressions such as literature, music, films and social media. Our readings focus on writers from various Latino/a groups.

Through readings, screenings and other multimedia sources, our goal is to use recent literary and cultural theory to understand the paradox inherent in U.S. Chicana/o and Latina/o culture. Our topics will include: migration, language, the body, gender roles, sexual orientation and identity politics in the works of authors and artists. The requirements for this class include the creation of a public blog as a course project, adding to the discussion of Latina/o literature as part of the recent project AztlanReads.com.

Required Texts

  • Michelle Habell-Pallan and Mary Romero Latino/a Popular Culture (ed.)
  • Julia Alvarez, In the Name of Salomé
  • Rudolfo Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima
  • Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera
  • Black Artemis, Picture Me Rollin’
  • Angie Cruz, Soledad
  • Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
  • Cristina Garcia, Dreaming in Cuban
  • Ana Menéndez, Loving Che
  • Ernesto Quiñonez, Bodega Dreams
  • Piri Thomas, Down These Mean Streets
  • Esmeralda Santiago, When I was Puerto Rican
  • Helena Maria Viramontes, Their Dogs Came With Them

Schedule of Readings

Week 1 Defining Chicano/a and Latino/a

“Historical Contexts of Latino/a Presence in United States” Juan González “The Latino Imaginary: Dimensions of community and identity” Juan Flores

 

Week 2 Chicano Landscapes

Rudolfo Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima

Héctor Calderón,”Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima: A Chicano Romance of the Southwest.” Critica: A Journal of Critical Essays

 

Week 3 The Politics of Language

Esmeralda Santiago, When I was Puerto Rican

“Puerto Rican Writers in the United States, Puerto Rican Writers in Puerto Rico: A Separation Beyond Language” Barrios and Borderlands

 

Week 4 Cultural Memory

Cristina Garcia, Dreaming in Cuban

Rocío G. DavisBack to the Future: Mothers, Language, and Homes in Cristina García‟s Dreaming in Cuban.” World Literature Today

 

Week 5 Imagination and the Latino Post-modern

Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

José David Saldívar Conjectures on “Americanity” and Junot Díaz’s “Fukú Americanus” in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao The Global South

 

Week 6 The Mestizo Self

Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera

Cherríe Moraga, “The Salt That Cures: Remembering Gloria Anzaldúa” A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness: Writings, 2000–2010

 

Week 7 Latino/a Constructions of Race

Piri Thomas, Down These Mean Streets

Marta Caminero-Santangelo, “Puerto Rican Negro”: Defining Race in Piri Thomas’s “Down These Mean Streets” MELUS, Vol. 29, No. 2, Summer, 2004

 

Week 8 Negotiating the American Dream

Ernesto Quiñonez, Bodega Dreams

Nicole P. Marwell, On Bodega Dreams

 

Week 9 Defining Homespace

Angie Cruz, Soledad

Anne McClintock. “No Longer in a Future Heaven: Nationalism, Gender and Race.” Imperial Leather

 

Week 10 Music and Transformation

Black Artemis, Picture Me Rollin’

Gwendolyn D. Pough. “What It Do, Shorty?: Women, Hip-Hop, and a Feminist Agenda” Black Women, Gender + Families, Vol. 1, No. 2, Fall 2007.

 

Week 11 Mothers and Daughters

Ana Menéndez. Loving Che

Dalia Kandiyoti. “Consuming Nostalgia: Nostalgia and the Marketplace in Cristina García and Ana Menéndez.” MELUS Vol. 31, No.1 2006.

 

Week 12 Politics, Race and Identity

Julia Alvarez, In the Name of Salomé

Linda Martin Alcoff, “Latino Identity, Ethnicity and Race: Is Latina/o Identity a Racial Identity?” Hispanics/Latinos in the United States: Ethnicity, Race and Rights

 

Week 13 Urban Chicana/o Landscapes

Helena Maria Viramontes, Their Dogs Came With Them

Eric Avila, “Suburbanizing the City Center: The Dodgers Move West.” Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight

Screening: Born in East L.A.

 

Week 14 & Week 15

Final Presentations

 

Evaluation:

Active and informed participation (20%) Come to class prepared to contribute to class discussion on the assigned readings. Since it is impossible to be an “active and informed” participant without having done the reading, you must read all assigned materials in advance of each class meeting. In addition to participating in class, you are expected to be an active commenter on the class blog. You also need to create a Twitter account and follow me and each other. I will look at Twitter comments and expect to see remarks by you at least once a week.

Reading questions and class blog (20%) To insure active class discussion and your ability to listen and contribute, you will prepare a weekly reading response approximately 250 words to a question posted about the week’s texts. These questions will be posted on the course blog and your replies will be posted there as well before each class meeting. Your response should conclude with a focused question (or questions), opening up discussion of a specific passage. Your goal with this response is to demonstrate a personal interest in and engagement with the week’s reading.

Your writing should be informal, a way of processing the texts you’ve read to generate class discussion. The other writing you do for this class may grow out of these writings.

Essay & Presentation (20%) The research paper (10-12 pages) for this course will investigate an aspect of Chicano using the works we have studied in the course. The papers must demonstrate thorough research (at least six sources outside of assigned readings), organization and focus, and correct MLA citation style and bibliography. If you are not certain of this requirement, see me the first week of the course. You will present an oral version of your paper in a 5 minute presentation to the class. The paper is due the tenth week with the presentations given the last two weeks of class.

Blog Entries (20%) You must write at least three (3) separate blog entries for the class blog, each well researched and no fewer than 500 words or a blog entry that includes a YouTube video you’ve made with a written introduction. The entries should each focus on a different one of the texts and an aspect of Latina/o literature. Blog entries must demonstrate intertextuality in relation to sources on the class blog and other online work. The first entry must appear no later than the third week of the course. You should select at least one of the entries to post at Aztlán Reads

Final exam (20%) Short identification and essay.

Building a Class: The Chicana/o Gothic

While I was at the MALCS Summer Institute I confided in another attendee that I was nervous about the process of creating course syllabi as I’d never done it before.  She, an associate professor of Spanish and all around lovely person, enthused that creating a syllabus was fun, and then told me she sometimes writes them to amuse herself.

With her words in mind, I tried to embrace this as an opportunity rather than something to fear. Sure enough, as I sat through the next talk, thinking about Chicana literature (I knew whatever course I came up with would be one focusing on Chicana/o literature), I came up with the idea of the “Chicana/o Gothic” — a course that would explore canonical and recent Chicana/o text through the dark lens of the gothic.

This is what I’ve come up with so far. I’d love to hear what you think — criticism is helpful.  This version of the course is being imagined as one offered for a 10 week quarter.  I’ve linked the texts I’ve reviewed to the reviews I’ve blogged.

Required Texts:
Bless Me Ultima – Rudolfo Anaya
Calligraphy of the Witch – Alicia Gaspar de Alba
Brides and Sinners in El Chuco – Christine Granados
The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction – Jerrold E. Hogle
The Rain God – Arturo Islas
The Hungry Woman – Cherríe L. Moraga
What You See in the Dark – Manuel Munoz
Demon in the Mirror by by S. Joaquin Rivera
The Hummingbird’s Daughter – Luis Alberto Urea
Gods Go Begging – Alfredo Véa

Course Description
Is there a Chicana/o Gothic?

What is called “Chicana/o literature” has many origins and forms and is itself a contested space — from the Chicana/o civil rights movement to the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to the pre-Columbian legends of Aztlán. Likewise, defining the “gothic” in literature encompasses literary periods and styles from the eighteenth through twenty-first centuries.

Gothic literature conveys a sense of uncertainty through bizarre twists, violence, and moral ambivalence to create suspense. Looking at Chicana/o texts, some recent, some canonical, can we see these techniques being used to explore the social, political, and racial issues of the Chicano community and Southwestern United States as the works move away from supernatural events and onto something which affects the reader’s state of mind regarding social issues and experience? Are Chicana/o novels and poems using elements of the horrific, the violent, the unorthodox, and/or the supernatural to guide the reader through the story’s action and explore anxieties about the instability of identity and nation? Is such a comparison between the gothic and the magical real useful to our understanding of Chicana/o literature as part of the larger U.S. literary canon? Drawing from constructions of the Southern Gothic and magical realism, what we may come to call “Chicano/a Gothic” is an attempt to discuss and define a Chicano/a and American sub-genre of gothic fiction.

Reading Today: Gods Go Begging By Alfredo Véa

For the past couple days, as I read Alfredo Véa’s San Francisco novel Gods Go Begging, I’ve been flashing back to my undergraduate days studying Vietnam in film and literature with Professor John Hellmann at Ohio State. My first impression of Véa’s book is that it’s a great Vietnam novel, a story of physical and emotional warfare played out thirty years distanced from the conflict.

Yet as a Chicana/o text it’s even more interesting, with the hyperreal images of conflict, almost too brutal to be depicted. This sense of the hyperreal gives way to the magical real as the spirituality of violence and love are explored. The protagonist, Jesse Pasadoble is a San Francisco defense lawyer, thirty years back from Vietnam, yet emotionally he’s never been able to leave. As his past catches up to his present, Vietnam becomes part of his legal battle, the violent lives he’s surrounded by.

At first I wasn’t sure I could read this text as gothic (remember the course I’m planning) — it seemed too modern for that. Yet in this text the dead come back to life and speak the unspeakable, partly through grotesque depictions of their own bodies. Yet in these depictions of violence and death, what endures (and what the dead seem to be trying to speak) is about their desires, their loves.

This book isn’t an easy read by any means, but is one I would highly recommend.

Reading Today: The Calligraphy of the Witch

Actually I read this book yesterday. Was so into it I didn’t start the review until after it was completed. Like The Hummingbird’s Daughter, I’m reading it with the thought of including it in my Chicana Gothic syllabus.

Calligraphy of the Witch by Chicana scholar Alicia Gaspar de Alba is an amazing American novel. It confronts Chicana/o absence in traditional American history and literature by telling the story of a convent raised Mexican mestiza scribe, Concepción Benavídez, captured by pirates and brought to 17th century New England as a slave. Raped on her journey, the story is framed by Concepción’s daughter, born in the Boston colony and torn between her Mexican mother and her mother’s slave owner who adopts the child as her own.

Parts of the text are told as if written by Concepción in her scribe script (and are in a calligraphic font.) I loved this, but I did find my eyes straining to read at various points (maybe I need new glasses). Still, this touch makes the novel feel like a work of art.

Her Spanish language and foriegn ways put Concepción (renamed Thankful Seagraves) at odds with her New England owners and neighbors, eventually sweeping her up into the hysteria of the Salem witch trials. The story is well written and at times almost too tense. I could hardly put it down. And yes, it will be perfect for a course on the Chicana/o gothic.

ADDED: This wonderful YouTube trailer. You know you want to read it.

Reading Today: The Hummingbird’s Daughter

Today I’ve started the novel The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea. I’m thinking of using it for a class I’m planning (planning in a sense of writing a syllabus, rather than actually having been engaged to teach) on the Chicana/o Gothic. At 499 pages, it seems a bit long, but is actually a fast read. While it code-switches between English and Spanish, the Spanish is understandable by context.

The book is a novel telling the story of the Mexican saint, Santa Teresita Urrea. So far I’ve read the first five chapters. It captures a diverse sense of Mexico as a space not just of Spanish and Mexican, but of indigenous. The novel is in the magical real tradition, yet magic and spirituality are also questioned throughout. As Teresita becomes more spiritual, more of a saint, it causes friction within her family, especially for her father who is not religious / full of doubt. This doubt / balance is one of the things I like best about the text. That aside, it’s a beautiful book. If you’re looking for some rich summer reading I highly recommend The Hummingbird’s Daughter.