• Being the only Womyn of Color in a major Academic Department is Hard

    We continue with our new Cuentos series with a piece from a guest writer. Due to her precarious position in her PhD program, she wishes to be anonymous. But I can tell you, she is awesome! and has made major contributions to the website. 

     

    La Mosca Muerta 

     

    As the only Latina in my political science cohort, I often feel lonely. Thoughts of home, thoughts of mi cultura are sometimes the only things that keep me company when the loneliness strikes. Sometimes I think about some of my mom’s sayings. One of them is calling a surreptitious person a ‘mosca muerta’. Taken literally, mosca muerta means ‘dead fly.’ I often times act like a dead fly when in a new environment, testing out the waters, looking to see who I can trust, who will steal the pain from my experiences and generate intriguing and controversial research ideas, who won’t be on my side;
    I enact this identity mostly for self-protection.
    My mosca muerta first year in graduate school taught me that although I was in a well-respected, reputable doctoral program working under the advisement of a notable scholar - my credentials and my deservingness to exist in this space are perpetually under the microscope.
    I feel as though I have to prove my merit 10 times over the burden that my white, cohort-mates must demonstrate.

     

     

    As much as we are taught to be believe knowledge leads to liberation I have not found academia to be a safe space for me, as a young, first-generation POC. I am the only student of color in my cohort, and the only person of color in my department. What is particularly interesting about my situation is that I am the only person of color in my department studying the political history of mi gente.

     My presence in the department has already shook up some feelings among the faculty.

    I received word, through my advisor, that some of the faculty are concerned that I will be pigeonholed as the Latina who studies Latino issues.
    This is enraging because they often want me to discuss my unique experiences, but mostly to feed off the anecdotes like vultures would to a decaying body. I didn’t take this message too well – it appears to be contradictory. My White labmate is allowed to study Latino issues, Latino political history, without having lived it. They haven’t lived the experience of being a minority, of being a Latina, but somehow, they, as White men and women, are more entitled to examine, discuss, and attempt to rectify the experiences of Latinos / minorities than a minority who is intimately aware of these issues.
    Sometimes, I feel like I’m only here to inspire them to do better, more thought provoking, and controversial work.
    My presence seems to increase my advisor’s credibility to
    conduct research on Latino political issues
    (“he has a Latina graduate student! He must know what she is talking about!) but, by the same token, undermines my objectivity and right to conduct this research.
    This experience has been confusing and enraging.
    One of the first conversations I’ve had with my cohort involved them asking me if I liked Juanes and whether I knew how to make a mean salsa. There was very little conversation about my intellectual interests, of my accomplishments; these questions made me feel as though I was simply an affirmative action admit to graduate school. Let it be clear that had I been an affirmative action admit, I wouldn’t be ashamed – but I was not. I had GRE scores well above the 90th percentile, great grades, and have generated enough accolades to be recruited by my well-respected advisor. But to them, my white cohort mates, I’ll always be Latina first, academic second (if at all).
    I am one of two graduate students in the department interested in studying in Latin America; the other student is White. I, for the most part, get along with him. He seems to sort of ‘get’ the Latino experience – he has studied their governments, after all. In fact, I have come to him to talk about some of the difficulties I have experienced when interacting with my mostly White, mostly middle-class colleagues. Sometimes I feel like a sideshow oddity, a person that they like to speak to about my experiences with prejudice and discrimination.
    Often, I feel tired and sort of degraded after these conversations because I can see their eyes light up with research ideas when I share something particularly painful and / or shameful!
    Even though my mother escaped oppression to provide me with new opportunities,
    it seems more like I’ve been offered a new type of oppression
    – being constantly and consistently ‘othered,’ and undermined.
     
    To thrive in the academy means that we have to spend a lot of time seeking recognition for your work in the form of fellowships and publications. I’ve been awarded with not one, but two fellowships, in my short stay at my doctoral program. I have completed many lines of research.
    For a person of color this all doesn’t seem to matter because people treat you with doubt, that you belong and that I have the intellectual capacity to do the work I believe in.
    In some ways I don’t want them to know how good I am, it feels safer to be la mosquita muerta.
    I let people question me, because as la mosquita muerta,
    I will pretend to be stupid until my time comes to shine.

     

  • Comments on this post (4 comments)

    • Open says…

      I need help for my son to continue his eiouatdcn. I was laid off and habing trouble getting a job. My sons is still taking out loans but I can’t get a parent plus and earned 40,000 when I did work so financial aid is small. PLEASE help and tell me were I can go so my son doesn’t have to drop out

      on April 01, 2015

    • Eugene says…

      it’s retro acculturation. US born hipcinass begin retro acculturation at about 13-15 years old and continues into adulthood. during this phase, hipcinass seek out their culture in everyday moments the yearning for hispanic culture is in full gear. so advertisers are trying to leverage this thirst by using spanish ads in english mediums. but, i don’t think it has even close to the same impact as a spanish ad would have on fox or nbc.

      on March 28, 2015

    • Vitor says…

      I was born in Argentina,and came to the US at the age of 5. I recieved my tanhcieg credential. In CA. I moved to ID, but I have not been able to get work except in a private school. The districts here are bankrupt. There are no jobs. I would like to go back to school and earn a degree in Speech theropy. What can I do. I only make $25,000. I have 4 children and the father is no where to be found.

      on March 26, 2015

    • Catalina Treviño says…

      “I received word, through my advisor, that some of the faculty are concerned that I will be pigeonholed as the Latina who studies Latino issues.”

      I can relate. I’m currently working on a Ph.D and was told by my advisor that my dissertation would not be well received if I depicted Mexican American’s as victims of oppression in the U.S.

      I was also told that I would encounter unspecified “problems” if I packed my dissertation committee with other minorities. This was an obvious reference to the single black professor I had on my committee at that time, and a warning not to bring on any more.

      The irony of UCSB is that it frequently touts its status as a “hispanic serving institute” as one of its selling points.

      on February 16, 2015

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