How do you use writing or art in your life?
I’ve found poetry to be an important part of connecting with my identity. I love the challenge of using this art form to not only declare who I am, but also to explore depths of myself that not even I had been fully aware of. Writing poetry around my identity allows me to explore who I am as a Chicana, as a mother, as a wife, as an educator, and as a human. Do I often write this poetry down? No. While I do sometimes write and edit, I often find myself thinking up poems on my way to and from work. I think about the challenges ahead or the challenges I just faced, and poetry opens up a way for me to address this challenge, while staying true to who I am and who I want to be.
What lessons/teachings from your family, home and/or community do you draw on in your teaching and/or scholarship.
Even though we grew up with few financial and material resources, my mother always showed me that we could give to others who have even less than we do. She showed me the importance of selfless love for others, whether they were family, friends or strangers. This selfless love for others has a strong impact on who I am as an educator. I know many educators say this, but I truly LOVE my career – especially the past six years I’ve spent at Sadler Means YWLA. My career is central to my identity. In every single one of these girls, I see a part of me. I see parts of me that were reaching out for support, love, and attention at the same age. I see the parts of me that wanted someone at school to be my cheerleader, on both an academic and personal level. My time at Sadler Means has allowed me to give selfless love to so many students, in an attempt to be their “somebody who truly cares.”
The other family lesson from life that truly impacts my work, is how my native language was stolen from me. My grandmother often told us about growing up in South Texas in the 1930s and 1940s, where she was regularly hit with a ruler for speaking Spanish. This, of course, was common in colonized areas of the American Southwest. As a result of these types of violence against my grandparents and their culture, the Spanish language became a negative stigma. My parents decided that they would not teach me Spanish, to ensure the best possibility of academic and personal success. They even changed my planned name from “Gracia” to “Grace.” With this in mind, I am constantly reminding my students to be proud of their native language, culture, accents and brown skin! No one should ever be embarrassed of who they are. I encourage my students to celebrate their very being and make an active effort to ensure that this message is communicated in small ways, even in just my every day interactions with them.
What would you tell your younger self??
I would tell myself to take more risks! Don’t be afraid of failure; just go out there and do it!
Advice for new scholars and/or teachers
My biggest piece of advice for new teachers is to spend time really focusing on your own identity. Too often I see educators who are unable to take criticism, unable to accept any reality other than their own, unable to welcome diverse perspectives. This is often rooted in educators feeling like their identity is being threatened or challenged. For example, if you’re a member of the dominant white culture, and students are speaking Spanish in your class, and you have no knowledge of the Spanish language, you may default to feeling as though these Spanish words are a threat to your control of the classroom. However, for an educator who is solid in their own identity, I don’t think they would take things like this at such a personal level. New educators, when you feel threatened, step back, evaluate the situation, and figure out what part of you is feeling threatened. And then work on yourself first.
My second piece of advice is to keep consistent, high standards. Do not assume that students are capable of less. Keep standards high every day. Support them where they are; include stories and lessons they can relate to. Love them hard through their struggles, and they will meet those standards.
Something else you want to share?
Any community members, educators, philanthropists out there looking for an amazing community to work with? Join us at Sadler Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy! It’s impossible to put into words the amazingness that exists within our students. Their bright minds, resilience, passion, strength, honesty, and love for connection will astound you. We are a unique campus, like no other in any other part of the city or state. I mean that. Don’t underestimate our girls. Be a part of our story. You will be a better person for it. 💜