Scholar Stories: Dra. Amira de la Garza

How do you use writing or art in your life?

Writing and art have been extensions of my way of being since I was a little girl–I used to pretend I was writing even before I had learned how!  There’s an impulse to express that feels directly rooted in my life force.  I could say that my “job” requires me to write, gives me the options to create art as part of my work, but in all honesty, I have to be very careful that this sort of employment-driven or inspired creativity isn’t actually robbing my soul of that which is written or created simply and most profoundly because it must be given voice, without any thought of notoriety, reward, or recognition.  I once wrote a poem called, “when the poetry comes,” and the final lines of that poem were, “when the poetry comes// then, so have I.”  I find that when I allow myself to be the channel for this form of creative expression, that is when the most powerful work I’ve created arrives.  I have to get out of my own way, be careful not to let the roles and identities of my life get in the way of my expression. It’s a spiritual balancing act.

What lessons/teachings from your family, home and/or community do you draw on in your teaching and/or scholarship?

I have written often of my grandparents and parents, my tias and tios and the many things that they taught me that are connected to who I am as a scholar, what I do, and why I am as I am.  I firmly believe that the skills that make me the strong ethnographer and creative writer that I am come from the way I learned to pay attention (some would say, today, “be mindful”) to the world around me, observing, noting the nuanced behaviors and actions of the people around me, watching the way that power, money, race, and gender interacted with everything in our lives.  The stories of my bisabuela, Petra, curandera with raices Lipanes, and what I learned from my tia Leta, her daughter, connect me to my indigenous ancestors, through the connection to the earth, to symbols, to fire and herbs, water and breath.  I think that because I realize how precious little the centuries of colonizing hegemony left for so many of us to actually “know” about our specific ancestors, I consider these connections more powerful and valuable than anything I’ve paid to learn.  The knowledge I got from them was meant to be mine, and it’s the reason our oral traditions are so important.  Once we start to privilege knowledge as property and capital, I believe we become defensive in our knowledge, and the minute that happens, its power diminishes.  That’s why indigenous knowledge acquired from our ancestors is so incredibly powerful and awesome–because it’s not property, it’s essence; it’s nature; es quien somos; es nuestra fuerza, nuestro poder. 

What would you tell your younger self?

You did the right thing walking out into the desert and into the forests when you were a little girl.  And you owe your mother a lot for letting you do that. Make sure you notice that anything you think you are doing freely is actually supported by all those who make the way and space for you to live that way.

Advice for new scholars and/or teachers:

Always find a way to connect to the earth and to the simple pleasures and truths that make you feel at most home in your body and in your life. Never let a single week go by that you don’t find at least one way to honor your life this way, and you will build your core strength to sustain you against the neoliberal and colonial legacies and institutions that will try to convince you that your core is located in them. No te creas. That’s what my grandfather, Papa M.R., told me, “no te creas…por que duele.” And if you do allow yourself to be lured by the promises and illusions, and it does, indeed, hurt you, be forgiving of yourself. Nurture the things that are real and not your regrets or shame.

Something else you want to share?

When I was in college, I had not one professor or instructor who was Latinx, Chicana, Mexicana. When I was in my graduate programs, there were no others in my programs.  We must recognize that even though the demographics are changing, the patterns of oppression and ideologies that would erase us are not gone or done trying to erase or weaken our influence. This is why it is so vital to find support from each other, rather than to commodify what it is that we bring to the academy. Because our cultural legacy is a collective legacy, and the minute we begin to commodify ourselves, we have sold ourselves. No matter how much reward or success we attain with our cultural labor, do not be lured into believing that is more powerful than the groundedness that comes from our indigenous and simple roots as women with the capacity to lead. Don’t be afraid to represent something that scares other people, don’t be afraid to break rules you once thought were unbreakable.  

Twitter handle:

 @amiradelagarza  

“Mindful Heretic Prof”

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