Occupying a Latino male body in the academy is a continuous challenge where not a day goes by in which I am not reminded that I am an outsider, that this space I occupy within the ivory tower is a space never intended for me. To occupy this space, I am forced to be fluent in the way white folk think, philosophize and theorize. Any attempt to ground my theological view in my cultural context is dismissed as quaint, unscholarly or exotic. I would never have been granted a Ph.D. if I were not competent in Hegel, Barth or Moltmann. And yet, my white colleagues are deemed rigorous scholars without ever having to read Martí, Unamuno or Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.
Not only must I be fluent in Eurocentric thought, I must also be proficient in the writings emerging from the underside of the academy. And while double-consciousness provides me with a broader grasp of reality, more than one of my white colleagues has expressed gratitude for the affirmative action that has allowed me to become a professor.
A child of an illiterate woman and a man with a sixth-grade education, a child who flunked first grade for not knowing how to speak or read English, I am the intellectual product of a community college who worked full-time to be able to put myself through school. I am looked down upon by white colleagues who are quick to remind me of their Ivy League pedigrees, schools which they attended that have historically and currently gone out of their way to ensure my voice does not soil their hallowed walls. The search is always on for the brownest face with white voices. Or better yet, a Euro-American who makes our subjectivity the object of their discourse, self-appointed to speak for and about us.
The 32-plus books I published can never be considered scholarly, because after all, Euro-Americans — even though they have all the privileges of whiteness — spend an entire career barely able to publish three books. To recognize my books as rigorous means white scholars fall short before brown scholarship. I’ll never forget a white dean who expressed concern because I was publishing too many books and thus questioned the quality of my scholarship. When I pressed the dean as to which of my books (five of which won national awards) lacked scholastic rigor, the dean confessed never having read any of them. And yet I wonder, if I were a white scholar, would I be celebrated as a prolific, award-winning, ground-breaking scholar? I am always reminded I do not belong when I see that my white colleague, who finally publishes that one book, is publicly congratulated. By comparison my own accomplishments are barely mentioned or recognized.
The worst transgressors are my liberal white colleagues. I usually prefer conservatives because they already see me as a bad hombre. At least I can appreciate their honesty and am under no illusion as to what I can expect. But the micro-aggressions of my white colleagues are the small paper cuts that with time cause me to bleed to death. The white dean of a liberal East Coast, Ivy League school where I spoke expressed shock at my presentation because it was not similar to what other Latinx scholars were writing about. I must not have been monolithic enough. And because this dean knew more about being a Latino then I did, he had no problem proceeding to teach me what it means to be Latinx and in what direction I should take my scholarship. He, of course, was neither the first nor the last white colleague who took it upon themselves to teach me about the Latinx experience, because white scholars, after all, know more about my context then I can ever know.
And yet, for those white scholars who admit their lack of knowledge concerning my context, I am expected to be their private tutor. I was hired by my institution to teach students. I was not hired to teach my colleagues, nor are my Latinx students in the classrooms of my white colleagues there to teach the professors. The students — not the professor — are paying the tuition to learn. They are not there to teach the ones getting a paycheck about what it means to be Latinx. But part of white privilege is the expectation that those on the margins exist to serve the center. And within the academy, serving is to be at the beck and call of whites who are Latinx-curious. If you don’t know about the Latinx experience, may I suggest you put that Ph.D. to work and conduct research? Read a book, for God’s sake.
Sorry, I am not your token brown friend to prove how hip you are. So why is it that, whenever I write anything critical of how white power and privilege operate in the academy, I have to spend hours with my white colleagues reassuring them that they are fine. That they are good. Really. If you think my critique is geared toward you, then it probably is. And instead of seeking my assurance that you are among the “good” white people, why don’t you instead ask me to help you see better your complicity with white power and privilege?
OK, I know what you’re thinking. Why am I so angry? In spite of all the insulting ignorance I am force to endure on a daily basis, I am supposed to smile, nod my head and say gracias. For me to question how power within the academy operates to marginalize me — or worse, for me to question Eurocentic thinking as highly subjected and damning to Latinxs, constructed to justify and reinforce my marginalization — is to be labeled as an angry Latino. Refusing to live up to the stereotypical Latino servile gardener image must mean I am angry. Really — after decades of daily dismissals, I assure you, I am way beyond anger. But if I can be constructed as an angry Latino man, I can be dismissed as hot-headed, if not dangerous or violent. And ironically, I have found more resistance among some white women than white men. I can see the fear in some of my white women colleagues’ eyes, a fear betrayed by the questions they ask me, confusing a confident man of color for some stereotypical machista.
I am not an angry Latino. I am a scholar who refuses to see and interpret reality through Eurocentric eyes. The colonizing process triumphs when I define myself and my community through academic paradigms that consciously or unconsciously were designed to reinforce and rationalize my marginalization. I will no longer pour liberative wine into the old Eurocentric academic skins. To do so, as Jesus advises, causes the skins to burst and the liberative message to be lost. I choose to pour my liberative wine into my Latinx skins so that both can be preserved together and used by my community, which thirsts to drink Good News. To repeat the words of my intellectual mentor: Nuestro vino de plátano, y si es agrio, es nuestro vino. Deal with it.