Exceptionalism Can Never Be Radical: On use of sCHOLAr, and other things people think is ok.
By Irene Sanchez (Xicana Ph.D.)
Resistance is more than our existence. It is the constant challenging of the idea that somehow we got to where we are because we are the good ones, the ones who followed the rules, did this on our own (meritocracy) or pulled ourselves up by bootstraps. It is the challenging and resistance of the idea that was planted somewhere that we are somehow the EXCEPTIONAL ones so that makes us experts and as such given a free pass to do as we please. Well guess what? It doesn’t.
I recently wrote about how I think folks should stop spelling sCHOLAr with emphasis on chola if you weren’t one or rolled with them (but I personally would still hesitate). I say this because even if people lived and left that life often times academics and other folks in public positions (included writers and artists or anyone else) will look down on people who look like my students from your elite institutions and aren’t doing anything to uplift communities/schools where you may find some right now. I can point to books and other narratives that reinforce the stereotypes the students I see are up against right now daily. These books and narratives reinforce something that I find problematic. That is why I write this.
No I don’t think rocking hoops isn’t a form of solidarity or makes you more down if it’s something you decided to add to your wardrobe suddenly. Being about that life and the struggle that comes with it isn’t a costume or aesthetic (style) you can take on/off when convenient. As people in privileged positions and voices that are often amplified or can be depending on access to resources and power, we often don’t find ourselves in the same spaces and places or face criminalization and repercussions that the young people who do live it face daily. I’m careful here, but as a Latinx Studies high school teacher including at a continuation school I know I’m there more than most academics who left the neighborhood for the ivory tower (which isn’t to say you don’t have connections or can’t do both).
Resistance is more than our presence in these higher education institutions or any other spaces and that still doesn’t give us permission to take on things that aren’t ours for the taking including pretending like we are the experts or spokespeople for those who remain incarcerated, those students who are pushed out, and the students who remain marginalized in schools today. It doesn’t give us permission to mock or marginalize them further and that’s something people continue to do knowing that there’s few and far between people coming from backgrounds where they didn’t follow a straight line from high school to mostly elite schools to graduate school or any other “right way”. If we are anywhere it is a community college and we can look at the numbers about what we are up against to transfer. (They aren’t good).
I remember years ago seeing a Latinx student organization do a cholo themed party and thinking woah! I don’t know anyone in that group who rolled like that and it made me question what were they really doing to recruit students who are marginalized in already under served schools. Their response was they were “honoring” culture. Honoring culture is something we do if something has died or at least when I think of honoring its paying respect and you know if those students had driven 20 minutes away they would see students living a reality that wasn’t always plaid shirts and bandannas like they saw in movies and decided to wear. Maybe all a couple of them had to do is call home to their friends and family members that weren’t there where they were.
I had begun thinking of this more because most students at elite four year universities are coming from what my students now know is the “A” track meaning you’re destined for a four year and not only that it’s expected. They added another track as we were reading Always Running because as Luis Rodriguez writes in there about his own experiences that there’s an A and B track. We discussed this at length. The continuation high school students demanded I add a C because as they said, if you’re on the C track you’ll end in in Continuation, adult school, dropping out/pushed out or worse. That’s what’s real and while some of us made it out of difficult circumstances or cast off who we used to be, point is we left something behind meaning we also left some people to make way for the new budding identities we took on unless we are in a constant state of resisting and challenging them.
I know there’s some who won’t agree. That’s ok. I don’t seek approval from academics or anyone for that matter as some of my previous writing states, we don’t need anyone’s permission to write, a title, a tenure track job or degrees to be considered worth listening to. That’s what I try to instill because even with those things, folks will try to discredit and tear you down, but this isn’t about me, this is about us. This is about the young folks I interact with and hopefully instilling in them a sense of empowerment that will allow them to walk with their head high in the midst of things we all face in this country today as a broad and diverse Latinx community, but I also want them to hold their heads high knowing they face something extra, somethings some of us don’t deal with anymore.
You want to uplift and appreciate and “honor” from a four year university or a position where you have a platform of some sort. With all that comes responsibility. I won’t say what to do, mentoring is cool though. All I know is there are plenty of youth wishing they were where you are, wishing for something different, wishing for a chance, dreaming, and having to fight everyday to keep them and themselves alive. In a world of “right” and “wrong” ways to do things, we don’t often get to define them, but some of us do. In a world where they are living something you mock for fun or fashion. In a world where many of my friends were cast aside before they were even offered an opportunity and knowing that many students have been and will continue to be. We are the ones who survived the oppressive systems in many ways, but remember, always remember there are many who haven’t and won’t.