We live in a society that forces us to kill, or at least silence, our inner child from a very early age. I’ve worked since as far back as I can remember. When I was in elementary school, my family used to clean office buildings late at night to make sure we could make ends meet; but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m referring to the early death of hope, esperanza, we’re all born with. The feeling that we can be what we want if we put our mind to it. The “just wait till I prove you wrong” and the “como que no, vas a ver, mira!” That unexplainable, yet exhilarating belief in the self that is often accompanied by the blissful ignorance of systemic and structural barriers. Some of us are forced to “grow up” faster than others but I firmly believe that we are all born with what Indigenous elders call espíritu guerrero – a warrior spirit.
Lately, I’ve been waking up sick to my stomach, thinking of all the bad that is happening around the world. I go through a roller coaster of emotions: guilt, despair, hope, motivation to do something, guilt, contempt, guilt, frustration, guilt… anger… guilt. Like many around the world, some of my family members have lost their jobs. I’m worried about my parents who are business owners but do not have health insurance. I’m worried about my extended family, friends, students, colleagues, community – about those who have no one advocating for them. I suddenly feel like I’m going down a very dark emotional hole. I feel pressure on my chest and unable to breath. I have to remind myself to take a breath. I bring my hand to my chest and walk myself through the steps. My lungs happily welcome a breath of fresh air. Then my mother instincts kick in. The kids are waking up soon so I need to jump out of bed and get in front of the computer to prepare and record a lecture for my students, hold multiple virtual meetings, support my students, my spouse and children all before noon.
Like many mother scholars, I am forced to navigate professional responsibilities while consciously being the best mother I can be. This pandemic has made me especially aware of my energy, the expectations I have of my children/partner, and the need to help keep their espíritu guerrero alive and jovial. Their laughter gives me hope and reminds me that the stress of the world does not need to be on their shoulders. It doesn’t have to be on mine. Still, the feelings of guilt will not go away. We all have the moral obligation to engage in socially responsible acts ( self-quarantine, social distancing, giving grace to others, etc.) but that does not mean we have to give in to the stress. I’ve made the conscious decision to prioritize my family; to Facetime my loved ones and spend as much time as possible with my children. I am not getting any writing done. I’m not reading. I’m not producing academic work. I am, however, watering the seed of hope and happiness my children hold. I state the aforementioned with a clear understanding and recognition of the privilege associated with being able to make such a statement, and recognize we all have different experiences.
I’ve always had a very strong connection with my father. He is a hardworking man with a third grade education who somehow managed to legalize our status in the U.S. and start a business with limited English. In my mind he has a Ph.D. in work ethic, compassion, and mil-usos (handyman). He has the most jovial spirit of any person I have ever met. This pandemic has helped me understand that a youthful spirit filled with hopes, goals, and a tenacious spirit will carry us through to better times. As a #LatinaMamiScholar, I consciously prioritize nurturing the espíritu guerrero of my children. Academia can wait. After all, I was never really meant to thrive in it.
Dr. Claudia García-Louis is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio. You can follow her on Twitter @cgarcialouis