Guilt, fear, and anger. Those three words have been entrenched in my psyche and refuse to leave ever since Donald J. Trump came to power. Most recently, I’ve been experiencing brief episodes of panic, always vigilant while driving, shopping, and dropping off my children at school/daycare. I catch myself crying while reading news stories, then deciding it is too much so I close the page, and then feel incredibly guilty because I can disengage and go on with my life – unlike millions of others. Then, a surge of anger floods my body. How is it possible that we have become numb to the targeting of minoritized communities? How can we continue to operate off of a Black-White binary that erases and overlooks the pain of other minoritized communities?
The terrorist attack on Latinxs in El Paso was the result of hate speech directly targeting Latinxs in the U.S. by Trump. We have been the target of hate for far too long. Yet, it has been ignored and overlooked for generations. The hurtful rhetoric of “send them back” (most recently seen at Rice University) has been historically utilized against Latinxs for generations, resulting in generational trauma. Latinxs have been forced into landlessness, second class citizenship, and perpetual otherness despite being able to trace our lineage to the Americas. Our indigenous ancestors roamed freely trading for hundreds of years before the colonization. We became the people of “ni de aqui, ni de aya” (not from here, not from there), effects of which I have personally felt. As a five year old girl, I vividly remember my father being told “go back to your country you F-ing Mexican,” and to this day I still cannot shake the look in his eyes. That verbal attack transmitted a clear message that not even children were safe from hate. I don’t know how my father kept it together but he did. Minoritized people have the added tax of always keeping it together. It is physically, mentally, and psychologically exhausting. It is painful.
As an assistant professor at a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) in Texas, I feel a moral obligation to foster a supportive and safe learning environment for all my students – especially the targeted and most vulnerable populations. I want them to know that in my classroom, they should expect to feel safe and validated regardless of what is happening in society. Yet, I have been advised by many mentors to never talk politics and to always remain neutral. But this is not about neutrality. Talking about the trauma that is being inflicted upon targeted communities is not a political act. This is not about political parties or what some call “reverse racism,” this is not a political matter at all. This is about safety and visibility, about recognizing that social political factors interfere with our ability to focus and digest theories (that have historically excluded us or misrepresented our communities). It is impacting our health and that of our children. The Washington Post recently published a piece on “Trump Effect” and the impact it’s having on the health of Latinxs. He is literally making us sick. Dr. Sherman James identified similar physiological effects on African Americans which she coined John Henryism. Our communities bear the weight of generational trauma; the load is becoming heavier and instances more mundane.
Hate crimes have increased consecutively every year since the election of Trump and schools are at the epicenter of incidents. Therefore, as I sit here and try to piece together my syllabi, I navigate an internal battle between wanting to facilitate critical conversations but also needing to feel safe. I intentionally include scholarship that upholds compassion, inclusion, critical perspectives, and research that provides hope. I want my students to feel safe initiating conversations and engaging difficult topics but I also understand the fear they may be experiencing. Paulo Freire reminds us that it is through dialogic encounters where we are able to learn from one another, bridge gaps, and develop a critical awareness of our own social realities. He notes the process of conscientization is necessary to understand the self and why we hold the beliefs we do. The biggest challenge is interrogating them against systems of privilege and oppression because this is where insecurities arise. This is the part that I’m most scared of because this is where people become defensive.
Yet, working at an HSI means I must understand how the generational trauma inflected upon the Latinx community will/is impacting their academic engagement; how it’s impacting me. As an educator I feel the obligation to facilitate timely conversations in my classrooms but part of me is fearful. This is where our work as educators converges. It is our collective responsibility to do the hard work. We must intentionally uphold each other’s humanity. This includes diversifying our syllabi to be more representative and inclusive of marginalized communities and diverse ways of knowing. It means engaging difficult conversations and interrupting microaggressions in our classrooms. It means doing the difficult work of interrogating our actions, words, and biases. We must join as an academic community and enact conscientization for the sake of humanity. Future generations are depending on us.
Claudia García-Louis is an assistant professor in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio.