“You will never amount to anything” echoed in my head shortly after learning I had earned early tenure. “You will never amount to anything” is exactly what my middle school principal told me when I was in 6th grade. His words struck fear and self-doubt into my soul. His words sounded definitive; factual; predictive of the future.
I immigrated with my family from Mexico when I was 4 years old. We lived in poverty but in a home rich with love and hopes for the future. When “Mi Vida Loca” came out, I for the first time, saw myself reflected on the big screen. The characters were Latinx. They spoke Spanish, and they weren’t “the help.” Hollywood had glorified gang culture, and impressionable little Latinx children who were eager to see themselves on TV, somehow felt a strange connection to that lifestyle. I was never in a gang, nor did I live in a community that had gangs, but I did act out at school which landed me in the principal’s office.
Being a chola wannabe fascinated me because no educator had taken the time to show/tell me of my infinite potential. I wanted to be a chola because I lived in a society that saw Mexican immigrants as invisible, disposable, unworthy of an education, and ignorant. Despite my parents telling me I could be whatever I wanted to be, society silenced their message. It muted their belief in my potential. “You will never amount to anything” has been uttered to millions of children by their educators. Those words inflect laser thin wounds, that when uttered over and over again, throughout the years, bleed out the dreams of generations. Some of us are able to escape wounded but determined to overcome. Others have their wings clipped before they could ever learn to fly.
I entered the field of educator because I know what it feels like to be seen as unworthy by educators. I dream of making the field more empathetic, humanistic, and supportive – one student at a time; one publication at a time; one interaction at a time. I survived an education system that too often works to push children out, rather than to prepare them to succeed. In reflection, I realize that my principal was afraid I would amount to much more than his small mind could fathom. My espíritu guerrero is what has carried me through, reclaiming my ancestral knowledge, pride in my cultura, and empowered by the hopes and dreams of my familia. This Mexican immigrant, first generation college student, mamíscholar, and former ESL student has joined the ranks of associate professor. Yet, we have a long way to go according to the latest NCES data. In 2018, only 2.2% of associate faculty were Latinas. Earning early tenure hardly feels like a victory given that white faculty remain overrepresented at all ranks. All children deserve to be taught by teachers who were prepared by a diverse faculty.
We must do better to break the cycle of traumatizing and pushing out non-white children from school, before they have a chance to dream big. The children aren’t the problem, it’s our inability to challenge a subtractive education system that sees non-white children as deficient. No one should ever have the memory of being told, “You will never amount to anything,” when reaching an ultimate milestone.
Dr. Claudia García-Louis is an associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio. You can follow her on Twitter @cgarcialouis