Academic rawness and the colonized coffee that fuels it

By Clelia O. Rodríguez

“Professionalization,” as it is commonly referred to in graduate school, tried to teach me to trust the system.

One of the gurus in the department told my new cohort of aspiring scholars to focus only on research, as teaching was not important at the university that had carefully selected us. We had been chosen to excel academically and to engage in boundless knowledge. I felt scolded. My throat was dried and my thirst for inquisitorial questions only magnified under a colonial telescope of the ivory tower.

When I think back to that morning in early September 2005, I think of food processors: a couple of brains waiting in line to be shredded into chewable, tiny pieces. The norm then, and now, is to produce cutting-edge knowledge in the name of academic freedom tied to a mathematical convention of 2+2=5. The belief is that, as academics-in-the-making, we strive to adopt writing norms and mimic behaviors to become the right fit for the future institution that will glorify us by nurturing our careers, as long as our experiences as colored people do not interfere with agendas and mission statements that $ell buzzword$ to attract $tudent$.

This imagined life is painful. My cinnamon skin knows it. My twisted and wicked tongue has wounds to prove it. The presumed superiority performed in academia drills through the anatomy of learning that should take place in the classroom. This racial battle fatigue, as William Smith points out, is daily. So, why do white academics continue to flat out deny our reality?

This pain is similar to how my uterus screams every month; this text is like peeling an onion. This layer removal is a process to untangle dead lines in the name of higher education, letting fluidity be the guiding light instead of a rigid process that suffocates the breathing pattern in my lungs.

First Layer: Trespassing

I confront the lingering thirst that swims up knocking to my doorstep. A deafening silence edged with radical love that yells in a thundering sound: “Let’s get one thing straight, shall we?! Enough is enough!” The smoothness of this pain is felt differently when my nose is covered and my eyes are protected. The texture of the first layer gives the credential of an erected ivory that is telling of your good intentions, but not for me. They need my opinion, my data, my story, my daily struggles to expose their brilliance. The presumption of their competence overshadows mine because their hands are dirty underneath their perfectly manicured and sanitized gloves.

Although this first layer appeases the appetite of voyeuristic interests, underneath it I find the first inquisitorial question: Why are you here? Are you here once again in the name of humanities and noble research goals?” They want to know about me until my smells poison their senses from the enduring ghosts of centuries of slavery, domestication, and servitude. It seems like p-o-s-t-c-o-l-o-n-i-a-l-i-s-m has been vindicated with the kind of immunity that General Pinochet, D’Aubuisson, Montt, Ortega, Bush, Thatcher, and their club members receive as a courtesy gesture of History.

So, you want my story? A Twitter-like visit to my hub, my choza, my pueblo, my space, my inner layer?

People like me have never been allowed much privacy and now they come with papers to sign so that I can corroborate with a signature that my testimony for their research is valid?! At the whim of the European, North American masters we sign for our own death.

Peeling this layer of the onion is trespassing. The politics of print in humanities are very real. It cloaks our fears, our internalized oppression, the ungrateful gratitude dressed in a high-pitch voice of a “wow” to undo the nakedness of our unclothed insecurities.

Second layer: Rawness

My experience in the humanities as a decolonizing-in-process woman is one of limitations and possibilities.

At 8:00am, all I want to know is if there will be a cosmic power that will ascend to free the creativity that I see in the dirt of my herbs.

By 8:30am, coffee screams begging me not to forget the genocide that took place in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica where thousands of indigenous people, my ancestors, were killed so that a few families could own the land to produce coffee.

Following on this path begs for a re-reading for Ilan Stavans’s text The Hispanic Condition. “Crap!” I say to myself, “#shitisveryreal.” The sugar encountering my hot drink rumbles the same way I remember the noise of the habitual earthquakes in their standing ovation to Mother Nature. I am reminded that my inquisitorial thoughts give voice to a history that sinks me into the bottom of a pile of words, in a nightmarish situation.

By 8:32am I wake up again thinking, what is humanities in the face of decolonizing? 8:33am I eye Isabel Allende’s text Paula. Another sip, and voila, like a historical juncture I find a quote that comes in handy: “Write what should not be forgotten.” Then I get tempted by getting shocked by Naomi Klein but then I remember that is certainly Decolonizing is Not a Metaphor, as Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang remind me.

Third layer: Reading ‘time’

8:45am: My focus should be in illustrating that I know how to write an academic paper and that I ought to cite every white figure firstly.

8:46am: Shame? What shame? I lost it long time ago.

9ish am: “I was wondering if you could help me get participants for my project. They will be compensated with $10 and two tickets for transportation. We’re lucky to have received top funding. I know it’s uncomfortable to talk about trauma and such but it will be only for one hour.”

1:00pm: “The Department of Humanities of XYZ prestigious university seeks for an expert in transnational and comparative perspectives of literatures from the Global South. We are particularly interested in scholars who can implement a rigorous research agenda using an intersectional approach to notions of class, race, gender, ethnicity, and why not? Caste. Our department is committed to encouraging minorities to apply, particularly women of color.”

365 days later: “The Department of Humanities of XYZ prestigious welcomes our new heterosexual and Eurocentric professor, from England, whose research specializes in literatures from the Global South. He spent a summer in India, three weeks in Bolivia and participated in a summer study abroad program in Guatemala building a school. We are very privileged that he can join us.”

Fourth layer: To be continued…


clelia rodriguezClelia O. Rodríguez is an educator, born and raised in El Salvador, Central America. She graduated from York University with a Specialized Honours BA, specializing in Spanish Literature. She earned her MA and PhD from The University of Toronto. Professor Rodríguez has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in Spanish language, literature and culture at the University of Toronto, Washington College, the University of Ghana and the University of Michigan, most recently. She was also a Human Rights Traveling Professor in the United States, Nepal, Jordan, and Chile as part of the International Honors Program (IHP) for the School of International Training (SIT). She taught Comparative Issues in Human Rights and Fieldwork Ethics and Comparative Research Methods. She is interested in decolonozing approaches to teaching and engaging in critical pedagogy methodologies in the classroom.

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