Teacher. Scholar. Intellectual Activist.
To teach, to my mind, is not to take a position of authority, but to learn perpetually alongside those who take my courses. I avoid teaching students; instead, I strive to learn alongside co-learners; instead of grading and hierarchical, one-way forms evaluation, we ungrade—we work collectively toward group goals, we self-assess, and we reflect. We think about the privilege of advanced learning and how to break down the capitalistic and cultural barriers placed between people and ideas.
An example of one such project is that of Femmipedia, a multi-semester webpage repository of content designed by the members of my course, Latina/x Feminisms & Social Media. In it, we presented the material of the class with a broad, general audience in mind, under the guiding axiom that those with privilege (such as those able to attend university) are uniquely poised to challenge barriers created by our oppressive social system. This can take the form of explaining "high theory" through paraphrasing and other story telling narrative devices more accessible to a wider audience, or diversifying textual forms of knowledge into videos and image, for example.
My current book-length project, Caste War Textualities: Racial Mythologies and Mayan Imaginaries, examines how race functioned in the nineteenth-century, becoming the solution to the ebbs, flows, and eventual failures of liberal promises in Southern Mexico. My reading of the Caste War period (1847-1902) elucidates how the gendered colonial system migrated into the gendered colonial-modern with only a minimal degree of disruption, making use of abolitionist, Black, trans feminisms to do so. I consider a mixture of texts, including newspapers, novels, and literary magazines, thinking beyond the constraints of nation to articulate Yucatán's construction of race—especially those of blanco and Indio—into a larger discursive web of plantation societies, including the US South, Cuba, and Haiti.
I have two forthcoming articles, one that imagines (im)migration through the epistemological breakthroughs of trans* feminist theory, and another—co-published with graduate student and research assistant Cristina Zhunio—that seeks new stakes in the interpretation of Ixcanul, a film produced in Kaqchikel.
Capitalism doesn’t approve of rest and we live in conditions of collective trauma so constant and normalized that our metabolisms have adapted. —Aurora Levin Morales
Overwhelmingly, activism emphasizes "direct, vigorous action"—intellectual activism, at least in my conceptualization of it, opens the notion of action to that of the intellectual— that is, doing the endless, hard work of wrestling with new ways of thinking, hearing, seeing, and doing.
Often, I hear that because certain knowledges are inaccessible, are difficult, or are "privileged," that they are inherently not useful, not liberatory, or in a word, "bad." I hear an implication that because thinking is purportedly not collective action, it is not "doing the work" "in the streets"—thus suggesting that intellectual approaches to liberation are but mere musings of an elite class that seeks to maintain privilege by co-opting and overcomplicating the "real" work done elsewhere.
I find such critiques lacking in many ways. For one, they are reliant on an internalized logic of capitalism—that one must only do work, and work must be recognizable to us as a form of physical, and decidedly non-cerebral, labor. They are reliant on the logics of ableism—that one can only do the work in the ways that certain people with certain abilities can. Finally, such critiques promote anti-intellectualism via a conflation between thinking and the oppressive constructs that limit access to thought. That is, having the tools to do intellectual work has been relegated to a realm of privilege—one must have the money, say, to go to school, to have access to certain languages and libraries, and one must have the time to do the wrestling with ideas. I contend, however, that its this relationship between systems of harm and such intellectual work that is the problem—the way that our entire existences are articulated upon (gendered, racialized) landscapes of capitalism and state power, this is what denies access to knowledge, not the knowledge itself. I repeat: it is not the knowledge itself.
My intellectual activism thus recognizes that liberatory politics can come from anyone, anywhere—it is not just (and not usually) the production of an intellectual elite (for indeed, elite intellectual production can often be antithetical to liberatory projects, its obsession with the objective, the liberal, the quantitative, the knowability of all, for example).
My own activist path has dipped in an out of various arenas. From 2015-2017, my intellectual activism took the form of thinking corporeal movement through queerness and feminist praxis. With like-minded members of Champaign's LGBTQIA+ community, we created a gym that focused on community building and undo-ing harmful narratives around exercise, size, and health; we designed trainings in anti-racist, anti-white supremacist praxis specifically for our group; we created dance curriculums specifically for fat bodies; and we formed performance spaces inclusive of all forms of art and activism.
Today, my intellectual activism seeks out opportunities to create art, design websites, and make podcasts, for example, places my students can create public-pointing tools that distill their intellectual experiences beyond academe's walls, to bridge the gap that capitalist exclusion has created from higher education. My intellectual activism is to be radically vulnerable and open with my students. I seek out pedagogical opportunities that minimize harm for my students, many of whom are immigrants and first-generation, Latinx-identifying, and/or work full-time to support themselves and their families. My intellectual activism is also embedded in an unending dialogue with others, people with whom I may never speak but through their scholarship, I get to know. I put no disciplinary boundaries on my scholarly explorations, and I seek no home within those borders.