Where do I go from here?
My fellowship journey started with a question: “as a female leader, what do I want?” Not what needs to be done, or what do others want of me, but what do I want to do? It is fitting that my fellowship journey ends with a question too. My question is where do I go from here?
In this learning log, I have been asked to reflect on what I wished I had known before I started the fellowship. I wise friend of mine says “if any of us knew the future, we might not be able to get out of bed in the morning – living with uncertainty requires bravery in the face of unknowing”. I am glad that when I applied for the fellowship I didn’t know how much my life would change and how painful my leadership development and growth process would be. The other question I was asked to answer was, “what surprised me most?” My answer is that I never anticipated what a personal journey the fellowship would be- how much I would change and let go of (ideas, relationships, my job). I don’t regret the fellowship and have gained more than I could ever express in 1500 words. The one practical advice I would give to a new fellow is make sure you don’t procrastinate writing your learning log and for God’s sake spellcheck before you submit it. You won’t have the ability to fix typos after you submit. I learned that the hard way. In my defense, I will say these reflections feel like sausage making in the beginning but somewhere in the process I have a breakthrough and decide what to write about. Although my intention is to NOT wait until the last minute, I haven’t learned how to speed up the process. It is a little like giving birth, but I digress.
To uncover what it is that I want, I have had to reflect on the question “who am I?” Not who others think I am, or want me to be, but who I am. My last learning log was about who I am as a professional from a “value proposition” perspective. This final learning log is about who I am culturally and why I have committed my life professionally and personally to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Culturally, I identify as Chicana. I am an American with Mexican, Spanish, Irish, Swedish, and Indigenous heritage (Mestiza). I am “mixed” in many other categories as well, such as my socioeconomic status growing up. My father was a college professor. He was the first Mexican American to get his Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. After he completed his Ph.D. he went into academia. He was a professor but also a psychologist. He was one of the founders of the Chicano (now Latino) Psychological Association.
My early life, we moved around a lot when my father was early in his career. In elementary school we lived in Northern California during the Chicano movement while he taught at the University of California, Santa Cruz. I was raised to view being Chicanx as a thing of pride and strength. When we moved from California to Texas I quickly learned that in Texas, being Chicanx was not something that was valued by either my teachers or my peers. I was called “spic” and “wetback” by my peers (mostly boys) often when my friends were present. No one ever said “that is not right” or “stop that”; it was hurtful and confusing. I could tell my teachers in Texas didn’t think I was smart. In the third grade at my school in California I won a science contest so when my teachers treated me poorly, I knew my intelligence wasn’t the problem.
The other half of my story is that my parents were divorced soon after we moved to Texas. My mother, who was not college educated and did not previously work outside the home had to enter the workforce. Without a college degree, she did not have many job options and our household income fell dramatically. My mom’s father was a white Irish man whose family disowned him for marrying a Mexican woman. I grew up not knowing the white side of my family.
Whether I like it or not, racial justice is woven into both the personal and professional aspects of my life, and in order to feel whole I need to pay attention to it and to work to erase it’s effects from my life. These “lived” experiences have led me to commit myself to a lifelong journey of continuous learning, self-awareness and growth with the intention of ending racism. I have been angry and sad about the recent murder of Ahmaud Arbery. Mother’s Day was very emotional for me as I thought about his mom and the moms and children, my people, in cages along the US/Mexico border. I learned that the original intent of a mothers (no apostrophe) day was a day for women to come together to grieve the death of sons killed in the civil war and then strategize about how to end war and the senseless killing. I say we take back “mothers day” (no apostrophe). How do we do that you may ask? There is a wonderful article by Taharee Jackson titled “I’m White and I am Outraged by Ahmaud Arbery’s Murder. Now What?” In the article she lays out concrete steps on what White people can do. Her last recommendation is that wherever you are in your journey, don’t stop there.
I was recently asked to advise the Lt. Governor’s Covid-19 Community Support Working Group (CSWG). As I listened to community leaders from different cultural groups report on the impact of the pandemic on their communities, the real-life stories behind the statistics of the disproportionate impact of the pandemic, I kept thinking “where do we go from here?” In her address to the group, Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan stated “we don’t want to go back to the way things were before the pandemic, we want an equitable recovery.” I have been asking myself what would it mean to have an equitable recovery from the devastation? I don’t know what that will look like, but I know that is what I want to work toward.
One of my coaches, Paul Erdahl, wrote his doctoral dissertation on political activism. His research found that for people to take political action they needed people around them to support them and let them know that what they were doing mattered and had the potential to make a difference. What I need in this next phase of my journey is to continue to develop an ecosystem of support. Part of my fellowship journey has been to build it but I am realizing to continue to do the work I am called to do, I need the support of allies and accomplices (for a definition of these, see article referenced above).
An equitable recovery: that is an idea I can get behind. I don’t yet know how we get there from here other than together. Although I don’t have answers, as a result of my work during my two year Bush Leadership Fellowship, I am better positioned to work toward a solution. I hope you will join me.