Program Specialist, TRIO SSS/TRIO STEM
"Learning to honor my intersectional lived experiences, continuously engaging in critical self-reflection, and operating from my identified core values (i.e., respect, transparency, integrity, and authenticity) is my success story...I take to heart the Mayan phrase, In Lak’ech or Tú eres mi otro yo, meaning, “You are my other me.” By investing in myself, I am simultaneously investing in my community, and them in me."
I joined the Mission College community over four years ago. I recall during my second level interview for the position of Program Specialist for the TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) Office, I asked Dr. John Mosby, then Vice President of Student Services, what success looked like for my position within TRIO and the larger Mission College community.
In retrospect, I realize I was seeking to have someone validate the trauma I experienced operating from internalized oppression. At the time, I did not have the language or tools to unpack how capitalism had distorted my view of productivity and how it was intricately tied to my sense of self-worth.
Developing Values to Function as an Internal Compass
Had I been invited to share my success story then, I would have provided a superficial
narrative that would have highlighted the journey of a first-generation college graduate
from a low-income background; a graduate who navigated post-secondary education successfully
with the assistance from a TRIO SSS program. I would have measured success by how
far I had removed myself from my neighborhood and how well I had assimilated into
the dominant culture.
Although I acknowledge that my lived experience, specifically my community cultural wealth, allowed me to navigate spaces that were not created for me to thrive, I was not living authentically. Paulo Freire states best what I was experiencing, “[the oppressed] discover that without freedom they cannot exist authentically.”
As my self-awareness grew and I developed values that would become my internal compass, I began to gradually deconstruct the “isms” that dictated my actions as well as how I showed up in spaces. Learning how to own my leadership unapologetically was the catalyst to bringing awareness to one way I was perpetuating white supremacy; in the sense of conforming to the politics of respectability.
I began to finally allow myself to live authentically in self-actualization rather than one of survival. Furthermore, this led me to recognize that building a career in education was essential. In 2019, I decided that I would continue my education by starting my Master of Arts in Educational Leadership program at Santa Clara University in the fall of 2020.
Challenging the Systems
My relationship with education has helped me evolve into becoming a critical thinker (questioning the “why”). James Baldwin highlighted the paradox of education being that once we become conscious, or cognizant of injustices in society (e.g., institutional racism), we need to challenge the systems in which we have been educated, as opposed to accepting them as truths without the possibility of transformational change.
As an educator, it is my responsibility to continue to engage in critical self-reflection as I decolonize my way of thinking, behaving, and living. This involves reflecting on all aspects of my life; one being my work experience which has always been in the realm of education. In my first position, as a child day care student staff, I was presented with the patriarchal expectation that my path (during or after high school) would certainly include having children.
I had internalized motherhood as an inevitable part of my life story, and the erroneous belief that women in leadership positions were selfish for choosing career over family. Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodríguez shares a truth that resonates deeply with me in her new book For Brown Girls with Sharp Edges and Tender Hearts: A Love Letter to Women of Color.
She states that the patriarchy was her initiation into becoming desensitized to her own constant oppression. Through questioning my beliefs, I began discovering my own truth. Gradually, I dismantled the belief that there was a linear path and realized instead that people were multifaceted. Being the first in my family to attend a four-year university started my journey to owning my narrative.
Shortly after starting my undergraduate career at San Jose State University, I applied for work study and obtained a position as a clerical assistant for the TRIO SSS program at that institution. During the next two years, I was presented with opportunities to build my self-confidence and engage in critical thinking, embracing curiosity and learning to take up space.
This was the first space that I found myself surrounded by working mothers who embodied the idea that motherhood was not the end-all. After graduating, unsure of how to navigate the job market, I took on temporary positions including the role of an interim office manager at an East San Jose charter elementary school.
This interim position eventually led me to take on a full-time role within the non-profit network that involved making high-stake decisions that directly impacted marginalized communities. I quickly advanced in the organization, and soon after was promoted to Senior Associate of Student Information Systems under the Finance Department; thus, supporting sixteen schools nationwide, four of which I was directly involved in opening.
In this role, I witnessed and experienced the double bind dilemma women in leadership are often subjected to under heteronormative patriarchal society. These binary gendered stereotypes that create a no-win situation. Either one was viewed as competent or likable, but not both; men took charge, while women adopted caring roles. I also realized that as a first-generation to college student, I was subsequently a first-generation professional who unconsciously code-switched (switching how I behaved, spoke, and dressed) to navigate office politics as a woman of color.
Learning to honor my intersectional lived experiences, continuously engaging in critical self-reflection, and operating from my identified core values (i.e., respect, transparency, integrity, and authenticity) is my success story. Moreover, as I continue to reconnect with my collectivist culture, rather than operate from the dominant individualistic culture, I take to heart the Mayan phrase, In Lak’ech or Tú eres mi otro yo, meaning, “You are my other me.” By investing in myself, I am simultaneously investing in my community, and them in me. We cannot eliminate inequities nor create transformational change by ourselves. We need community.