Dr. Larissa Mercado-Lopez
November 16, 2018
Full blog title: Bodies that Push: Forging Spaces of Transformation for #latinamamischolars in Higher Education
Both motherhood and academia came to me as a surprise. I was 20 years old, in a committed relationship, and in my final year of my undergraduate degree when I found out that I was pregnant. As a young woman who had actively resisted motherhood as a way of ensuring that I stayed on the “right” path, I was devastated and felt like a failure to my siblings, my mentors, and myself. At that time, I had no models for integrating the many parts of myself--for reconciling the clash of my warring identities as a scholar, a Chicana, and a mother. But it was the experience of being pregnancy shamed in my university student health center that gave me my scholarly interests and helped me develop a critical, feminist framework for understanding and shaping my Chicana maternal scholar identity into an empowered one.
My experience as a mother in academia has profoundly informed my politics, research, and pedagogy. As a brown mother, my body historically has been a site of discursive conflict: within myself I am constantly negotiating the political narratives of hyperfertility, irresponsible reproduction, and brown mothers as “threats” to the nation-state; as salient as ever, these historical narratives persist today in our national conversations about child separation on the border. I also negotiate the persistent and unfounded assumptions that mothers are not scholarly, not serious, and burdens to the institution. Thus, recognizing my brown maternal body as a site of knowledge production has been critical in how I navigate the university and the narratives around what who “gets” to be a scholar. Asking myself “Who gets to be a scholar?” allows me to critique dominant narratives about academic membership and to forge connections and solidarity with others whose identities and bodies position them outside of the mainstream academy.
As a scholar trained in feminist theory, I begin my theorization of the world in my body. I watch and listen to my body for cues--what Gloria Anzaldúa calls la facultad--to generate knowledge about the spaces that I occupy and the power that is embedded within them. I’ve learned to transform feelings of discomfort and marginalization to an empowered identity and a political impetus--what Anzaldúa calls the Coyolxauhqui Imperative: an urgent call to “speak” our wounds (10), to “heal and achieve integration” (19). I locate my facultad in the shame I felt in that student health center, in the pain of the ridge of the desk hard against my pregnant belly, in the tension that arises when asserting my parenting needs. Through these experiences--by physically and intellectually pushing against the contours of the academy-- I seek to expand what we know about inclusion, diversity, and power in higher education, and to hold institutions accountable to recognizing our bodies, our families, and our assets. I also recognize that motherhood does not come to all mothers through the body, but I do believe that our bodies are implicated in the labor and care that we provide and in the psychological wounding that occurs in white heteropatriarchal spaces. Thus, we are all capable of cultivating a maternal facultad.
I’ve come to understand that the university was not built for mamischolars, but that we can collectively work to destabilize or circumvent the white heteropatriarchy that renders us institutionally excessive yet epistemically vacant. And in the work that we do to create space for ourselves we can advocate for wider systemic and cultural changes that will not only make parents more visible in their institutions, but will innovate higher ed institutions to improve their servingness and accountability to parents across campus.
In my own individual, collective, and institutional efforts to advocate for mothers and parenting/caregiving faculty, students, and staff, in general, I’ve identified 5 realms where transformation can and needs to occur:
The realms that I list here are not separate domains. Indeed, they work best when we envision them as inherently intersectional, and when we think about them through a critical race, gender, sex, and sexuality framework. Additionally, the realms of transformation are not limited to these five areas. I can also see built environment, family, and community, as spaces where we can advocate for change in support of parents, especially mothers.
As a mamischolar, I often feel that I am too much: I carry too many bags. I have too many children. I have too many needs. I have many memories of walking into receptions with toddlers, a baby, a clunky stroller, and an overflowing diaper bag and feeling like a bull in a china shop--disturbing the formality, the stillness, the whiteness of it all. But many times, I have been met with an unexpected outstretched hand. A sympathetic smile. An offer to hold a baby. We have allies and foremothers who have walked on similar unmapped paths. We must find them. Additionally, we must hold them accountable to revealing themselves to us.
I hope that all #latinamamischolars will find and wield the power that lies within their bodies and positionality as mothers of color. I hope that we can find ways to transform our discomfort into knowledge that can inform programming and support services for parents on campus. And I hope that institutions will come to learn that Latina mamischolars need to be at the helm of these transformative efforts from the beginning.
Let us continue to tell our stories and map our paths. It’s when we see the twists and turns of others’ roads that we can feel empowered as we walk and carve out our own.
Anzaldúa, Gloria. Light in the Dark / Luz En Lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2015.
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