I came to the University of Houston knowing that I wanted to study literature because at that time, I would read almost every Oprah Book Club selection and had set as a goal to read all of the “classics.” But during my transgression at U of H, things changed. I found out about “the cannon.” The people who made decisions many years ago as to what I should read are now dead white men. I found out that not only did my people have literature before the white man, but that it was at my fingertips if I went two floors down from where I work. And where I work, there are so many writers that I could relate to, and I always wondered how the hell I hadn’t known about them before.
When I went to my English classes, I always felt like the odd man out. I always compared their literature to Tomas Rivera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Daniel Chacon, Graciela Limon, Tomas Rivera, Rolando Hinojosa, and a milieu of other writers. But it wasn’t only Latina/o or Chicana/o lit that we were leaving out; it was also Native American, African American, Asian American and the many other ethnicities whose literature is just as rich if not more. I was never satisfied with my courses because they managed to leave “the other” on the edges and never even consider inviting them into the conversation. Of course, there were maybe one or two exceptions.
By the time I was done with classes for my major, I was glad because I no longer had to put up with the professors and the students, but at the same time, I was saddened because I had not changed a thing. I had written my papers on Luis Valdez and Maria Helena Viramontes, but it seems like no one cares. But later this week I will begin drafting a letter to that damn department.
During a honors and recognition ceremony, I was told that I was invited because I would be recognized. I was not. In fact, I was completely ignored. The mc, whose name I cannot bring to mind, interrupted the conversation that the guest speaker, my roomie, my sis and I were having. She never bothered to introduce herself or even acknowledge us.
At graduation yesterday, the chair of each department was to read our names. Not only did he not know how to pronounce my name, he did not say cum laude. The professors who marched with us, didn’t stand on the others side to congratulate us after Dean Antel had given us our diploma. How quickly they forget that the only reason they are there is because they have to teach us.
I’m glad I went to U of H because I had some awesome professors like my sis, Luis Alvarez, Monica Perales, Ecarna Bermejo, Carl Lindahl, Lois Parkinson Zamora and of course, my job at Arte Publico that allowed me to met Dr. Kanellos and tons of writers and critics. However, if I were given the opportunity to continue my graduate studies in the Creative Writing Program at U of H, I would immediately decline. Even though they wouldn’t even accept me as their token Latina because I’m not willing to give up my ethnicity for a name.
These last few weeks, that the English department has been letting me down, it always makes me want to work really hard, so that cuando se traten de parar el cuello, I can say, “Well…I’d have to disagree.” It’s also made me want to teach more than ever because I don’t want a student to ever feel the way they made me feel. And lastly, it’s made me so glad that there are so many of you out there that are working to better education for Latina/os. It gives me so much hope.