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Remembering the Women on Memorial Day

Memorial-Day-imagesMemorial Day is a day of remembrance in the United States, where we honor the memory of the many who have died while serving in the military.  Where I live, as in many towns across the country, there’s a local memorial day parade featuring veterans marching, floats with patriotic imagery, and military vehicles making a slow crawl down main street.  While I salute the men and women who have served, having members of the military within my own family, as a social justice conscious person with an eye for absences, I can’t help but wonder about the many ways in which women have also sacrificed and paid the multiple costs of having loved ones serving and dying in the military.

My favorite novel, Nilda by Puerto Rican author Nicholasa Mohr comes to mind.  On another forthcoming post I will tell you more about this particular book and its impact on me, but for the purposes of today’s post, I’ll focus on the plot of the novel and its relevance for Memorial Day.  The novel is set in New York City during the years of World War II. The story begins just a few days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and ends just a few days after the end of the war is declared in headlines.  But the focus of the story are not the soldiers serving in the war, or the politics behind the war, or the experiences in the battlefields.  Instead, it focuses on the daily lives of a Puerto Rican family, particularly the women in the family.  The mother, Lydia, struggles every day to keep her large family, which includes four sons and one daughter, an ill husband, and an elderly aunt, safe from the threats of violence in her poverty stricken neighborhood.  As we follow her and her daughter, Nilda’s story, we see them endure the humiliation of the welfare office, the abuse of police officers, and the racism of the school system, while her sons are also risking their lives fighting in the war, serving their country.

Through Mohr’s narrative we see the experiences of the war that are usually missing from the mainstream war narratives, the incredible worry over her children’s safety, the despair over whether they will have enough money to pay for their necessities, and the painful contradictions of having sons serving in the war fighting to preserve the four freedoms espoused by President Franklin Roosevelt: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear, while having so many of those freedoms denied her at home.

Where are these women’s histories?  Where are their stories of valor and sacrifice?  Where are their parade floats?  I expect to feel their absence once again at this Memorial Day’s festivities.  But thanks to the work of women writers like Nicholasa Mohr, they won’t be absent from my thoughts. I will save one of my most heartfelt salutes for them.

 

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Graduation Reflections

graduation-hatWith graduation season upon us, especially in colleges and universities, I’ve been reflecting this week on the meaning of graduation.  Graduations usually focus on the graduates, their accomplishments, and the promise of a bright future as they step off the stage, degree in hand.  From the perspective of the colleges and universities, graduations are discussed and perceived in a couple of different ways.

On the one hand they mark the eagerly awaited end of a long academic year, with the administration, staff, and faculty counting down the minutes until the campus is evacuated by students, and they can finally get to rest and re-energize before the start of the next academic year.  On the other hand, graduations are talked about in terms of statistics.  What are the graduation rates for their institutions?  What are the demographics of their graduating class?  How many graduates are going to graduate school?  How many are graduating with job offers?

Instead of leaving the reflective moment to the graduates or the graduation speakers, I think colleges and universities should also look at graduation as a time to look inward.  Institutions should stop and think about the ways in which the successes of their graduates are a direct reflection of the intentional goals and work done by the institution, and in what ways their graduates succeeded despite institutional efforts.  In other words, what can the institution truly take credit for and what can they do better, especially when in just a few short months another class of students will be entering the same institution embarking on the start of their own four year journey.  As college administrators we tend to want to celebrate, breathe a sigh of relief that the year is over, and move on to planning for the Fall.  What institutions don’t realize is that their students are not the only ones graduating.  Each year the institution itself is undergoing its own graduation.

If graduations mark the end of a phase of dedicated work that result in a transition to another phase in one’s life, then in a way, each graduation represents the end of the institutions work with that particular graduating class and transitioning to the  phase of creating the next four years of the incoming freshman class, that will undoubtedly come with its own new set of opportunities and challenges for the college.  Embracing the meaning of graduations in this manner not only role models for the students what we always want to teach them, the importance of reflection in our lives, but it also changes the meaning of graduations themselves, as celebrations that only happen at certain moments in our lives, at the end of high school or college or graduate school.  For graduations are actually experienced throughout our lives, every time that we experience a significant transition.

This year I too feel like I’m experiencing a graduation of sorts.  I won’t be wearing a cap and gown nor will I be marching across the stage to pomp and circumstance, but I am experiencing a significant transition.  I am transitioning from nine years working as an administrator at a liberal arts college, to embark on this new journey as a full time consultant and diversity educator.  I have learned so much in these last nine years.  Similar to the college graduates, I have had some good times, there have been lots of laughs, as well as difficult moments and disappointments.  But what I take with me as a result of the experience is invaluable and will undoubtedly make me better as a person and a professional.

So hats off to all of the graduates!  Whether we’re graduating from institutions of higher learning or from a phase in our own lives, may the next phase for all of us be filled with prosperity, happiness, and always moments of reflection.

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Welcome (back) to LatinaWise

latinawiseavatarfinalWelcome to LatinaWise…again!  Some of my long-time friends might remember that I used to have a blog several years ago called LatinaWise where I shared my adventures as an urban-raised Latina living in suburbia, raising a little Latina girl.  That blog focused mostly on my cultural crossings and parental anxieties.
Then life and work took over and it became too much to also run a blog.  Fast forward three years later.  That little girl has grown into a teenager and I have grown along with her achieving a point in my own life where I can finally bring together all of my interests, skills, and experiences and create the life and career that I want.

So welcome (back) to a new and improved LatinaWise where you will not only find my ongoing musings on life and parenthood, but where you will also benefit from my years of experience as a diversity educator.  Throughout the last twenty years I have served as an educator in one form or another, whether as workshop facilitator leading participants through diversity dialogues, a professor teaching courses on Latino/a history and culture, or serving as an administrator creating programs and leading initiatives to build inclusive communities on college and university campuses.  Through this blog I will continue this work offering information and resources that can help you as either an individual seeking personal growth, a professional in need of resources to do your job better serving students, or a leader wanting to create more inclusive organizations.

I’m excited to be embarking on this next phase of LatinaWise and thank you for coming along for the ride!

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