Summer of Feminista: Speaking in order to spread social justice

My name is María Villaseñor and I am in expert in Chicano/a-Latino/a Studies, and Comparative Ethnic Studies because of the expertise I developed in graduate school, and have continued developing in my work as a professor at a public university in California. I teach a number of courses in Chicano/a-Latino/a Studies including a course on Chicana/Latina Feminisms. I am also developing as an expert in mentoring undergraduates—especially Latinas, students of color, working class students, and allies. Unfortunately, I am also an expert in grading and commenting on undergraduate student essays, an expertise I have developed from giving feedback on hundreds, possibly thousands, of essays in my new (5 years so far) career as a professor.

My academic and professional life have allowed me to know a number of women who could be Latina public intellectuals if given the right forum. That is, it strikes me that the role of the public intellectual is to foment public discussion and articulate informed and thoughtful perspectives on pressing issues. If this is the role, I know several powerful women who could fulfill it (I am lucky enough to have some of these women as my friends, my teachers, and have even had some as undergraduate students—young Latinas with a lot to say and contribute!). The challenge is that for a public intellectual to be able to disseminate her ideas, there need to be willing forums with broad based audiences. We need a group of us to be out there and spreading the word(s) about the issues that matter to us, but just as importantly, we need more forums and spaces where our ideas are valued and welcomed. For this reason, I am grateful to you (the creator of this blog) and others like you, who are seeking out our words.

I recently read the bell hooks book Feminism is for Everybody (by the way, why isn't bell hooks on that Top 100 Public Intellectuals list??) In it, she makes a simple and powerful point—the common perception of feminism continues to be that we hate men, burn our bras, etc. and the only way that this is going to change is if we start to do more educating, outreach, and engage in conversations with those around us (in the vein of the bumper sticker slogan-- “This is What a Feminist Looks Like”) via mediums like popular books, television, etc. The truth is that among those of us who are Latina feminist writers, the majority of us put a tremendous amount of energy into writing scholarly, theoretical, abstract texts that very few people can access, and even fewer want to read and access. In essence, most of us feminist writers spend a great deal of time talking with each other, and not enough time talking with others. Having a group of Latina (feminist!!) public intellectuals who actually had spaces where they could speak to a broad public would, I think, help us build a thriving public conversation about issues of gender, race, class, and the meaning of social justice. It is my hope that this public conversation would inspire people to work for social justice and equity, and it is
my sense that it really would. Perhaps naively, I believe that people accept injustice when they cannot imagine alternatives, or they do not know that injustice is so rampant. Latina public intellectuals could fulfill the important role of bringing the issues into the awareness of the public, and perhaps could help the public imagine other ways of being and acting in the world.

I would love to be a part of a coalition of Latina public intellectuals, and despite this, I have not sought out many opportunities to be in a role akin to that of “public intellectual.” As a pre-tenure professor, I spend most of the time in the classroom, in my office with students, and moving from committee meeting to committee meeting. I do visit elementary schools and middle schools in my community as often as possible. Many of the surrounding communities near my university are primarily working class and Mexican. With rates of attendance and graduation in college low, and high school drop out and incarceration rates high, I choose to focus a lot on my energy on Mexican/Chicano-a children and youth. More than a public intellectual, I often joke that I have become a motivational speaker for children. Whether we take on the role of public intellectual or not, there is much work to be done, and the important thing, I think, is for us to continue doing it.

Summer of Feminista 2011 is a project where Latinas are sharing their thoughts on Latinas as Public Intellectuals. Liberal. Conservative. Academic statements. Personal stories. Learn more or how you can join the Summer of Feminista. This is a project of Viva la Feminista. Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission.