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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Autobrownography

I'm sipping on the best Pumpkin Chai Latte in College Town. Except the woman that made the drink sprinkled the College Town's mascot on top of the foam with cinnamon, as if I'm proud they won their game yesterday. This has in turn made me gag on the foam. But it won't ruin the entirety of my day.

As I sat around reflecting and reading an assorted amount of things that thankfully don't have a fucken thing to do with my discipline I found my mind returning to the literature of my discipline. I kept thinking about something I read in a piece of Chicano literary scholarship, about a professor at a school that approached his department asking to offer a course in Chicano/Latino literature, only to have his request denied and career threatened. I read this without much surprise, but then it made me think about a poem I read as a student back in California. Jose B. Gonzalez's "Autobrownography of a New England Latino." Gonzalez uses repetition well to talk about his experience as a "Salvadoran Brown" Latino, that has his brownness serve him as a curse or as an identifier for where he should belong. The poem itself is too long (134 lines) for me to type out word for word, but it can be found in Latino Boom:An Anthology of U.S. Literature. 

However, I've selected a few of the passages that have really stayed with me throughout the years:

I figured I'd get a job teaching English, even if
I was brown, but at an interview for an English
Teaching position at a small boarding school, the
Headmaster's eyes told me that if I was serious about
Getting a job, I'd teach Spanish brown, because
There's such a shortage of Spanish browns,
To which I said, "thank you headmaster, but,
I, I, I'd just assume not teach Spanish brown,"
And when his office door responded with, "Thank you,
Mr. Brown, but unless you're willing to teach
Spanish brown, I won't have a job for you,
Mr. Brown," I changed my mind and did
What I had to, even if my first language was no
Longer Spanish brown [. . . ]
if you didn't want to teach
Spanish brown, maybe you shouldn't have
Been brown, which told me it was time
To leave that master and get my
Master's and I decided to attend what
Else? Brown University, which was
Ive League brown [. . .]

[. . .] I studied literature
That was brown, because growing up, I had been
Assigned stories like "Young Goodman Brown," but
I had never assigned a book by a brown author,
Which never made sense to me because I just knew
That in all the years that browns had been in the U.S.,
Even the in the part that was brown before the U.S. became
the U.S., browns had something to say [. . .]

[. . .] every once in a while someone say,
Something like, "Dr. Brown, you must teach
A different type of English that has to have
Some kind of brown, maybe you teach second
Language Brown English or remedial brown
English, or development English for the brown,
Because after all you're brown."

I'm sure a big reason why those passages stick with me is due to my trek through academia, not that I relate extremely closely to Gonzalez's experience, but it's enough to make me stop and think. His pursuit for "brown literature," is not unlike my own, once reading old dead white guys and women, became, well, old. Similarly there have been times I wondered if a professor once approached me about teaching a Chicano/Latino literature class just because I was brown, or if it was more because I was Chicano Brown? Regardless of the reason I was approached, I'm just glad it wasn't to teach Spanish brown,  I would have "UGH-ed" myself to death. I guess I have to try to think about where I belong in this brown academic world, and I think about being surrounded at times by professors that have forgotten what Chicano Studies is supposed to be about and let their own intellectual hubris and bias get the better of them. And I'm not one to easily bend to the will of my superiors, which makes me believe I won't last very long in this profession, because the truth hurts. I discover scholarship which speaks to me and makes valid points, but it is outdated, and therefore I'm an inferior student for not being able to set it aside and pursue the work of other scholars that are just as full of shit as the last guy I read. Yet, here I am trudging along smiling a shit-eating smile and nodding my head, while the bitter venomous bile builds in my throat without having a face to spit it on.

Anyhow Gonzalez's poem portrays some great themes about race as an advantage and a curse. The narrator is able to get a job, but instead of teaching English as he'd like to, he has to teach Spanish, because he is brown. So the narrator basically says fuck you, and pursues a Master's degree (eventually a PhD), and then is able to teach English, but his brownness makes others believe he must teach a "brown English," or English as a second language. But I don't view it as a woeful poem, it's actually humorous in the use of the repetition of the word "brown," and the situations. A sardonic take on race, education, and social mobility. Worth a read. I had to write a post about it, because it wouldn't leave my mind otherwise. It had kinda been festering there for about a month or so. I guess there aren't very many similarities between the situation I first mentioned and the poem. But I keep thinking about academia and the Chicano and Latino scholars within it, and their struggles. We're a long way from that first incident mentioned, since we actually have Chicano/Latino literature courses now, but as Arizona has shown us, even those struggles continue.

Now I must go draw a cartoon face of a person I detest, then place it at the bottom of a bucket, so that I might hawk my bile into it, so I can then feel like I've accomplished something for today.

XX
c/s

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