Research, Teaching, and Community

I just started a new research project! The idea is to learn more about how multigenerational Latinx families collaborate to help keep everyone in the family’s body healthy. And it’s personal. For the first time, I see my own family as my primary stakeholders, closely followed by my friends and community here in Oakland. And even though I’ve never done research so close to home before, I am realizing it’s not a totally new experience either. Because this is how I try to teach.

Like many educational anthropologists (a category I sometimes place myself in), I have been significantly influenced by the work on “Funds of Knowledge.” One of the ways that has filtered into my regular course design is that I design courses to try and ensure that some of the contexts (like “young” parenthood or chronically ill parents, legal status negotiations in families with recent immigrants, balancing work and school) that are regularly classed as “barriers” are instead treated as practical knowledge that can be leveraged as educational resources (insights into distributions of care work for family members, institutional negotiations of legal status, entrepreneurship). Each school is different, each class is different, but by working in inquiry driven assignments, I can create opportunities to encourage students to think about who their “stakeholders” are.

I turned to anthropology after starting my career working in direct service with the Latinx community where I grew up in (Maryland side of the DC metropolitan area). I had recognized myself falling into some of the common pitfalls of that work (in short, the ways I was sustaining rather than dismantling some pernicious aspects of racism through white saviourism). But even as I learned how to critique my own non-profit practices from anthropology, I didn’t see – at least at first – some of the ways I was distancing myself from accountability in my daily work. First and foremost, I have been insulated by the special status of “academia” (both as a researcher and a professor) in a way I never was as a facilitator of after-school programs, health coordinator, and case-worker.

As I have become more aware of that privilege of that insulation (if we take privilege to refer to actively sustaining a system in order to benefit from inequality), I have begun looking for ways out. The effort to assess my teaching in relation to where students come from (and the funds of knowledge they bring with them), was the first step. And this research project is one more. I’m afraid of screwing up and of seeing the impact of that in the lives of people I care about, but there is no doubt in my mind that this is the kind of anthropologist I want to become.

A Twinkle In My Eye: an anthropology grad student reflects on babies

Me and my Mama

Since I was a pretty little girl, I imagined becoming a mom. Mostly it involved having a daughter to whom I could pass on many of the left-wing second wave spiritual feminist* rituals I got to do growing up. Go on, ask me about my maidenhood ceremony some time.

But I “knew better” than to have kids before my mid-twenties. My siblings warned me away from such things, but I hardly needed their advice. The discourse that having kids early interrupts all personal ambitions was one I had pretty completely internalized**. So by the time I thought about coming to grad school, I knew I had to take balancing babies and career seriously. Even before I came, I found as many grad students with kids as I could and interviewed them about their experiences.

What they said is stuff you can find in places like the Berkeley Parents Network, like reminders that there is no good time (but you still might want to get through comps first). Things sounded a lot better in our anthropology program than inĀ Mary Ann Mason’s report on new mothers in science. Of course I still worried that I would face discrimination once I entered the job market (and still do), but if my foremothers could blaze a trail into academia, I would be damned before I’d let an unfair structure keep me from having both parts of my dream.

But the inequalities go far deeper than any single school environment. And, putting aside my belligerent yes-I-can-too attitude in favor of self-reflection, I wonder: Can I do the kind of research I want and still have kids? Can I immerse myself, heart, lungs, and bladder, into my fieldwork while I’m learning to parent? And if I can’t … what then?

* Incidentally, if you like spiritual feminist stuff and aren’t second wave (like me) you, check out Bare Your Soul: The Thinking Girl’s Guide to Enlightenment – it ain’t anthropology, but it is very readable collection of essays by United Statesian women from a wide variety of religious and racial backgrounds.

** I’m not planning to talk much about my research here, but I must admit that my mind was blown when Mike Males presented statistical research showing that young parents (within class categories) were actually somewhat economically better off by becoming teen parents in his book Teenage Sex and Pregnancy: Modern Myths, Unsexy Realities. After writing my master’s thesis on pregnant and parenting youth, I often wonder if I would have been better off becoming a young mom and having 8 or 9 year old kids now.