Academia and Empty Rooms

It’s been a long year, and I’m tired. As most of my friends know, I’ve been on the job market for the past year and, after holding down a full-time, tenure track job, maintaining a long-distance marriage, my partner and I are now looking forward to living together and starting this new chapter in our lives. But I still can’t help but feel disillusioned with the state of the academy.

I’ve been teaching in higher education since 2009, when I first entered graduate school. Started with 1 class a semester while a full time student, increasing to 2 classes, then 2 classes and administrative duties. At my current job I teach three classes a semester, plus advise a student organization, not to mention the myriad department, college, and programmatic meetings. That’s tiring, yes, but it’s the research that has me questioning whether it’s even fucking worth it.

I’m a border boy. My hometown of Weslaco, TX sits across the river from Mexico. My grandparents (with the exception of my maternal grandmother) were born in Mexico. I have memories of South Texas as a child: large swaths of citrus fields, dirt roads leading into my family’s neighborhood, the sweet smell of burning grapefruit peel from the nearby TexSun factory, outhouses instead of toilets.

High school: noticing a lot more of my peers are from Mexico (we would refer to them as “fresas“). More planned communities and outlet malls. My dad, an accountant working for a multinational company and working both in the US and in Mexico, telling me that the largest amount of credit card purchases by Mexican nationals in the US was at La Plaza Mall in McAllen, Tx. One summer, I work for several weeks with my family picking melons in the hot Texas sun. After graduating from college, I work for a couple of years as a reporter and two experiences stand out to me: 1) I take a kayak with a local activist and paddle up and down the Rio Grande, and 2) I get a tour of the “Levee Barrier” in Granjeno, Texas: a concrete and steel reinforced barrier that the Department of Homeland Security swooped in to build in 2007 post Katrina.

Graduate school: I research this stuff and write about it, with my colleagues telling me it’s a fruitful path of inquiry. I mention the “checkpoint” near Falfurrias, TX and my cohort seems shocked that such a thing exists within US borders. Amazon proposes delivering via drone and, while people were up in arms over the very idea, I remember the drone footage I saw as a reporter back in 2007 and chuckled at the fact that no one seemed to give a shit then. I meet, become colleagues with and present in front of other Latinx scholars. They support and give me feedback and I finally think I’m ready to share this with a wider audience.

2014. The Rhetoric Society of America Conference in San Antonio, TX. The theme is “Border Rhetorics”. I felt it a perfect place for me: it’s in my home state, I live and breathe the border, and am excited to present in front of as many people as possible.

Presentation time: 7:30 A.M. the last day of the conference. At the same time as many of my fellow Latinx scholars. 2 people in the audience, 1 of whom is my friend. I look at the “performance” of borders in the other presentation titles with better slots: “Borders of Writing”, “Borders between this sub discipline and that sub discipline”. “Bordering the writing center”.

My friend Adam will be forever in my debt for coming to thiswhen he didn't have to...

This past spring: the Conference on College Composition and Communication in Pittsburgh, PA. I’ve got a “featured” spot with one of my friends from the NCTE Latinx Caucus. Friday morning, but at 9:30 this time. I change tactics: I decide to change my topic to what this blog is about–presenting work about brown people by brown people and feeling defeated when no one listens. I think, “NOW people will listen…”

What a "spotlight panel" looks like.

I was foolish to think it would be any different.

This thing, this border thing has been gobbled up and spit out by academics trying to shore up their cv’s. They did the same thing with critical pedagogy, they’re doing the same thing with “decolonization” and critical race theory, and they’ll keep consuming these (O)ther theories and spitting them out when they’ve outlived their usefulness. And the scholars of color who have worked hard to bring these theories and experiences to the forefront will be left behind, because academia doesn’t give a shit.

I start to blame myself: maybe I need to be better about publishing. Maybe it’s my fault for not promoting better. Maybe I need to be more craven. Maybe I need to work harder to network. Maybe….maybe…

When you are Other, your otherness will be used against you. One way or another.