I just graduated…my wife graduated as well. We both graduated. I think the whole process is problematic. I don’t like the celebratory notion of it. I like to keep it internal. I like to close off the sacredness of the experience to just a select few. Plus, I just hate big events sometimes. They are stressful, I’m impatient…and they are stressful. That’s big to me. That’s when I fail to remember that this experience is beyond my simple recognition. It affects others, deeply.
I never walked for my Bachelors. My Mamita regretted this which made me suffer for it too. What I constantly forget is that there are others who have walked much harder paths than I have, had nowhere near the privilege I’ve maintained throughout my life—born and raised in the U.S. and bilingual in both languages—and like my parents, are new to the idea of a formal Western education. Instead they sacrificed every bit of themselves to make sure I could experience these things; in many ways, they still do. In their eyes, we are the challenge to Racist Nativist discourses that condemn their children for even trying, that they are too foreign to succeed in this country. When we walk out with our cap on and gown flowing, we are proving that their sacrifice was worth it, that it meant something. Primarily, we owe it to them and their efforts for putting us here in the first place.
We also owe it to the transformation of an entire societal discourse of Brown and Black bodies; pledging that we are not the criminalized ‘other’ half of this country, instead we are the scholars of families long repressed, rising, like a fresh intellectual wave. With the walk that portrays our completion of education we produce a countering image and re-sustain that our narrative is one based in intelligence and consciousness.
There are too many activists that damn our education system—justifiably so—and withdraw from any kind of transformational activism to educational structures because such is not “revolutionary” enough, that such work is reproductive and not radical—“we need to get rid of the structure not prolong it!” But they are wrong!
They base their perspective from privilege when they have gone through that same educational pipeline to only arrive at critiquing others to abandon their efforts. They tell young Black and Brown bodies, working class youth, that they are not radical enough when we as students march strongly out of that building with a rolled up canvas in hand, the representation of our social ingenuity. They are wrong, because that paper signifies protest. That paper, for us, is radical. That paper says we will subvert oppressive strategies from the wealth forged out of our communities and cultures, and we will not just prevail but we will push ahead, with alternatives that will redefine equity and justice for our people! We will not fail.
Is this to mean that our public school systems are failing underserved groups in this nation? Of course it does. Are Brown and Black bodies targets of this marginalization? Again, yes. So why can’t we just wipe out the system and build something new? Better? Because what if it’s a simple exchange from one head to the next, characterized by the same system? Some of these oppressive tendencies are systems and genealogies woven into the fabric of our society. They compose basic elements of what Western civilization is. That doesn’t mean that change and social justice is impossible. Actually, it suggests that resistance is real; that it’s consistent, and with the evolution of capitalist oppression into neoliberal subjugation, transformative resistance adapts to the same consequences, and continues…
So when we graduate, especially as critical thinkers, especially as social justice advocates, as advocates not for anyone but as allies serving WITH those that are oppressed, we are RESISTING; resisting to change structures, to counter and create new narratives, to preserve knowledge and cultural wealth, to live…freely…
There is one memory that stands out to me in this moment. A young African-American man sat by me on the Trax line when I was heading home from school. He saw my cap and gown packet and asked if I was going to graduate. I lifted my eyes from my reading and with a warm smile said yes. He tapped my arm furiously with joy and said, “YES! Alright. That’s what our brothers gotta’ do!” He went on to share that it was my duty to graduate, that privilege will always disappear us [males of color] from the scene of success here in the states. He questioned me if I understood the concepts of Racial Battle fatigue, White Privilege and Cultural Wealth. I said I did. He smiled at me and said, “you sir, are prepared for this world. Now, make it happen.”
I’ll never forget that. I’ll never forget the words, but I’ll also never forget the energy of accomplishment in the spirit of resistance that was produced. In this one act, that compromised many years of struggle, love and learning, I had overcome. With the smiles of my family and community buoying me, with the love of my partner—who has also completed her Masters in Education—that has supported me the entire time, and the hope that my son will carry on resisting the domination of Western discourses against our communities, I go on. I resist. I let my mothers tears nourish the struggle I will always be engaged in, and with my partner and son, we walk on…I now, make it happen…