This oral history project focuses on Latina professors at the University of North Texas and aims to give insight into their lives by focusing on how race, gender, and language interact in their everyday lives. The qualitative data revealed that education, language, and feminism are vital elements in their lives. The various identities of Latina professors intersect to form a hybrid ethno-racial identity outside of the American black and white binary model. The study examines a Latina’s struggle to create her own framework amongst the stringent binary structure of America through nomenclature and language. It also discusses the mechanism of how africanization, feminism, and high education levels combine to create a unique plastic identity that refuses to fit into any model.
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The informant, Movida (a pseudonym for the professor who was interviewed), was born and raised in Havana, Cuba1. In 1961, Movida and her family fled Castro’s rule, and came to the shores of Florida to look for a better life. While she was growing up, her parents stressed the importance of school, and worked diligently to give her the best education. She describes her childhood as happy and modest financially. Movida has been teaching for twenty years in various schools and positions. She has now been at UNT for ten years and is a tenured professor. Feminism and education shape Movida’s identity as a Library Cuban.
Experiencing the Glass Ceiling
In the interview, Movida speaks passionately about her supervisor’s refusal to give her a more distinguished title and of her attempt to keep her below the glass ceiling. She first noticed the glass ceiling on lower levels, and then noticed the limitations in her own employment. Movida said, “You work your hiney off, you get stuck with … your employees and then from the top your bosses and middle management was like being in the middle of cooking pressure.” After noticing the glass ceiling she decided to try to break through by presenting her supervisor with the following ultimatum: She says, “Steph, I don’t want more money, I just want the title, I want to be a manager.” Steph retorts that “It’s not a good time.” Movida replies, “I quit, I quit my job right that minute… I saw the writing on the wall. I was going to be stuck at this job and this woman was not going to let me get anywhere.” According to Hurtado (1998), Movida utilizes her job as a “site of resistance” to challenge the order of power relations. The glass ceiling symbolizes a social order that “is hierarchally organized into relations of domination and subordination [and Movida attempts to create] particular subject positions within which the subordinated [Movida] can legitimately function” (Hurtado, 1998, p. 146). These subject positions, once self-consciously recognized by their inhabitants, can be transformed into more effective sites of resistance to the current ordering of power relations (Hurtado, 1998). She turns the politics of power on its head when she asks her supervisor to look past the glass ceiling and consider the excellent work she has done. She takes the dominant role by demanding a title that symbolized more power. She was really asking Steph if her diligence could be rewarded with a new title. Movida says, “So all I was doing was testing the waters to see how far I could go, see if that glass ceiling had disappeared or if it was still there.” Steph’s remark that “this is not a good time” was really her telling Movida to stay below the glass ceiling. Movida refused to be stuck in this subordinate paradigm forever, and she noticed that “this woman was not going to let [her] get anywhere because the only job to beat was hers.” Her choice to leave and pursue her dream of education was the ultimate form of resistance. In this moment, a disruption of the power structure caused the birth of the Latina feminist (Hurtado, 1998). She realized the impenetrable glass ceiling, and decided to use education as the weapon to break through. When her supervisor asked what she was going to do, she retorted, “I am going to school.”
Shaping her Feminist and Educational Identity
Movida’s choice to leave her job shapes her feminist and educational identity. Her resignation initiated the birth of her educational identity. When she spoke of education in the interview, she spoke of receiving it as “one of the most incredible experiences of [her] life” and rubbed goose bumps off her arm. Movida went on to receive her bachelor’s degree with honors, attended a university at the advisement of a friend, and subsequently received her master’s and her Ph.D. Her fervor for her educational identity caused her to utilize her education as a weapon to break the glass ceiling and to transcend her mother’s idea along with the cookie cutter stereotypes of Latina women as “mothers” or “nurturers.” Movida refused these paradigms in order to pursue her education (Hurtado, 2001). Her mother makes a note of her resistance and breaking out of her role by telling her “Okay, school is good, master’s is good but stop there.” However, instead of listening to her mother, who tells her to “have some babies, get a man,” Movida goes beyond these gender roles—beyond the marginalizing center of power—by utilizing her education as a tool to challenge her exclusion (Torres-Salliant, 2003). By stating that “I’m gonna go until there is no more titles to be had,” she breaks out of the paradigms that her boss, her mother, and America have perpetuated in order to create for her own, and becomes a symbol of resistance and Latina feminism.
As a result of breaking out of the usual gender role for a Latina, Movida becomes, in her words, an anomaly: “Being a woman and being a fraction of the percentage of the population as a professor puts you in a really small category of people. And it’s not because you think of yourself, it’s not that I think of myself as different, but others perceive me as different.” Movida is different because of her refusal to fit into the normative Latina gender role. Movida’s Latina feminism does not fit easily into the male–female gender continuum, or any continuum at all, due to the fact that her identity is a chameleon entity susceptible to situational and contextual external stimuli. As a Latina feminist, she also lives in multiple realities and holds onto multiple dimensions of her identity (Hurtado, 1998; Torres-Salliant, 2003).
Movida’s choice to carve out her own gender identity causes her to “struggle to construct paradigms that exclude while including, to reject while consenting” (Hurtado, 1998, p. 150). The fact that she is phenotypically white, culturally Afro Cuban, linguistically Spanish, and an educational minority defies the border of any fixed paradigm or identity, and places her in a fluid paradigm that is “elastic and transformable” (Torres-Salliant, 2003). Her refusal to fit into a model may problematize people’s prevailing assumptions about identity definition and formation and cause them to see her differently (Torres-Salliant, 2003).
Movida speaks of her identity as a Library Cuban as mobile and unfixed: “We do not have fixed identities, and this isn’t just theory, it is what I live… I don’t have a fixed identity, I am a Library Cuban.” Feminism and education shape her multidimensional definition of herself as a Library Cuban. Movida refers to her life as an anomaly, because a Latina with a doctoral degree in this country is, in her words, inhabiting a “small enclave” of Latina professors. The Cuban portion refers to her undying love and strong tie to her language and country. Movida defines herself as a Library Cuban, or, in other words, an educated Latina feminist true and loyal to her roots. Her embrace of all the dimensions of her identity is truly refreshing and beautiful. She speaks of her life with great zeal, stating that she “wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world,” and says that living in an “academic community is good, and wonderful.” Her conscious and deliberate acceptance of all parts of herself was truly refreshing and beautiful, and her comfort and confidence welcome and invite the world to experience an incredible Latina feminist and Library Cuban.
- I would like to thank Brian Johnson, Hailey Crossiant, and Tracey Karlson for their assistance with data collection and transcription.
- Hurtado, A. (1998). Sitios y lenguas: Chicanas theorize feminisms. Hypatia, 13(2), 134–161.
- Torres-Saillant, S. (2003). Inventing the race: Latinos and the ethnoracial pentagon. Latino Studies, 1,123–151.