“Tenía 16 años cuando pasé por el túnel, una niña sin conocer a nadie y con puros hombres… Primero cruzamos por todo el cerro y luego el túnel ya para pasar para Estados Unidos…El cerro sí era toda la noche porque parábamos para escondernos- mirábamos helicópteros y nos escondíamos debajo del los bushes y palos. Corrimos asi casi toda la noche y luego nos dijeron que teníamos que pasar por una pipa ancha- un túnel en donde teníamos que andar casi gatiando… yo pasaba por piedras sin hacer ruido porque arriba de nosotros había inmigración… no podíamos hacer ruido… Imagínate en lo oscurototote sin ver qué te esperaba.. una pared, spiders, ratas, un muerto… y no podías gritar ni decir algo… ¡era desesperante! Ya era la madrugada y me acuerdo que había un cerco… y ya cuando salimos del túnel sentía que podía respirar otra vez… ¡era desesperante! Nunca pensé que lo tendría que hacer otra vez contigo en mi vientre.”
My mother crossed the Mexican-U.S. border without documentation through the hills and sewer lines during a long, moonless night in December of 1975 and yet, she told me the story with such humor and dignity. Five years later, she would have to cross the border again, this time in the trunk of a car with me hanging tight in her womb as a four and a half month fetus.
Her spirit of strength and resistance has instilled in me a strong sense of hope and accomplishment, a belief in my ability to overcome obstacles and learn from difficult situations.
My mother is one of my greatest role models that has inspired me to continue my lifelong academic journey towards educational justice. As one of my teachers, she sets the stage for my path along a rocky uphill road towards educational justice with perseverance and passion.
Both my parents have instilled dedication and a strong work ethic in me. With my father’s devotion in providing the best for his family, starting off his days at 3:00 am every morning to search for recycled materials in the trash bins of local restaurants and bars to put food on the table and with my mother’s diligence in continuing to feed her children with support and encouragement, I am incredibly inspired. Although my parents only have a third grade education, they have provided me with a shining example of what it means to create patterns of persistence and determination.
I carried my parent’s dignity when I began to teach middle school. I could still hear my student’s call to maintain that same integral presence: “What? Do they think we’re criminals? Man, this ain’t fair!” screamed Juan, a student in my eighth grade Language Arts class, who sat, teary-eyed, while the PA echoed the voice of our principal. He pounded his fist onto his desk with a loud thud, responding to the announcements the Friday morning of March 29, 2006: “…If you need to use the restroom, you must wait for assigned times. You must stay inside your classroom. Teachers, ensure that your doors are locked and windows secured. This is a school lockdown…” There wasn’t a sniper at our school nor was there a local drive-by shooting. Instead, students had responded to an issue that directly affected them and their families, friends, neighbors, and communities. Hundreds of thousands of protestors filled the streets nationwide that week, denouncing the HR4437 bill that proposed to criminalize undocumented immigrants.
I reflected on my students’ responses to the events and immediately subscribed to a critical pedagogy beginning our research to initiate a letter campaign to our senators, create opposing persuasive arguments, hold an immigration debate, and make wrist bands to show solidarity. I reiterated the vitality of literacy to my students in their quest to liberate themselves and their communities from oppression by stating, “How will you understand your world if not through the spoken and written word? It is YOU who must give voice to our people, sit in the senator’s chair in Congress and make decisions for our communities in the future…”
The emotional reactions of those in power silenced our students, put a damper on their emotions, and demonstrated to them that it was not okay to protest, stripping away a fundamental practice of a true democratic society. The school did not organize an alternative outlet to the walkouts that allowed students to express themselves or to become politically engaged in their reality. Instead, on that Friday, ending the week of the most intense actions surrounding the immigration issue in the country, classroom doors were locked, squads of policemen in riot gear encircled our school and wristbands, flags and signs were confiscated.
When Juan and the other students in my class expressed their disappointment, I, too, felt my body retreat and creep into the place of fear that I felt as a child, “el closet,”–a pitch black, tiny closet of mothball stench where I was locked up for hours at home as a punishment for voicing my thoughts and challenging authority. Perhaps it was the triggering of that memory that lives in me as a four-and-a-half-month fetus inside my mother’s womb as she was crammed into the trunk of a car and smuggled into the United States without permissible documentation. Maybe the anger I felt was exacerbated by the 23 years of silence that my body experienced under the sexual violence of men. Nevertheless, surely these combined experiences helped to provoke my rage and despair on that Friday, as my students and I silently cried for our pain and the struggles of our communities.
It was during these intense moments of disillusionment that allowed me to reflect on my own teaching practices and to use the power of my human experience to transform the feelings of pain, anger and disappointment into energies of action, hope, and empowerment, just as my parents did. I remembered the police station so vividly when I finally decided to end the cycle of sexual violence against women that has persisted in my family for generations. The marbled walls and wooden countertops read signs of defeat and powerlessness, loss. I was there to create long, over-due boundaries. ¡Ya basta! I was to scream at the top of my lungs, dispelling the disgust and letting go of the fear that lived in me for so long. I found my voice, buried deep inside the core of my being, far beyond the walls of guilt and self-hate. I, Cueponcaxochitl Dianna Moreno Sandoval, a Xicana indígena, descendant of the Caxcanes de Zacatecas, great-granddaughter to Cuquito the bracero, granddaughter of Danzante Antonio Sandoval and curandera Florencia Sifuentes, and daughter to laborers Rosa and Gilberto Moreno, will be silenced nevermore.
I spent most of my years in college struggling with my identity as I began the process of self-actualization, becoming aware of worlds that gave meaning to my existence as I never imagined. I became literate to a world of injustice, I learned about the struggles of communities living in constant tribulation, so ingrained into the psyche, that the systems of power can seem indisputable. I experienced the difficulty of being among the handful of students who shared my experience socially, economically and culturally. I wanted to see more people of color in higher education, breaking the shackles of a vicious cycle that undermined our intellectual participation.
Fast-forward seven years and I continue to excavate ancestral knowledge systems that sharpen my ingenuity. My mother’s spirit lives in me. Her life, passion and support awakened in me a true love of learning and purpose. My experience through the academic pipeline as a learner and educator coupled with my ability to combine humor, commitment and determination has given me the utmost strength to continue with beauty in the struggle for educational justice for future generations.
Ometeotl : || :