​I Ain’t Your Teacher

“El Anglo con cara de inocente nos arrancó la lengua. Wild tongues can’t be tamed, they can only be cut out.”— Gloria Anzaldúa, “How To Tame A Wild Tongue”

Borderlands/La Frontera

Ruben: I’m tired of teaching everyone. I am exhausted. This institution assumes that I am the curriculum of diversity. I’m a frog in a middle school science lab. They lay me down, cut me open, and see what’s inside. I have to explain to them what it means to be Latino—what it means to be the Other. And once they’ve heard me, in the one or two comments I make in section, they assume they understand what it means to be “one of your people.” What it means to be “oppressed.”

Zoe: It feels like that's all my purpose is here. I walk into a room and, as the only person of color, I transform from being just Zoe to the voice of “the minority.” It doesn’t matter that my life is just one facet of the kaleidoscope of stories that make up our community. Someone comments on what they see as an observer looking into my “marginalized” community. I cringe when I have to begin my sentences with “As a Latina…”, because suddenly I feel like the weight of my words have grown to carry the voice of my entire ethnicity. That’s my only value. All that matters is that I have brown skin and can articulate a sentence. That I can be their walking, talking, visible diversity.

R: Pero like, it ain’t a problem because of who we are. It’s a problem with our education. The best, richest, classiest, most elitist university in the universe has problems in how it educates people. It relies on us—imperfect, unpolished, academically untrained teenagers—to teach our classmates, instead of building the histories and realities of Latinos into the requirements. Cornell has a graduation requirement that entails “critical analysis of historically or contemporary marginalized communities.” So does UMass Boston. Georgetown. University of Colorado-Boulder. They realize that their students aren’t supposed to be the educators. Groundbreaking.

Z: But we have requirements for everything else, like, what’s the purpose of the General Education requirements? It’s a program that “seeks to prepare students for lives of civic and ethical engagement in a changing world.” I didn’t realize that the minorities quickly growing to become majorities wouldn’t be considered a part of that “changing world.” I mean, it's not like the perspectives of people from marginalized communities could possibly differ significantly from the old, white European men who seem to magically appear on every single syllabus for every class I’ve ever taken here, right?

R: Stop shoving old, dead, white men down my throat. I’ve consumed Freud, Homer, Rousseau, Franklin, and countless others. They tasted fine—a bit bland, although understandably important—but now I am choking. I am choking on narratives that are supposed to be universal, but are not even remotely about me. I need the sweetness of Gloria Anzaldúa on my wild tongue and in my heart. Her cultural theory makes mouths water once students realize it exists. They need to teach her alongside all the white European and American philosophers and writers this university loves so much. A failure to do so implies that academics of color are of less quality or less importance. And seeing how accurate, how sweet, and how intelligent Anzaldúa’s work—the namesake of our column—is, there is no way to claim she is not of the highest quality. Feed me a diverse curriculum, please.

Z: I can’t describe the unimaginable feeling of validation that would come from seeing the narrative of our community gracing the pages of syllabi and being discussed in section. But it isn’t just students of color that need this diverse curriculum. Junot Díaz shouldn’t be a name evoked solely in the confines of a Latino Studies classroom. His narrative and views should fall from the lips of all students, regardless of the color of their skin or the box they check on an application under Race/Ethnicity. The University has the responsibility to teach students about the plethora of cultures they will interact with as members of a multicultural nation and the steps that should be taken to address the unique needs of those communities. If we hope to improve racial and class inequalities in the future then we need “to educate the citizens and citizen-leaders for our society” by requiring that they take courses that work to understand non-dominant cultural viewpoints.

R: I could tell you that growing up in an immigrant household is brimfull of cultural and economic tension between two countries. Or you could read Díaz and learn that traveling back to a parent’s homeland conjures “that whisper that all long-term immigrants carry inside themselves, the whisper that says ‘You do not belong.’”

Z: I could tell you that being a Chicana means being pulled constantly between what it means to be Mexican and what it means to be American, or you could read Anzaldúa and learn that the border symbolizes “the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country—a border culture.”

R & Z: And if you want “all” students, (code for white students who’ve never met a person of color in their life), to understand what it means to be brown or black or yellow, then invest in your commitment to this. Invest in a diverse curriculum, because it is not our responsibility to teach students. It’s yours, Harvard.


Ruben E. Reyes, Jr. '19 and Zoe D. Ortiz '19 are Crimson editorial writers. Ruben lives in Leverett House and Zoe lives in Mather House. Their co-written column appears on alternate Tuesdays.

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