Assistant Professor of Special Education Ana C. López last Thursday night headlined the opening talk of our Sankofa Lecture Series with a discussion of the systemic oppression and silencing of Latinx people while introducing the oral tradition that grew out of their struggle.
Her talk, she added, was an attempt to “move away from tokenization and ‘food, fun and fiesta’” that too often colors the celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. Instead, the resident of New Mexico (who is from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico) said It is important to focus on the first-person narratives of the experiences of Latinx people from Mexico and Central America on both sides of a militarized United States border.
“Testimonio,” the oral tradition of Latinx people, recounts the experiences of people oppressed by the U.S. and Mexican governments yet, she said, the “white gaze” of Western-informed academia and media views such authentic narratives with suspicion and as illegitimate contributions to history.
“Historical traditions are undervalued by academia,” López said, adding that they were often “violently” challenged by “the white gaze or the colonial gaze.”
For example, this scorn of testimonio negates the experiences of Central American migrants as they move through Mexico and attempt entry into the United States. The effect, said López, is that Latinx people are viewed as invaders, even when they cross a border legally.
The situation mirrors the “othering” of Black Americans, Asians, Native Americans — all people of color — and academia’s dismissal of testimonio reflects the current controversy in universities, school districts and the media over the teaching of Critical Race Theory, López indicated.
Alternating between Spanish and English during her virtual presentation, López said testimonio “challenges the myth of objectivity” in the telling of history via first-person accounts of the barriers faced by Latinx people, both in society and, indirectly, in the academy, as historians, anthropologists and others are conditioned to view such information with skepticism.
“How do we intentionally center the voices on the margin?” López said, explaining that the colonial frameworks of academia, as well as popular history and literature, misunderstand or omit altogether, these voices.
“The aim of this exercise is not to dig for trauma,” López said, though she acknowledged testimonio “comes from struggle.”
López’s presentation was the first of this academic year’s Sankofa Lecture Series. Held virtually this year due to concerns related to the Covid pandemic, the series creates a forum for thought-provoking diversity and inclusion-themed presentations on hot topics. Guest scholars, authors and researchers within academia and in society lead the presentations.
Lesley Director of Multicultural Affairs and Social Inclusion Gregory Saint-Dick facilitated the Sankofa Lecture, and co-hosted a community debrief the following day with Director of DEI Training, Education & Development Kay Martinez.