Author Archive for mgsanchez

The summer is almost here.. What am I looking forward to?

This summer has been long anticipated. I am very excited to have the time to just fully focus on my field research and on my Mellon Public Scholarship project. This allows me to have a ‘free’ and open schedule to participate in various events and meet with different people.

At the same time, I am also feeling a bit nervous and overwhelmed. Three months is not a lot of time to do this. I feel rushed to develop the MPS project. I am also starting to feel the responsibility of co-creating something for the first time, and above all carefully building trust and respect in my relationships with my partner. Although we had a full quarter to think about the project and get it started, it takes time to develop. I believe in slow scholarship, in engaging in practices that are meaningful, careful, and make time to reflect and develop relationships. Again, I have been reminded that you can’t rush certain things such as people’s own time. For instance, there can be weeks in between a communication exchange. Furthermore, I have felt pressured to come up with some ‘thing’, to deliver a material outcome. Julie Sze, my faculty mentor, reminded me that the project is also about the process.

I have realized that I have so much to learn and prepare before my next meeting with my partners. I had expected the technical aspects of this project to only be a matter of learning the how-to-dos, but I didn’t expect how many ethical conundrums each would bring. I also feel much of the responsibility to resolve some of these issues that are more about format or structure, than content.

I am happy to have a support network that includes my faculty mentor, my peers, and the MPS staff to ask questions, share my process, and receive guidance.

Why am I here?

Last year, I was invited to facilitate a session for a small parent group in California’s Central Coast.  At the end of the session, I tried to prompt the parents to reflect upon the significance of their group; that is, what they had gathered from each other and how the group helped them grow.  While parents found the group helpful, they found various needs unmet.  They turned to me asking me what I was able to offer them.  Not really understanding what my skills, background, or interests were–but knowing that I was part of the University of California and that I was coming from a town very close to Sacramento (aka, a a site of power)–they wanted me to help them have their stories of neglect and abandonment heard and help them access resources.  In the spot, I couldn’t think of anything tangible to offer them.  My research focuses on slow and dispersed processes and does not have any ‘deliverable’ outcomes to the people I am interested in studying.  Furthermore, as a young scholar, I have very little experience in this field, limited funds, limited time.  I asked myself: what can I offer?

I found Mellon Public Scholarship a promising program where I thought it could be a good way to learn to how to develop a project that has more concrete and immediate deliverables for this community.  More importantly, I was particularly attracted to this program so that I could be part of a cohort with whom I could learn from various experiences simultaneously along the way.  I hope that this program can offer me a space to learn with others, and help me imagine various creative ways to deliver outcomes with a practical dimension to this community and to future projects.

Scholarship for liberation

I always appreciate readings that raise the interconnections between nations, particularly between the US and other Third World nations–reminding us that there is much more beyond our borders. Okihiro’s viewpoints of Third World studies as the theorization of liberation for everyone (!)–not just for Third World or communities of color.  As Okihiro claims: Third World studies are “about society and the human condition broadly”.  However, I have noted that in creating spaces for ethic studies (as a discipline, set of theories and recognition of knowledge) and for communities of color, these spaces are often exclusive to members of their specific communities.  While this work is very salient, I agree with Okihiro that this feeds into a cultural nationalism (intentionally or not). It also maintains boundaries between knowledges and social groups impossible to overcome, it also excuses white, US Americans to learn about their interconnections with “ethnic” or Third World nations, and it continues to fragment us in our fight for their own freedom. Moreover, as Sudbury and Okinawa remind us, we also need to check our own positionality as situated within the US.

I believe that there is still an even more challenging need to share understandings of political, social, and material relations between ethnic groups, and nations, reach a common ground, and build solidarity across differences.  This also reminds me of Laura Pulido, a Chicana geographer and Environmental Justice scholar who is now urgently asking us to re-think how we talk about race when doing EJ scholarship and activism since bringing visibility to the disproportionate environmental hazards to which communities of color are exposed has not been highly effective in the past decades.  Thus, she calls for tracing interconnections among communities that experience various forms of oppression and violence across racial boundaries.  As we see nationalistic, white supremacist, xenophobic rise forcefully, I believe it is critical to re-examine how we trace power and difference.

I want to also carefully think and problematize the universality of communicating openly when doing public scholarship as Hale and other scholars stipulate.  Is communicating or disclosing our politics and moral views openly always the most ethical thing to do?

Archives for what?

Last week we discussed the history of the university and its relationship to building the nation-state, expanding capitalism, and US neocolonial and imperial powers.  Ferguson and Neufield look inward to the US in order to explore how the university as an institution, the privatization of the university and knowledge, the commodification of higher education, the rise and fall of the middle-class, the promise of the knowledge economy, the relationship between the civil rights movement and the emergence of dominant epistemologies that belittled the voices of marginalized groups that had gained some recognition, and so on.  These are all fascinating topics I have learned about through various avenues.  I was, however, drawn for the first time to Ferguson’s use of the notion of ‘the archive’ as a technique of power and control, and authority.  I have been thinking of the archiving as a way of absorbing, including, or holding “previously excluded subjects and epistemes”.  In this way, the archive becomes strategic in the management of difference; or the disciplining of subaltern or minorities.  This makes me wonder how our public scholarship is also a way of expanding the archive, and thus, the scrutiny over the communities we work with.

Last week we were fortunate to have Dr. Romeo Guzman as a guest speaker in our the seminar.  He spoke about the various community-art projects he has participated in South El Monte in the Los Angeles area.  Dr. Guzman grew up in this area and considers himself a member of this community.  In fact, he described the projects emerged and developed “organically”… This has stuck with me and brings up different thoughts and feelings as I grapple with “introducing” myself into the field and the communities I want to work with.  Furthermore, I wish he had spoken more about how the relationships between Dr. Guzman (a first generation, Mexican immigrant, and insider to the community), the hegemonic university, the inter-disciplinary humanities (i.e., ethnic studies, public history), the South El Monte community, community-engaged methodologies, all shift and re-arrange power relationships.

I understood as if Guzman framed these projects as separate or apart from his [official] research, even though he has written a book about how he these came about.  As I am re-examining and envisioning what is scholarship, I was unclear whether he also considered the projects themselves (murals, poetry, art exhitions, etc) as scholarship or as something else.

What to expect from a seminar for public scholarship?

What is public scholarship or community-engaged scholarship? What can this engagement look like? What counts as ‘giving back’ or establishing reciprocal relationships with the communities we study? These are all difficult questions to answer that I have grappled with and tried to disentangle.

I am excited to be part of this year’s cohort of Mellon Public Scholars and ponder about these questions in our seminar together and see how our projects actually unfold. I was particularly drawn to being part of a cohort with whom I could learn about our various experiences and processes ‘doing’ public scholarship. I find that even when researchers or scholars who work with communities discuss their methodological ethics, nuances and complexities, they often present it as a clean, progressive process—omitting the barriers and blockades they need to navigate. Furthermore, I believe that describing public scholarship in this matter obscures our ‘partners’ own agency.

Through my own experience, I have encountered that field research is much messier, and relationships with other actors often do not play out as expected. Morevoer, field research is not simply a rational endeavor in which we draft a well-thought out plan and just execute it. In reality, we may go off-track, and even have a few slips here and there. We feel and become affected in the field and by others. Intentionally or not, becoming engaged or involved has real consequences. Furthermore, the field can be tricky and even deceptive. Sometimes we find ourselves having to make difficult decisions we had not foreseen or remotely imagined. As complex beings ourselves in complex relationships,

I hope that we can create a space together in which we can share our different processes, challenges and difficulties, what worked, what didn’t. I also wish that we can expose our sensibilities, fears, and concerns that we deal with as we do our own projects and go into ‘the field’, and find ways to deal with these.