On Testimonios

On Friday and Saturday, February 23-24, 2018, I attended Teacher’s College, Columbia University’s Winter Roundtable on Cultural Psychology and Education themed, “Nevertheless, She Persisted: Power and Patriarchy in Psychology and Education.” While I needed the one additional credit it offered in order to complete my fourteen-credit mandatory load, I sought out something that wouldn’t take up an obscene amount of my time but would be a meaningful contribution to my academic interests and pursuits. Unsure of exactly what to expect, but hopeful in my point-of-no-return choice, I sat down alone in the Cowin Auditorium and awaited the Roundtable’s commencement. After the polite introductions, welcome, and opening video, the voice of Chicana activist and advocate, Carmen Perez, filled the room with her audacious testimonio on the interconnectedness of her own childhood interrupted by domestic violence, drugs, and gangs, and students who are reflections of her. She reminded us that “we are the one’s we’ve been waiting for” and how “the most influential power you can have is collective

power” (C. Perez, personal communication, February 23, 2018). Yasss,

Carmen! Yassss! My heart exclaimed. I knew for sure that I was in the

right place at the right time.

Carmen’s references to “the team” and insistence of making sure

everyone on the team is on point and plays their role came to the

forefront of my mind as I read Martinez et al. (2015)’s We Are Stronger

Together: Reflective Testimonios of Female Scholars of Color in a

Research Collective, in which the scholars of color unpack the

importance of collaborative relationships, commitment, friendships,

sisterhood, trust, safe spaces, and shared struggle through their

respective testimonios. They recount “how their shared struggles and

deep respect for one another bonded the[m] and provided them a

space where they could reveal vulnerability. This type of space was not available to us within

academia” (Martinez et al., 2015, 90-91). I knew this firsthand to be true. This kind of space did not just come with the territory of the academy; it had to be created as a means of disrupting academia’s imposing “Whiteness, maleness, heterosexism, classism and capitalistic notions of success” (Martinez et al., 2015, 93).

I witnessed a space like this in the academy once, during the same Roundtable and on the same day that I heard Carmen Perez, in a workshop entitled, “Just Like Water: Surviving and Thriving as a

Women of Color Moving through the Academy” facilitated by Afro-Latina and South African Drs. Monika Son and Marcelle Mentor. We began the session with a Black Feminist meditation affirming ourselves, our sistah-friends, our mothers,

other-mothers, aunties, big mamas and grandmamas, the

women of color trailblazers on whose shoulders we stand, of

whose torches we carry, and in whose footsteps we walk far

enough to see them disappear and be replaced by our own as

we carry their legacies along the road less traveled. This powerful

meditation brought many of us to tears and we unabashedly

wore our hearts on our sleeves, coming to find this a safe space

“as if we [held] this beautiful public secret between us that says

we don’t belong here but we are going to make it ours. Indeed,

we made this thing ours” (Martinez et al., 2015, 93).

It was in this safe space on this February day at the very university that I always knew would never love me back, that we, Black and Brown women scholars unpacked our testimonios together, laughing, crying, supporting, advising, and understanding the righteousness and victory of our struggle. It was like being at church on a Sunday morning when the choir gets up and slays the song that you just needed to hear in order to get through the pandemonium of the coming week.

And as Carmen Perez (personal communication, February 23, 2018) insisted “You’re only as good as good as your weakest link,” so although I had only just met these sistahs, I knew, as Lilla Watson would suggest, that my liberation was bound up with theirs, and we would walk together. Our individual accounts in communion with our “collective experience marked by marginalization, oppression, [and] resistance” is what led us to “build solidarity and respond to and resist” (Bernal et al., 2012, 363) the harmful culture of the academy as women scholars of color together.

We, testimonialistas, shared our fears, doubts, struggles, triumphs, and dreams. We unpacked the realities of group marginalizations in academia despite our “relatively privileged status” (Bernal et al., 2012, 366). We allowed our stories to “tell how our bodies are maps of oppression, of institutional violence and stress, of exclusion,

objectification, and abuse. Our bodies also [told]

stories of transformational resistance, talking

back, and surviving in academia” (Bernal et al.,

2012, 366). And we didn’t just leave it all out on

the table, but we, in all of our stories of academic

despair, affirmed “healing pathways for our

fractured minds, bodies, and spirits” (Bernal et

al., 2012, 367). We exchanged information and

vowed to keep in touch. We offered one another

mentorship, collaborations, and support beyond

that room that day.

I wanted to stay there forever and to hold on to that space for dear life. I didn’t know if it would ever come again in this way but was enough that I had felt it then. It was enough to propel me forward in seeking it out and/or creating it, whichever comes first. It was enough to motivate me to “get me my squad,” whether within TC or not, or within the academy or not. We, the disruptors of the status quo, frontline soldiers, challengers of dominant narratives, survivors of injustice, and agents of change, we catch our breath in the safety of each other’s company and in the interdependent solidarity of the testimonios we share. And together, no battle is too great.

References 

Bernal, D. D., Burciaga, R., & Carmona, J. F. (2012). Chicana/Latina testimonios: Mapping the methodological, pedagogical, and political. Equity & Excellence in Education, 45(3), 363-372.

Martinez, M. A., Alsandor, D. J., Cortez, L. J., Welton, A. D., & Chang, A. (2015). We are stronger together: Reflective testimonios of female scholars of color in a research and writing collective. Reflective Practice, 16(1), 85-95.

 

Shoutouts

Dr. Carmen Kynard

Dr. Marcelle Mentor

Carmen Perez

Dr. Monika Son

Lilla Watson

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© 2020 by Cathryn Devereaux