I have spent the last five or so days incessantly trying to craft a written piece that said something. I wanted to produce a piece that read a certain way. A piece that made those reading it feel the same sensations and vibrations that I felt when I experienced Love On Top live at the MTV VMA awards for the first time. Beggin’ and Pleadin’ from the vocal bible at B.B. Kings in Times Square. Or, Rocket- the harmonies, the background vocals, the melismas, the rawness; Or, when I heard Big Freedia slay the formation video with, “I like collard greens and cornbreads, bitch”. I so desperately needed this writing to become the foundation for an indelible memory for all who read it. I got in my own head. So, what you will find below, instead of me trying to say something, is me re-learning how to listen to myself. At times the paragraphs will seem disconnected, and they are, but it is, in fact, what Shamari was trying to say to me, and I hope to you, too.
::listening with your heart::
Is it possible to listen with your heart? Is it possible to listen with your heart through your research? Yes. Often, emerging researchers are encouraged to say something new with our work. We are constantly invited to articulate how our research responds to and/or fills the various lacunae in the extant literature on a particular phenomenon. However, what happens when we would rather not say anything (but listen), realizing that even with our fancy degrees we are not the experts on all things life & education, and that the more we say with our work, the less someone else is able to say with their life. With their counter narrative. With their testimonio.
If I have gained my strength from a rich tradition of Black intellectual thought from Malcolm X to my mother, my ability to read the world in a racialized way from my Blackness, my need to dream and create from Black and Brown youth, and am able to rely on my Black Queens for sight when my gendered eyes fail me, then surely I have developed the skill to listen with my heart from the Latinx community who embraced me during the years I searched for myself in Latin America. Though I did not find all of myself, it was there that I learned how to truly listen..
Is it possible to position my research as the interlocutor? (Delgado Bernal, Burciaga, & Carmona, 2012). I have been ruminating this question and others regarding the various forms research can take ever since I began exploring the notion of testimonios and LatCrit in educational research. Delgado Bernal, Burciaga, and Carmona (2012) explain testimonios as the authentic articulation of the lived experiences of members from the Latina/o or Chicana/o community and other groups who have experienced marginalization and oppression. It is through these testimonios those of us who may be regarded as outsiders come to gain a more nuanced understanding of the testiomonialistas’ lives as shaped by their raced and gendered bodies, native languages, countries of origin, and socioeconomic and immigration statuses.
::Research as a way to heal and let heal::
What could this (all that has been shared above) mean for my research? How can I design, carry out, and position my research so that it may serve as a source of therapy for others who have experienced oppression? How could this same research heal me? Heal and let heal. It is my belief that listening to the testimonios of others could serve as a way not only to learn about the experiences of those testimoniando and how their experiences of inequity and injustice relate to mine, constructing a collective narrative of marginalization, but serve also as a special kind of visibilizing and affirming therapy for them. And for me, too. And despite the power I have found in therapy and healing, I will not make the claim that therapy (or being listened to) works for everyone, but it is something that I’ve found to be helpful, though oft-regarded by others as a practice solely reserved for those with some sort of mental deficiency.
::Getting a haircut::
I first started seeing a therapist/testimoniando in 2009. It was right before I was to move to Disney World and I was experiencing all kinds of ‘sticky’ feelings around leaving my sister and mother for such a long period of time-6 months. I just felt that it was my job to be there for them, but how was I going to do that while making magic with Mickey Mouse? So, I sought out therapy. We had 2 sessions and I did not walk away feeling “crazy” at all. In fact, it gave me a certain level of sanity. Kind of like I had started over. I would compare it to getting a haircut. I walk in with a head full of fuzzies and when I leave, I look like a snack. Therapy felt like that. Sharing my testimony felt like that. I went in with baggage and other “stuff” and I always came out with less. Now, I’m not saying that therapy helped me get rid of baggage, rather it made me see baggage for what it really was; I was able to see its true size, and it was never as big as I made it out to be. I was able to be critical of my baggage and my situation and realize that underlying much of it were advanced interlocking systems of oppression (Delgado Bernal, Burciaga, & Carmona, 2012).
It is also worth noting that I am not so naïve as to suggest that the simple act of testimoniando and listening to testimonialistas is enough to dismantle interlocking systems of oppression. But I agree with Huber (2009) when she writes that advocacy, agency, and activism start with healing. And by co-creating these spaces for people from minoritized communities to share, heal, and exist in solidarity with one another, we can work toward racial and social justice for our communities. Lastly, I will not pretend that the many ideas regarding research presented here are easy, but I am complex, so my research can be complex, too.
We’re going to heal. And I may not always be asked to share, but I will anyway. I will no longer wait for my invitation to the academic party or the proverbial seat at the table, but just know that I will be there. And with me will be a network of beautiful Black and Brown people of the past, present, and the beautiful ones still to come.
My second rendezvous with a therapist happened in 2014 in Spain. It was the year I lost my sister and I just wanted to get a mental check-up. Like, I felt cool, but I wanted to be sure. I needed to be certain that I was “good”, or somewhere close. Again, I walked in with a head full of fuzzies and I walked out as the baddest bitch. It just felt so good. We would talk, and share, and talk...and sometimes share some more. It even got to the point where she kindly suggested I stopped seeing her so much because she had other folks to see with more pressing issues. So, I took a break. NYC. Doctoral program. New roommate. And I’m back in this thang. Seeing my third therapist now, a Black woman, and it’s lovely. She’s made connections that I would have never made on my own. I mean, she doesn’t do anything spectacular, she just listens. However, I’m starting to realize just how rare it is to find someone who just wants to listen; perhaps, because true listening requires them to stop talking and let’s be real, nobody really wants to stop communicating their own wants, needs, ideas, and shit. So, therapy, at least for me, has been a pair of ears that listen to my story. Listen to my story without passing judgement. And that, I guess, is magical. In that space, I matter. I exist. My life is real. My problems are real. My fears are real. My love is real. Racism is real. Oppression is real; and the struggle is so damn real. During these sessions, I “recount my life’s experiences with the attention to the injustices I have suffered and the effects these injustices have had on my life” (Huber, 2009, p.643). I walk out every single time with a fresh “haircut”, looking like a BOSS. Now, if I could just find a way to do research that helps me and other folks heal, life would be good. Because quite frankly, I’m not trying to be the only one walking around with my hair (and head) on fleek.