When I was first hired as a teacher in the nineties, the principal informed me that he was excited to have me as part of the staff, especially having just received my graduate degree from New York University. My new boss also mentioned that he was seeking to hire more diverse individuals to serve the students on campus. This gave me great hope for my first school year as a teacher. However, as I was leaving his office, he offered some parting thoughts.
“Welcome once again. I’d like to offer you a piece of advice. Please understand that this community is very conservative. If I were you, I’d tone it down a bit.”
I left the principal’s office wondering if this was the right school for me. In fact, I left questioning whether being an openly gay Latino would end my teaching career before it even began.
During the 2018-2019 school year, as I served dual language educational communities across the country, a dual language teacher deemed me “too Mexican” and a dual language principal offered feedback indicating that I was “too gay.” Over two decades after I stepped foot into the classroom for the first time, my being a Black Indigenous Person of Color (BIPOC), who identifies as part of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer+ (LGBTQ+) community, and is also an educator was too much to bear for two dual language educators charged to model sociocultural competence.
The Guiding Principles for Dual Language Education: Third Edition (2018), offer us a roadmap for dual language program implementation. The three goals of dual language education include bilingualism & biliteracy, grade level academic achievement in both program languages, and sociocultural competence. As one of the co-authors, for me, the sociocultural competence goal is the foundation for all that we do. Seeing the similarities and differences in each other is important. Viewing them as ways to connect, rather than as obstacles to overcome, is imperative.
Because in the end, what good is it if students are bilingual, biliterate, and outperform monolingual students academically if they are not able to empathize with, and advocate for those that have less privilege?
How successful is a dual language program if we do not fully prepare students to actively chip away at systems of oppression that continue to marginalize BIPOC, the LGBTQ+ community, and anyone who does not fully align with present white, monocultural, and monolingual expectations?
More importantly, how can we ever facilitate and guide these conversations with students if we are not doing the personal work to address our own biases?
To be a teacher is to be a part of the most challenging, exciting, draining, thrilling, and life-altering profession that one can choose. There are so many facets to what we do as educators. To be a dual language educator elevates the impact of our service to the profession because we are charged to facilitate instruction in two languages, as we also help students become better individuals.
But, to be a BIPOC and an educator is even tougher. Imagine, if you will, working in an educational system that has been established with the sole purpose of marginalizing those that are not a part of the dominant culture. Curriculum materials, historical contexts, and pedagogical strategies are all aligned to continue to strengthen a monocultural and monolingual establishment. And, in this context, the BIPOC must not only gauge whether their entry into such a system is the goal, but if entry has been achieved, whether they have the fight to go against years of established norms that exclude them.
In today’s charged political climate, that which in the past remained silent is now out in the open. Some educators have become brazen and open about their disdain for those who are not white and who represent the diversity that for so long was a part of the American ideal. Moreover, some of these educators serve emergent bilingual student communities who look to teachers and administrators to guide them in their work in moving forward in their sociocultural journey. BIPOC, already breathing in contentious educational spaces, must navigate a world of education where overt racism and continued micro-aggressions have become the norm.
So, the question becomes, what have we personally done to overtly dismantle educational systems of oppression that continue to oppress educators who are BIPOC? Are we non-racist or anti-racist educators? There is a difference between the two. However, to be a non-racist educator is to be silent and become an oppressor in the school building.
As a gay married man, who is also an educational leader, I still cannot openly and publicly hold my husband’s hand in certain places for fear of verbal and/or physical violence. Educators who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community cannot readily speak of their partners or spouses. The loving pictures of those couples are absent from the teachers’ desks in many instances. There is still a fear of losing your job or being accused of pedophilia, a charge that has been an attack on LGBT+ educators throughout the years.
But, to be a BIPOC who identifies as a LGBTQ+ individual and who serves in schools, is so very incredibly difficult and draining. Not only are such teachers and administrators on the receiving end of racial discrimination, but they must also contend with hateful rhetoric that targets them simply because of who they happen to fall in love with. In spite of this, these phenomenal educators wake up each morning ready to create educational access for each child they come in contact with. Nothing stands in their way of fighting to create equitable and inclusive learning environments where students will learn to empathize with others and fight inequity in all its manifestations.
A question we might ask ourselves involves identifying specific actions we have taken in our professional and personal lives to combat homophobia and intolerance. How have we served as allies for teachers who are targeted for the color of their skin AND the love in their hearts? And again, to be non-homophobic is not enough. Today, we must embrace and overtly announce that we are anti-homophobia.
As you go about your day tomorrow, reflect about racial and heteronormative privileges. Realize that if you don’t have to think about how race and skin color impact your life, you have racial privilege.
When you give your spouse a peck on the lips at the grocery store or mall, remember that some of us can’t do that. That’s a privilege that you should create access to.
The bottom line is that the more privilege we have, the more we are responsible for creating access to that privilege for others.
I often reflect on my entry into the teaching profession so many years ago. I realize that many positive steps have been taken in terms of equity work in schools. For that I am grateful. I am also humbled that I am engaging in this collaborative work, so that things continue to move forward.
When I think of what my first principal told me so many years ago, it still hurts a little bit. Understanding that for two dual language educators I served this year, I was too Mexican and too gay, makes me ready to continue to challenge and disrupt monocultural and monolingual spaces.
And, what is my hope?
My hope is that as educators, in all settings, we quickly come to understand that…
BIPOC + LGBTQ = Fabulosity!