My friends, the people have spoken. They call for me to write on my decisions to go to graduate school. Well, a couple of you asked for that and Cooper asked for a my view on New Mexico (which is actually related to my decision to go to grad school). A few constitutes "the people" in my book.
About a decade ago, a decision was made to send a single emissary from New Mexico into patriarch’s world. He would teach them of New Mexico’s institutional multi-culturalism and our ways of love. A great competition convened where all the faithful challenged each other. In the end, only I remained. Oh, wait – No, that was Wonder Woman. Damn! I should probably see a therapist about the ways that I confuse her biography with my own.
Actually, my decisions about going to graduate school were part of an on-going process. A single moment of decisiveness or a dramatic turn of character did not really occur. Rather, a number of things converged. I was also very lucky to have happened to know professors who encouraged me to go to graduate school (and, later, those who supported me through it). It doesn’t make for dramatic story telling, but it is how it happened.
I had always been interested in history. Even as a student in grade school I learned that most people didn’t actually remember that much about the past. With just a little bit of reading, I found that I could know things that others didn’t. Being a bit macabre, my history reading tended to focus on human folly (such as learning lots about the Titanic (back before it was cool (though, yes, I recognize it has stopped being cool again)). I was the only sixth grader (maybe the only individual in all of New Mexico) who could give a blow-by-blow account of the sinking. I also found that I enjoyed telling such stories.
So, from middle school through high school, I projected a future as a history teacher at the secondary level. In some ways, I just didn’t have much imagination or I loved consistency.
When I reached college, however, my career plans took a slightly new shape. Within my first year, I learned what it meant to be a historian. Finding that it was possible to do original research excited me. If I was going to pursue higher education, I decided that history would be the course that I would take. Plus, I was lucky that one of my older sisters was already blazing a trail by attending graduate school (though not in history). Yes, there is another.
It took time to figure out what type of historian I wanted to be. Basically, I had lots of questions about the past. Most of those questions happened to center on New Mexico and Mexicans’ roles in the U.S.
Existing histories on the state, especially the ones for primary schools, had a teleological narrative that made New Mexico’s incorporation into the United States appear inevitable. This narrative was (is) so ingrained that most people accept it at face value. "If New Mexico had been part of Mexico (and the name alone does imply a certain connection)," I asked, "Did nobody feel patriotism towards that nation when the U.S. invaded?" The answer provided (They didn’t because they joined the U.S.) ignored actual historical evidence.
Contrary to popular mythology, Mexicans in New Mexico had little desire to become part of the United States. Indeed, the people of Santa Fe wept as the U.S. military seized the capital in 1846. Wild stories also circulated that the invading military had planned to brand a “US” on the cheeks of all the Mexicans in the territory. Clearly there was some apprehension about becoming Americans. These stories, however, were (are) not widely told. All that I had at the time was a feeling that the traditional histories were dubious.
Those doubts emerged because I felt there were many inconsistencies about how Mexicans viewed their life in this nation, even within my own family. I really loved New Mexico (and still do). Yet, there was always a certain uneasiness among Latinos in the state as well. At times, there were contrasting impulses and sentiments among the Latino population.
While most (if not all) claimed an avid patriotism for the U.S., there were also frank discussions about how racism and social inequality impacted their daily lives. While they celebrated the 4th of July, there was also resentment that wealthy Euro Americans flooded into the state and gobbled up local lands. There was a sense of shared commitment with other Latino groups in the U.S. Yet, there was also a divisive emphasis on color. Some discussions (at the time) suggested internalized racism as many Latinos in New Mexico argued they were “different” from other Latinos through the claim of being “pure Spanish.”
In a similar way, I noticed Mexican Americans’ complicated relationship to the Catholic Church. The hierarchy had a tense relationship with the laity. Many Latinos openly discussed their feelings that the Church had often failed to acknowledge their unique religious expression and the spiritual needs of the local population. Yet, most Mexicans also remained devoutly Catholic and considered it a critical part of their own sense of self. Indeed, when I first imagined my research in graduate school, I believed that I would study the history of Mexican-Americans’ relationship to the Catholic Church (that later changed).
In other words, a lot of my interest in doing historical research came from my own personal experiences grappling with different aspects of my identity. I saw inconsistencies and even contradictory assumptions about how Mexicans understood themselves within the U.S. nation.
Given that my father was Mexican-American and my mother was Irish-American, I started with a certain perspective. Likewise, claiming an identity as a gay man also aligned me with different aspects of society. Perhaps these combined to make me suspicious of institutions and majority politics.
As I developed an increasing focus on Latino history, some of my undergraduate friends made me feel uneasy about the ways that the historical profession operated. Though these friends were also history majors, none of them were interested in New Mexico or Latino/a history in the same way as me. Indeed, they even scoffed at such a pursuit. For them, studying Europe was a far more legitimate intellectual enterprise. While I had no desire to dictate their interests, it struck me as odd that they felt the need to explicitly distance themselves from Latino studies (and even denigrate it) given that they also identified as Latino/a. Moreover, they received a certain cache in repudiating the study of people like themselves.
This made me wonder about the ways that university structures perpetuated the omission of Latino history. The Eurocentric structures of the education system created a scenario where even those with a direct stake in Latino history turned their back on it.
During my last couple of years as an undergraduate, I took a variety of courses that focused on feminist theory, race and ethnic studies, and a nascent form of queer studies. I became increasingly interested (in a crude sort-of-way) in how U.S. society historically established and enforced power relations based on race, gender, and sexuality. Historical scholarship can be a powerful means to challenge and resist the status quo.
Of course, much of my thinking as an undergraduate was still pretty shallow. In between considering the underpinnings of heterosexist privilege and U.S. imperialism, I often testified about the pair of Guess(?) jeans that changed my life (Though, in my defense, they were great jeans).
I shudder to even imagine what my graduate school application looked like. Once in graduate school, however, I was extremely fortunate to find a remarkable dissertation advisor. She expanded my thinking on race, gender, and sexuality in innumerable ways. I still continue to learn from her.
So, that’s basically the story (as best as I can remember) of how I came to decide on graduate school. It’s nice work if you can get it. Let me tell you, it sure beats shoveling coal.