As academia aims to become more progressive in its effort to dismantle systemic racism, I tend to reflect on how these factors have impacted my experiences. Subsequently, I feel obligated to code-switch through the spaces that I navigate from entering classrooms to writing papers, entering work meetings, and even when I walk into my family’s home.
In academia, I am reminded through microaggressions, limited diversity-related curriculum, and even less diverse faculty that only specific spaces are appropriate for people of color. Although my experiences matter, I am indirectly told that my voice should search for words that echo my white counterparts, that are presumed articulate, mastered, and intelligent. When I attempt to use these words, I find myself stumbling upon their pronunciation as shame begins to emerge, and I choke on my inner thoughts. Why are the words I learned not indicative of richness, depth, resiliency, or strength that only marginalized individuals understand through sacrifice? Why are my ancestors’ blood, sweat, and tears, represented through language, considered less appropriate for these academic and professional spaces?
While entering the professional realm, I am inadvertently told to moderate my mannerisms, robust laughter, and feistiness. I am meant to minimize my space, that these characteristics depict negative stereotypes of my Latina identity. I must code-switch my aura and dim my light to present myself as an educated, polished, and competent professional.
When I visit home, I am reminded that my words are no longer perceived as my own. I am told that I speak white, but what I think they mean to say is that I am now educated. That the words I choose to depict my academic and professional journey are not familiar territory. That our words reflecting intergenerational and community trauma do not share the same spaces. I feel obliged to code-switch to familiar vernacular, as I am once again reminded that these spaces are further apart than I imagined.
Yet here I am—the bridge. I am navigating borders; I am occupying space. I am learning that each part represents an aspect of my identity and that I am many things — a first-generation, a multicultural individual, a sister, an academic, and an advocate. And as I reflect on this journey, I encourage you to take up space unapologetically. Embrace that you are equal parts professional, academic, humbled, and cultured. Your words matter, and so do the spaces that you occupy. As you read this, I hope you feel empowered to utilize your voice, and reminded that they have planted ideas, healed wounds, saved communities, and birthed revolutions.