Life After University

by Jaime Humberto García, NACCS Chair, 2011-2012

from Oaxaca de Juarez, Oaxaca

For over twenty years I worked at universities and year by year observed conditions deteriorate. While demands in all areas increased, little if any assistance was provided to meet growing expectations. Recognition of service to professional organizations was weakly acknowledged even as faculty was encouraged to take on these roles. As I spent time on the work needed as a National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies officer, the promised support from the university never materialized.

The consequences included an annual review that inaccurately reflected my performance. In the end it led to removal of my tenure status when two University of Texas System campuses were merged. Subsequently, I made the decision to leave the profession. However, what I had gained during university life was not something the system could take away.

Throughout the years in university life my skill set and interests shifted. Though my doctorate is in educational psychology, much of my work shifted more to social psychology. NACCS was in part responsible for that shift. What I found so refreshing about NACCS conferences was that they were, and continue to be, interdisciplinary. Attending sessions involving research in a variety of disciplines provided me with ideas for my own work.

After leaving the university and not having enough activity in my life, I began looking for volunteer opportunities in Latin America. After weeks of research I settled on Centro de Esperanza Infantil in Oaxaca de Juárez. My selection of that program was based on two main factors. First, the services offered in the program are similar to a program where my university students completed their service learning hours. Secondly, and more importantly, I was drawn to the values stated in their operating principles: respect for the cultures and languages of the program’s participants.

Centro de Esperanza Infantil (CEI) is a foundation that solicits sponsors to cover the school expenses of children and youth. Students in the program are among the poorest in the state and would otherwise not attend school. The center provides a range of services from school supplies and uniforms to tutorial services to breakfast and lunch. The majority of the participants are from one of the many indigenous groups found in Oaxaca and some speak an indigenous language as their first language along with Spanish.

Initially the plan was to volunteer for four months then divide my time between Oaxaca and the States. I was not there more than two months before I realized that this was home. Oaxaca was where I should to be. Apart from CEI the city and state are culturally vibrant. My time is divided between CEI and cultural events and festivals in the area.

My activity at CEI is divided in three areas: homework assistance, English tutorials, and play. Homework assistance is mostly with primaria children and part of that is teaching them study skills. English tutorials are with secundaria, preparatoria, and universitaria students. Beginning in secundaria, English is a part of the curriculum. Play occurs in the form of games and park trips with primaria children and joking with older program participants during tutorials.

My skills as an educational psychologist have served me well as I work with children and youth, although there have been some adjustments. I have had to adjust my expectations of the behavior of program participants. For example, when teaching about social distance in a university discussion I would include cultural differences as a factor in that behavior. Here children and youth up to about 14 years of age have no conception of social distance. I expected that younger elementary students would have a close social space but I did not expect students in first or second year of secundaria (seventh and eighth grade) to stand or sit very close and even place their hand on my back or shoulder. This occurs more with boys than girls, which is expected. Also, the attitude toward homework is definitely different in that it is not negative. They stay focused with or without supervision. Likewise, the general cheerfulness of the program participants creates a pleasant environment.

One area that did concern me was the distancing of participants from their mother language, particularly the younger ones. When asked whether they spoke any languages other than Spanish, the response was always no. When later I heard them speaking an indigenous language I asked what language was being spoken to which they replied that it was a nonsense language. One later admitted they were speaking Triqui. I had purchased a book on basic Zapoteco that had an excellent introduction that included the importance of language preservation. After having this group of program participants read that section their attitudes changed and they openly would speak in Triqui and began to teach me basic phrases and terms.

Outside of CEI there have been a range of activities that occupy my time. There are dozens of exhibit openings, book presentations, performance art events, lectures, and more, every week. Much is learned from attending these events. These are not only personally rewarding but also provide information that I can share with the children and youth with whom I work.

My experiences engaging with the program participants led me to sponsor two children. The director initially brought me a stack of folders and asked if I wanted to select a child to sponsor. I left the decision to her discretion. I had no idea how to select and asked her to do so. Later she asked if I was interested in sponsoring a second participant whom I already knew, one I had worked with since my first days at CEI. I said yes, so I now have two ahijados. (The terms used for sponsors and sponsored participants are madrina, padrino, ahijado, and ahijada.) The two have enriched my life further.

While there was value in university life there was also much to contend with. Through my experience with NACCS, developing collegial relationships and friendships became an important part of managing university life. As I noted, my research and teaching was enriched as a result of my involvement in NACCS. Now, all those experiences have resulted in an active and more rewarding life where I continue to use the knowledge I have gained in a variety of areas. Further, in the process of working with program participants I get to see them grow and develop. So, while the end of my academic career ended in a stressful and unpleasant experience it led me to move to a place where I have a better life. Leaving university created an opportunity.

Spring 2020 – Vol. 45 No. 1

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