When I first moved to Westchester County in New York in 1979, the quickest and most significant changes I experienced were initially economically-centered. My wife and I, educated with graduate degrees and former residents of New York City, were among a miniscule population of families who self-identified as economically “out of place”. Our education, inner city street experiences, and knowledge as participants in the movement of civil rights, made it easier to navigate any school system and more importantly to advocate on behalf of our Brown and curly-haired daughter. Our familiarity with survivor street smart skills and formal education placed us decades ahead in comparison to the other Latinos residing in different parts of the county and country. Little did I know at the time that living among the White wealth would eventually play a major role in my development as a post-colonial theorist, educator and social activist. What I did know, based on the overtness of discrimination I had been born into, was that Westchester was not unique but rather a reflection of many other neighborhoods.
Critical to understand was that intellectual genocide of poor people was an ordained strategy in Westchester. All of these social interferences, in reality were products of social set-ups, exposed models of “hate”, including those that originated from one’s own community where discriminatory practices were often embellished equal to or more than those from European Whites. In other words, we too are often in the process of enslaving ourselves.
To me, it wasn’t new information how we can indulgence in our own racism. What was more blatant and disruptive to embracing human dignity was the difference with the Latinos immigrants coming into this nation after the 1990’s as compared to Latinos who came here prior to World War II. For the group arriving prior to 1945, our sense of remaining Latinos, embracing and bringing our history with us, salvaging our language and customs was crucial; as taught to us by our parents. It was a practice and precious lesson, never to be forgotten. On the opposite side, assimilating was disrespectful and unusual. However, Latinos born in this nation during the early 1980’s were assimilating or close to it.
What inspired the writing of An Other's Mind?
Throughout my whole life I had witnessed and experienced too much injustice based on race, class and gender. For too long my experiences and that of Others like me have been silenced and hidden. I had been socially trapped into choosing inadequate role models simply based on income successes rather than character.
As an Other I also observed that mistakes we made almost immediately condemned us and led us to blame ourselves above all other factors and conditions. Mistakes are an important ingredient of a journey that takes you where you want to go. Any way in which a person's "right to fail" is hindered is a privilege of the oppressor that denies the person progress, development and empowerment.
How do the themes in the book impact how you market it and the sales of your book?
Because of the content (starting on page one), I know and have already observed through the editing process, that the more power (as in money and status) a person has, the less likely that person will be to admit to reading the book or making the actual purchase. Just the purchase makes a statement that threatens to alter the status quo and instigates a self-analysis that people may not be ready or desire to confront. When we discuss or become aware about the shortfalls that exist related to race, education, history, economics and justice, there is no avoiding an introspective evaluation of how we are also part of the problem and can be part of the solution; the risk is often times the silencing and neglectful factor that keeps us from freedom for all.
How is the book a reflection of your life?
My life portrays a historical relevance that motivated a process of self-discovery where I first had to understand how I eventually slotted the civil rights movement into my own life. Once I understood better my relationship with history it propelled me to encourage Others to do the same, for many reasons and purposes, but surely for helping solve some problems for the larger universe of cultures at a time that has so many of our tomorrows at risk.
The personal stories and incidents mentioned in the book put me in a state of vulnerability. The vulnerabilities, especially in classroom settings, helped Others pursue a new base knowledge and curiosity that eventually helped them open up to more satisfying possibilities.
Professionally, my experiences in not-for-profit settings have given me a basis on which to seek further scholarship, expose institutionalized racism where it existed, and confront the dangers of a system in which policy as well as the absence of policy affect those left without many choices for survival.
What are the major themes presented in the book?
- A liberal arts education allows us to find the genesis of our personal journeys and where it has taken us. It develops our consciousness; it validates its importance in our everyday life and the conditions that deter us or take us away from a moral consciousness. It develops our wisdom which is paramount to the preservation of our ethics for making decisions in any context of our lives; this needed wisdom defends and protects us while uniting our personal and professional paths.
- In our struggle to defend our basic needs and our being viewed as an Other, the greatest discovery for me was that race mattered. When left out of the social equation it translates to negativity, and does not allow for progress to occur. In denying ourselves a positive view of race and how our differences enhance us as a society, our basic need of human dignity is perpetually compromised and leads to greater social issues.
- To understand present social conditions for all groups of people, we must grasp where we came from, in the metaphorical sense, and how we got to where we are. All policies have a historical relevance, that point of reference must be identified to understand the present, rewrite or create new policy in order to formulate lasting changes for all people.
- Because we are constantly tempted to strive into an atmosphere of greed or the "wanting of more" it becomes a responsibility of education to enlighten us to the consequences of those "wants." Educated and trained community organizers, having been taught and mentored to be agents of change play an integral role in preventing the rise of a new power group to become oppressive.
How is An Other's Mind different?
Beyond the scholarship and material presented for the disciplines that deal with social issues and human rights, the book is also a channel in which I hope to continue mentoring and inspiring Others to join the movement toward change. In exposing the realities so many of us have faced, the importance of consciousness is emphasized and self-empowerment comes into the equation and process of gaining more knowledge. This is not simply an autobiography or memoir of the many people I have worked and interacted with, nor is it only about social and economic justice principles but a complement of both—each affecting the other—to reveal and motivate an introspective analysis of where one stands on issues affecting us all.
What do you hope readers will learn or take away from reading An Other's Mind?
That we must fight for our human rights as we fight for our "basic needs;" what affects one of us, affects us all. There is a great deal of creativity in the struggle to survive that is just as valuable as the scholarship attained by an individual; we all have a role to play in the movement that protects our human dignity.
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