APEX Express – 11.3.22 – A Tale of 2 Professors

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A weekly magazine-style radio show featuring the voices and stories of Asians and Pacific Islanders from all corners of our community. The show is produced by a collective of media makers, deejays, and activists.

Host Miko Lee speaks with two women professors Dr. Celine Parreñas Shimizu and Dr. Robyn Magalit Rodriguez about their approach to education, activism, motherhood and moving forward.

Show Transcript

A Tale of Two Professors Story

[00:00:00] Swati: Tonight on APEX Express, we have a piece highlighting the work of two professors with a lot in common, both Filipino scholar, activists, and grieving mothers who are approaching their work in similar and different ways. Listen in on Miko’s interview, exploring both of their amazing backstories, their current work and where they see their futures. Also editorial side note Miko and Robyn’s audio got a little funky at times. So it might be a little bumpy.

[00:00:59] Miko Lee: Welcome Dr. Celine Parreñas Shimizu and Dr. Robyn Magalit Rodriguez to APEX express.

Dr. Robyn is the first Filipino American to serve as chair of the UC Davis Asian American Studies Department, the first one in 50 years. She also became the founding director of the Bulosan Center for Filipino studies and has authored so many books. Dr. Celine scholar filmmaker, and the new Dean of the Division of Arts at UC Santa Cruz. You worked at my Alma mater San Francisco State University in the School of Cinema. You were a professor of Asian-American feminist film and media studies at UC Santa Barbara. I mean, you’ve, you’ve been like through the whole California system. We are so happy to have you on APEX express. I believe you were the first Asian-American Dean in this position. And how does this feel for you to be at UC Santa Cruz during this work?

[00:01:51] Dr. Celine Parreñas Shimizu: As the first woman of color Dean at UC Santa Cruz, as well as the first Asian American woman. Of course, it feels weighty, to hear that the lived experience of it is very much about prioritizing subjugated knowledges, making sure that we have an abundance of voices and abundance of traditions and knowledges that we are teaching so that students can really have access to you know what they want to study as well as be situated, and a long tradition of inquiry and method. It’s really wonderful to be at the helm of a division that really takes seriously, people who want to practice art, people who want to study art historically, critically theoretically and we all have defined. Our role, and helping to make this world A place where everyone has a role,

[00:02:48] Miko Lee: and art is just being part of who you are that it’s just part of being human. Um, Robyn, I want to go way back and talk with you about when you first became politically active.

[00:02:59] Dr. Robyn Magalit Rodriguez: I would say that the beginnings of my political activism started when I was in either my freshman or sophomore year of high school.

And it started with a letter. I was concerned about what we now call racial profiling of young Filipino American men in my neighborhood. I grew up in Union City, California in the east bay. And there was a supposed kind of gang problem in Union City and I recall young boys really in our neighborhood at school, who I thought were being unfairly targeted, not only by police, but also mistreatment really from other authority figures at school, I felt really concerned about that and wrote a letter. I was encouraged by my mom to express my opinions or my kind of concern about how my peers are being treated by writing a letter. And so I wrote the letter and I addressed it to the mayor of Union City, the chief of police, and the superintendent of the school district.

And in the letter, I expressed how I felt that my peers were being unfair ly treated and proposed that they introduce what I was calling, multicultural education. The idea I thought was that if our teachers and authority figures really understood us better, and at the same time, if we encountered a stories and histories of our community that somehow this so-called gang problem could be somewhat addressed. So that was my first, I think, kind of a political act or act of activism.

And I would then go from there really getting involved in electoral politics. And then after that when I’m in college is really when I started to get more involved in other kinds of organizing work community organizing work.

[00:05:10] Miko Lee: I love that. What do you think, was it your parents’ upbringing or your peers? What do you think rose up your feisty nature to be able to write back to the school board at such a young age?

[00:05:22] Dr. Robyn Magalit Rodriguez: I think it was a couple of things. I think one was actually my mother modeling a modeling sort of letter writing in particular as a mode of calling out issues of inequity or injustice and what had happened and I remember this very clearly. I think it probably was my earliest observation or experience of racism and it was at church. I just remember I grew up Catholic and somehow I just remember sitting in the pew and fidgeting and sort of halfway listening to the priest’s sermon and I recall the priest saying something about how Filipinos were not contributing sufficiently enough to the parish. And I remember that very clearly. And I remember feeling that tension rise because there’s so many people in mass who are Filipino and I could feel, my mother bristling at that.

My father, I just, the tension was just so palpable. My mother was feeling after mass talking about how insensitive the priest had been. Didn’t quite say racist, that it was just really wrong and a mis-characterization of the Filipino community. And she was going to write a letter and address it. And I remember observing that and that had a real impact on me. I think the influence again, via my mother is the fact that my middle name, which actually translates into ‘to be angry’ comes from an ancestor on a maternal ancestor. It was a made up name by one of my ancestors who decided to change his name to Magalit it as an expression of defiance against the Spanish colonial rule in the Philippines and actually ended up joining the anti-colonial revolutionary cause himself. And so that was that’s an important story that is passed on through my mom’s, through my mom’s family. We’re very proud of that revolutionary history. I was always very proud of it always insist on using my middle name everywhere and anywhere. And so I think there’s also that, that, that feeling, or I think I was encouraged to, we were encouraged to really be those people who would be critical of any circumstances where people are oppressed, exploited, marginalized. Even my father. Growing up he would tell me, you’re so fortunate that I left the day before martial law was declared in the Philippines, because otherwise I would have been, I would have stayed and I would have been part of the movement to topple the dictatorship. And I wouldn’t be able to be here and be your dad. And I recall to, with my father he drew really a hard and fast lines between himself and people in the community, even friendships would think, he walked away from friendships if he felt a friend was sympathetic to the dictatorship.

So there’s just all of these ways that might. Both, exhibited as anti-authoritarian kind of, the sort of critique of structures of power that I grew up with and I observed and was inspired by. So I think that’s what explains why I would end up doing what I did as a freshman in high school.

[00:08:39] Miko Lee: Wow. The power of being angry, built into your DNA and your name and your love it. We love to hear that.

Dr. Celine What do you think Drove you into ethnic studies

[00:08:54] Dr. Celine Parreñas Shimizu: I came to the United States with my family, in the early to mid eighties and I moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. I was one of three Filipino Americans in my high school of 3000 people. And the others were my siblings, and education for me was really sanctuary, like being at school because there was food because we were so poor and, we were the center of our worlds, my multicultural set of friends and I loved, learning about my new country, and when I moved to Berkeley as an undergrad, there were many questions that I had, like, why is it that, my parents, even though they were hyper educated in a way, had to work low wage jobs, as immigrants and they had to work two jobs and they were never around then why was I, and my sister, we were 14, 13 years old. We were already working, in order to help put food on the table for our large immigrant family. So I had so many questions.

What was this about, why are we here? And. I loved ethnic studies at UC Berkeley, it was a way to really understand subjugated knowledges, and it was really understanding why we no longer ate together as a family because my parents had to work. At UC Berkeley, ethnic studies was such a wonderful place because it was an interdisciplinary approach to history, to cinema, to literature. It was the time where so many amazing people were there. Not only was it Trinh Min-ha, June Jordan, Cherrié Moraga. I learned in their classrooms and also created my own classrooms by becoming an activist, because there was so much in our experiences that I needed to see on paper. Like what it means to walk around with a large Asian American family, what it means to, grow up with a white mom, but be seen as a woman of color, like your closest intimate as this white woman who may or may not see you. So these were stories that my classmates were telling me. We did a lot of organizing, you know, a woman of color magazine named, ‘Smell This’, a woman of color film festival, a woman of color retreat. We were really trying to figure out how can we be effective advocates in a world, using our education, using the power and weapons of our education in order to, make significant, impactful cultural contributions that will change the world. And I realized I wanted to really capture the historical moment of how there were so many women of color writing professors there, Maxine Hong Kingston, June Jordan, Cherrié Moraga. Were all there and we were all doing spoken word and poetry slams, and the tradition of women of color literature, with ‘This Bridge Called My Back’ Audrey Lorde, Chrystos, Pat Parker and more, this was a vibrant, legacy growing all of us, all of these books were seeds, and I came up with the name, ‘Smell This’ in the hallways of the co-op in which I lived in at the time. I think I didn’t even really think about it sexually, even though, I’m a sexuality scholar and I’m a porn study scholar, I really didn’t. I really thought of it as a multisensorial experience that you enter when you are exposed to writing. That’s so truthful, that’s so brutal and it’s confrontation with, what it means to be a multiply subjugated person, just walking down the street, for me at the time you’re growing up as a young adult and you’re blossoming, your interests are blossoming, your sexuality is blossoming, and so it was for me, just this multi-dimensional kind of growth, and I wanted this name to assert that multisensorial experience of what it means to grow up in a world. And at the time, give yourself the permission to say my voice is important, my perspective is important, and that’s why I called it that. I think somewhat innocently. And I remember just being on Sproul Plaza, blasting, hip hop music, and just roping in as many women of color as we could, to contribute to the magazine. And we had these gigantic parties and we had the band Yeasty Girls perform. And so we had these legendary epic parties that were all about validating the cultural production of a women of color.

[00:13:13] Dr. Robyn Magalit Rodriguez: I suppose you know, that early act of defiance or that act of resistance writing that letter was the beginnings of my journey towards ethnic studies .I think intuitively I knew that there was something problematic about the fact that I grew up in a predominantly community of color and that there was and most of the students, most of my peers were people of color. And yet most of the figures of authority, teachers, administrators were not people of color. And that the books that we were reading typically had scant mention of our community. So there’s some, I think intuitively I knew that that could not be right. When I. First took an ethnic studies course after I transferred to Santa Barbara, my third year after a stint at community college. We’re actually, I first encountered sort of women of color writers. But it was a class where I was introduced to This Bridge Called My Back, very important anthology by a co-edited by Cherrié Moraga. So that, was sort of my initial foray into kind of women’s studies and ethics studies and then by my junior year at UC Santa Barbara, I had this opportunity to take all these classes to class and Chicano studies, a class in Black studies, but the class that really set me on this path toward academia was a class by Dr. Diane Fujino, it was her very first quarter teaching at UC Santa Barbara and Asian-American studies as an assistant professor. It was really the first time I had encountered a Asian American woman professor who also was unapologetically an activist. And that class seeing her just really changed my life. I was so inspired by Diane by what she was doing in the classroom, which she was inviting us to do students, I felt really challenged and really important in good ways by her and I thought, I think that’s the way that I want to that, that’s what I want to do. I knew I wanted to choose a career of service, I wasn’t quite sure what that was going to be. I thought being a lawyer might be it then I changed my mind, then I thought, oh, maybe I should work as a lobbyist for some of these progressive causes. And then I changed my mind thought I even wanted to be an elected. Maybe then changed my mind. And then professor seemed like something that I could get into. I love learning, I love reading, I love research, I also got introduced to other options that could have been a possibility of me being a labor organizer, so yeah, professor felt like a potential way to actually be at the university lectern, but also to be able to write books that students might be able to encounter in other university classrooms and, Diane embodied this very real possibility for me and I chose to follow that path.

She represented and continues to represent to me an approach to Asian-American studies that I want to see more of, I think that As much as Asian-American studies was born out of these movements for liberation, the Ethic Studies movement, the Third World Liberation Front, the Asian-American movement, Black Power movement. I think there is a way that I feel as if Asian American studies and Ethics Studies more broadly has become so institutionalized. And I understand that, some of the reasons for this hyper, this institutionalization of Asian-American studies or Ethnic Studies had everything to do with just the backlash against it and just survival. I think that to survive different kinds of decisions were made such that Asian-American studies are at the end, even ethics studies as a field, had to look and feel more the other disciplinary and interdisciplinary formations in the university and less this insurgent site for knowledge production and dissemination that it it had started off as, and Diane for me, always felt like, still feels like one of the few scholars who continues to see Asian-American studies and Ethnic Studies as the site for insurgent knowledge production and dissemination, as the site where we as scholars use our platforms use our training use the kinds of resources we have access to, to amplify the issues of our communities and to also work in partnership with the community in trying to reimagine everything as Grace Lee Boggs invites us to do, to do the critical work of the thinking and the dreaming and strategizing to achieve a better world for all of us. We created a scholar activist affinity group or section is what we call it. And then we’d, frequently organized panels where we would invite activists to come and engage our colleagues because, we recognize that activists and organizers are also thinkers and theoreticians who have really important frameworks and analysis of the world.

And that we as scholars could benefit just as much as we as scholars are, doing full-time work and kind of thinking and teaching that we can also extend different kinds of insights to our organizer colleagues.

[00:18:42] Miko Lee: For folks that want to hear more about this. There’s actually an entire APEX express episode that covers a reading done by both Robin and Diane at Eastwind Books. Last year you both received a mentorship award. Can you share about how important it is to be a mentor and how you combine being both a mentor, an activist. And a scholar. How do you combine those elements?

[00:19:12] Dr. Robyn Magalit Rodriguez: you know, Mentorship is so important to me, I think on one hand, I benefited from mentorship clearly, I wouldn’t have even been able to pursue this path, this career path if I hadn’t had a mentor like Diane, Dr. Fujino to not just exist, but actually to see who cultivated a relationship with me who was willing to take the time to help me understand the world of academia which was a world that was completely foreign to me. Dr. Fujino, along with other mentors that I had as an undergraduate really helped guide me. On one hand I got research experience. So they both, they all helped me gain a real understanding of what an academic life actually feels like. I knew I wanted to be a professor, but I didn’t quite know what getting a PhD would require and getting a PhD requires research and I needed the research experience and they guided me through that process by giving it to me helping me to cultivate my own research questions and carry out my own research project. And all of that not only exposed me to this world to confirm for me that yeah, absolutely that is a path I want to pursue.

And they were very frank and honest about what kinds of challenges I might face. I don’t know that I fully understood some of their kind of cautionary kind of tales about academia. It took having to actually get into a program and go through it for me to fully understand what I think they were trying to advise me about, and namely that is just, the elitism of academia the ways in which, you know, academia can be limited especially if you’re a kind of an activist or committed to social justice and that there are ways that, academia isn’t always necessarily the place for that sort of work. Mentorship was so valuable for me individually, and then as I finished my doctorate the mentors I had, helped me just provide that emotional support. Even sometimes it’s not even about the nuts and bolts of how do you do research and how do you finish a dissertation?

It’s simply just supporting you and making you feel like you belong in a space that makes you feel like you don’t more often than not. And so just having that community of support was important from mentors. But, there are still too few people of color as more senior professors, a lot of my mentors were my peers who were just a couple of years ahead of me, and I vowed that, as soon as I was in a position that I would be that person who would throw the gate open and keep it open and and support people.

But I also approach mentorship in in my own sort of way. I think, I have always tried to be just very transparent with my students about what, the challenges of academia can feel like for a woman of color, for a person of color. I also, I had a child when I was in grad school.

So that also created other challenges that other people didn’t necessarily have to have. And I, I wanted to be able to, again, to support women who might make choices in graduate school, around, having families or, all of that so mentorship is so vital I think to ensuring that academia continues to be open to alternative voices and particularly folks of color like academia sometimes it’s like a long hazing process. I feel like this isn’t any different than being in a fraternity or sorority, I feel like, it’s all just this huge hazing process. It’s not fully transparent about what goes on and nobody really wants to let on. And , that prevents us from moving forward. You get stuck in grad school, you end up not finishing your doctorate and, dropping out or you get a job, but then you can’t get tenure. And there’s just so much that I feel like is so shrouded in secrecy sometimes about academia and I wanted to be able to be that person if I got through that, I would keep the gate wide open and give folks, as much information as possible and support in, moving forward and through through academia and all of the hoops that, you have to jump to get to a place where I am now.

[00:23:24] Dr. Celine Parreñas Shimizu: Mentorship and activism to me are all so interrelated. When I went to UC Berkeley as an undergrad, and I think you can say this about the UC system as a whole, it’s usually an experience of disorientation when you get different kinds of pressures around you saying that your history is unimportant. Your voice is unimportant. Your perspective is unimportant, and this is why ethnic studies exists. And this is why programs like the minority summer research program and various other programs are designed. So as to lift up people who otherwise feel like they don’t belong and they don’t deserve to study, and they don’t deserve the time that is the gift of mentorship. And so I was given the gift of mentorship by so many faculty members who really looked me in the eye and said, what did you make of this material that you read? And to say that, my perspective based on, the knowledge I was learning, the methods I was learning mattered really meant that we could have important places in the world as cultural thinkers, as people who can make an intervention in how we interpret things that we experience.

That’s what criticism is about. I think a lot about how 88% of critics are white. It means that even the material that we looked at are dissected from such a limited demographic, what a rip off. What would it mean if cultural critics were more diverse, what a robust enriching debate that would be more, and so when a student walks into my office, for the past 20 plus years of teaching, I wanted to share that gift of mentorship to let them know that the university needs their perspective in order for it to do its job. Because if we hear from too few people, then we don’t know as much as we should.

If it’s true that over 90% of the most popular films are made by white men. And it is true, according to the Annenberg Studies at USC and UCLA, then what we know about love, marriage, sexuality, immigration, families more, comes from such a limited place. And it takes away from our understanding of each other.

It becomes such a limited imprisoning understanding of each other. If we don’t hear from more people, and people who are really critical people who say that, what we shouldn’t know, we should know, and the university is a place to dig up those stories. And so for me as a Dean, it’s not only about the mentorship I give, but the structures of mentorship that we implement. I think we all need mentors, even for me as a Dean, I have mentors who are Presidents, mentors who are Provosts, so that I have a better understanding of the institution. And I think about this a lot for my, for the faculty in my division. I hope that everyone has a network where you run your ideas by, because you only become stronger for it. You, you have a larger perspective of how institutions work and what your strengths are and then you realize, oh my goodness, all those people who gave me that time.

What a big deal that was, that they recognized that you were worth the time that you were worth, the space and the knowledge, and I recognized how good it felt, to be the recipient of that. And then once you start doing it, you realize that. Oh, it’s so amazing to be able to give it back, because you’re really shaping the next generation. I learned so much from them. That’s really the goal for me, not only am I a Dean, but I’m also a grieving mother. And I think a lot about that, about how. All of us are going to confront inevitably, the death of a loved one and so I think about. What our students are doing is really, preparing to have a role in the world that a significant, that really takes advantage of their passion, their strength, their commitment, so that they can, find a purpose that will enable them to get through, this inevitable pain.

[00:27:24] Miko Lee: Thank you for sharing that. That really makes me think about your latest film, the Celine Archive, which is such a beautiful personal documentary that, combined so much of your pain and also just uncovering this history of Filipina American. I wonder if you can talk more about what inspired your film.

[00:27:45] Dr. Celine Parreñas Shimizu: So in the mid nineties, 1994, through 1996, I believe around that time the community historian Alex Fabros was teaching a Filipino American history class, Filipino American experience class. There were about 200 students who were going through that curriculum and they found the story that he had grown up with about a Filipino American immigrant woman who was buried alive by her community in the 1930s Stockton Jersey island area.

I myself was discovering the story at the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. And I made this film, in the era of the Me Too and Time’s Up movements and really wanted to dig deeply into our capacity to suppress the violent experiences that women undergo in our communities.

There’s so little known and studied about Filipino American history in our curriculum K through 12. And when we do hear about it, we primarily hear men’s stories, the late great historian, Dawn Mabalon and talks quite a lot about this and like her and like many other historians and community organizers, cultural workers and the Filipino American community.

I wanted to amplify her story. So as to invite us to think about our female past and how Asian American women continue to endure violent silencing we see this, especially, today, not only in the Atlanta shootings, but in the murder of Christina Yuna Lee in New York.

[00:29:32] Miko Lee: Can you share a little bit more about how you decided to weave both. Adding this Filipino woman’s story into our broader awareness but also weaving in your personal story, sharing a name with the woman who was murdered and your personal story of your tragedy in your family. How did you decide to weave those stories together?

[00:29:54] Dr. Celine Parreñas Shimizu: You know, when people undergo. An unexpected, very sudden death of a loved one, in my case, it was the death of my eight year old son from a common virus that attacked his heart, and in the case of Celine Navarro in the 1930s, she was abducted tortured and punished by her community, supposedly for committing an act of infidelity. Even though she was undergoing violence for quite some time within the community. The death happened, very suddenly her family did not know what had happened or where she was. So when you undergo a sudden and unexpected death, the meaning of your own life, really comes to the, fore. You become, I think, intensely alive because your loved one cannot have their life.

So the question then emerges, what do you do with your life? And I had to turn to making the film as an act of creativity in the face of devastation, you know, my own demise because the death of a child. Could really have meant my own death, even though I was still alive. And in the act of filmmaking, you’re really bringing together a community, in my case, it’s bringing together not only community historians and Filipino-American scholars in the academy, but also my students, I think I opened up a way of speaking with my students that acknowledged, the pain that they also undergo, and it became for us a collective effort of looking into history and I’m making it come alive by becoming close to Celine Navarro’s family.

So when the articles first came out about her, it became such an affirmation of this unbelievable thing really did happen and we carry it with us. This is something that flows, within multiple generations of her family. And it’s a question for me I think that I really think about a lot, like my son was eight, but he had a community, he had a huge impact in our own family about the way, he lived this life. So the question for me was how do you remember someone you love, who died but continues to live almost like in a very physical way, I feel his presence.

And so I. Take the love that I continue to feel for my son and use that to make something in this world. I’m so happy to be alive, to be able to make this film. For example, that I can make this gift through the film for Celine Navarro’s family, but then also to invite Filipino American women to say, you can be the center of your own story, and that your story is multilayered and it’s worth investigation, because of course, what I found out in digging up Celine Navarro’s story was that she herself was a very courageous woman who spoke up against domestic violence, that led her to testify against men who were protecting another violent man. I can’t even imagine what that was like, and so to be able to pull up that story and to ask the question that began the film where are Filipino women in American history? I wanted to start the movie in that way because I want everyone to care about Filipino women so I wanted that to also be a courageous act that honored the subject of my film.

[00:33:21] Miko Lee: Thank you so much. I’m one, just so sorry for the loss of your son. And so appreciative of the fact that you utilize your grief to funnel it into a beautiful work of art. Thank you so much for that

[00:33:34] Dr. Celine Parreñas Shimizu: You’re welcome and I also wanted to say, that my new film 80 years later, is about my family on my husband’s side. It explores the racial inheritance of Japanese American family incarceration during World War II. As you may know, this year is the 80th anniversary of executive order 9066 that imprisoned 120,000 Japanese Americans, and my film shows. Conversations between survivors and their descendants as they continue to grapple with their legacy and I asked the question, how do we care for our stories?

What stories do we feel responsible for carrying or admonishing or living? What is that ongoing legacy and how do we live it?

[00:34:23] Miko Lee: Well, I’m looking forward to seeing it. That’s very exciting. So much of what you’re saying around adding women’s stories are hidden stories. How we care for our stories. It reminds me of a Dr. Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio talks about this idea of Koana, which is a Hawaiian word for many perspectives that we have all these layers. For so many white Americans, we see all those different layers, but for our people, for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, we don’t get the multitude of stories. I’m wondering if you cover some of this in your upcoming book, The Movies of Racial Childhoods: Screaming, Self Sovereignty in Asian America.

[00:35:05] Dr. Celine Parreñas Shimizu: Yes. So my new book that’s forthcoming from Duke University Press “The Movies of Racial Childhoods” it’s motivated by two very powerful forces that I can’t deny. The first is it’s a book that really explores who my son would be now, if he were alive, I think about, the independence of one who was in middle childhood, one who is in adolescence, when my son died, I was so stunned by the world that he owned apart from me. When you think about a child, you think, oh, I control what they’re exposed to, who they talk to, but when they’re in school, they meet so many people and they create their own world. So I found out things that I didn’t know, that how he was the judge of handball in the recess, world, so if something happened, he would adjudicate what was fair or unfair.

I had no idea that he was doing this, and he had been doing it for years. And when I look at the films that I’m studying, I’m always stunned by, how the subjectivity of people of color are eclipsed. So that’s the second motivation of the book is when I think about childhoods, you always think about an innocent kind of white childhood. Oh, they don’t work because they’re children. But we think about people of color from the beginning they, they work, they enslaved children had to work and they had no right to play for example, when you’re looking at the scholarship of, African-American childhoods, so what does it mean to talk about an Asian or Asian American childhood?

Like people say, oh, there’s going to represent our family. So you’re forever a baby, in that vision. But there’s also this premature, adultification that co-exists with this intense infantilization and you also see the college admissions process. It’s oh, you can’t play around because you have to get into an amazing school. Therefore you have to disavow play and you have to become, the future lawyer of America while you’re 12, and you can also see this in the, sexualization of youth as well. So I’m trying to figure out, know those two questions. I’ve just finished the book and hopefully it’ll be out next year.

[00:37:16] Swati: You are tuned in to APEX Express at 94.1 KPFA and 89.3 KPFB in Berkeley. And online@kpfa.org.

[00:37:28] Miko Lee: Dr. Robyn is the academic elitism that you talk about why you founded the Women of Color, Non-binary People of Color Scholars Inclusion Project?

[00:37:36] Dr. Robyn Magalit Rodriguez: Oh, yeah, absolutely. , I could tell you stories about my experiences of just racism in academia. So WACSIP or the Women of Color Scholars Inclusion Project, it’s really a space primarily for those who identify as women of color or non-binary of color, both graduate and faculty. And it’s really meant as a safe space for us to be able to convene and support one another. It started off as simply a support group where we could all gather from across campus and all the various places where we are. If you’re a woman of color, a non binary, a person of color, the likelihood is that there’s just always one or two of you in a particular department or program, and so part of what we wanted to simply do is just get everybody together from across campus, in a space that felt safe where we could literally break bread with one another and be very honest with one another and transparent about what we were struggling with. There is a way that sometimes you feel like you’re being gaslighted or you’re not really certain that what you’ve experienced is actually some form of racism or sexism. And sometimes all you need is just, a space where people who have experienced what you’ve experienced can just affirm that yes, your experience is a real thing and it’s not okay and we’re here to simply be there as support. We also would organize more formal programs, of course organizing people to come and provide tips and tricks, I guess, to approach teaching and how to, negotiate the challenges of teaching, but especially sometimes the challenges of teaching as women of color. Teaching about race and gender and sexuality as women of color and, contending with sometimes the undermining of our authority as professors in the classroom or by our peers. We’d also organize more formal workshops like that. Writing workshops even, to provide folks with support on publishing because that adage, publish or perish is a very real thing when you’re at a major research university, if you do not publish, you cannot secure tenure, you cannot move up in the academic kind of pecking order. So yeah, that was what the intention of the space was, is to create this space of support and it was also to engage as we could in institutional change, trying to document our collective experiences and offer up recommendations to higher ups around shifts that needed to happen to transform institutional culture. That is the piece that was always the struggle. And perhaps what’s fed into my frustration with academia, among many other things, but we were successful in providing a space of support for one another. To what extent these groups that I’ve founded, helped to really shift institutional culture less clear.

[00:40:20] Miko Lee: I’m wondering, because WACSIP was has been focused on networking around Critical Race and Ethnic Studies has the anti- CRT fervor that sort of going on by right wing propaganda. Has that impacted your work?

[00:40:34] Dr. Robyn Magalit Rodriguez: Yeah, I think anti-CRT fervor it’s interesting. I don’t know, to what extent that actually has impacted my work at the university in the sense that I feel as if academia has been effectively anti-CRT and anti-Ethnic Studies for a very long time. And it doesn’t have to be articulated in the ways that the current movement that’s engaged primarily at banning CRT in the K through 12 levels, it’s never taken that kind of vitriolic kind of tone at the university, but we know it by the failures of investments, in our departments, in faculty of color who do work on race. So we’ve been dealing with, I feel like I, along with my colleagues who do this sort of work, we’ve been subject to “anti- CRT” campaigns at the university level for quite some time now. But again, how they’ve manifested has been in the form of, a failure of investments whether it’s we can’t get new hires, we can’t get funding support for our research, whether we’re not being recruited to take leadership positions, how many times have I been in conversation with people administrators who I know barely encounter women who look like me, on the faculty and can never get my name right. Or know who I am at all. This is just what we’re contending with. So in some ways, what’s happening outside the university doesn’t affect us because we’ve already been under attack certainly it doesn’t help us either.

[00:42:09] Miko Lee: Dr. Celine You have so many things in the works right now at the same time. How are you balancing all this?

[00:42:15] Dr. Celine Parreñas Shimizu: As Dean, I have to take care of so many people not to take care of the institution, and I think a lot about how there’s very few Asian-American women in this role and I think a lot about how, we live such a intensely sexualized, life. There is that force of sexualization that I’ve felt growing up, throughout my childhood, throughout my early adulthood and as a full grown woman, this intense sexualization, and I don’t think that’s compatible with our understanding of who is a leader. There’s an amazing book by Margaret Chin called “Stuck”, which identifies how very few Asian Americans there are in C-suites, but also in executive leadership roles, but just stunning considering how many Asian-Americans are in these, leading higher ed institutions, but so few of us are leaders of higher ed institutions, right? So it’s important, every day to think about how I’m refashioning, what is a popular understanding of what leadership looks like. It is one that is a compassionate and empathetic.

And also, how I have to take care of myself through it because you’re so in service of others. And I actually go to my own work in order to always remember what is the purpose of my life? What is it that I am protecting in the enterprise of the university, which is, the freedom to inquire.

With courage about the most challenging issues of our day, so yeah, it’s working out for me, going to my own work, even in the most demanding moments of leadership. It’s a reminder, you know what I want to make sure our faculty and students and staff have access to, which is, the excellence of inquiry and debate that is truly available in the university unlike other places, in our world right now you have so many reactionary uneducated, superficial perspectives, but what we do in the university is so special. The seminar is so special where you come into a room and you would have read, material deeply, closely together. You figure out the questions that you have that have been asked by generations before you, you stand on the shoulders of people who have done the work in order to produce your own. There’s no greater pleasure. So I’m so happy to be the guardian of that, I’m so happy to lead the arts division that UC Santa Cruz, because that is our enterprise and what’s amazing about it is that it produces beautiful work, impactful work, needed work in our world today. I think about empowering every single voice, in our university and to be open, to be surprised by it. And I think the abundance of voice, doesn’t just mean the background, that you carry the cultural inheritances that you’re trying to grapple with, but it’s really also working with people who are different from you, across class, across nation, across region, to see what you can come up with together. And so the students really feel like, oh my God these films are really going to make an impact, and so I think a lot about what we can do on university campuses that really train the next generation of students to be ready for a truly, multiracial world, in 2045, we’re going to be a majority people of color country, and so our students need to be educated as, as widely and broadly as possible not only in terms of what they know, but also how they take care of themselves. And we’re doing so much here. That’s so exciting we’re saying these are the people who are coming to this campus and trying to figure out their voices, trying to learn their craft. And what we’re going to do is to give them a space in order to get. share their experiences, whether it’s with policing or prison abolition, the university is a place where we can do all of that.

[00:46:11] Miko Lee: Robyn, I’ve heard you talk about being a people’s professor. Can you share what that means?

[00:46:17] Dr. Robyn Magalit Rodriguez: Sure for me, people’s professor it means that the university pays me, but I work for my community. And what that means is that I have always seen my work, whether it’s my research and scholarship, you know what I decide to research who I’m writing for when I do, when I write what I teach, how I teach it what I do, but recognizing kind of the stature that comes with being a university, professor, all of my research, my teaching, how I move in the world is driven by and rooted in my community organizing and activist commitments. It comes out of my personal interest, true, but I’ve been very attuned, always to the issues that emerge in the organizing spaces that I am part of. I’ve always been a member of a community organization wherever I’ve been. So I have commitments, it’s not simply that I have my ear on the ground and I see issues that pop up in the media. I have commitments, I’m part of the community, I joined organizations, I know what our communities are grappling with and all of that is always shaped my research agenda and found its way in my teaching. That’s what I mean by people’s professor that, my allegiance is not to the university, my allegiance is not even to my career and advancing my career. It’s really to, using my skills, using my training, using my platform to advance the work of social justice. I think that’s the role I feel like I want to play. That’s why I entered academia to begin with.

[00:48:00] Miko Lee: So your next iteration of the people’s professor after you leave UC Davis next year, will be the School for Liberating Education.

[00:48:09] Dr. Robyn Magalit Rodriguez: The School for Liberating Education is quite simply a platform that allows anybody in the community to be able to access Ethic Studies knowledge, I think it’s just so vital and healing and transformative to take Ethnic Studies courses. And yet, as you mentioned earlier, we are under attack. We’ve had many important Ethnic Studies victories, but there’ve been sufficiently forces who’ve managed to water down the kind of curriculum that many of us who fought for Ethnic Studies and continue to fight for Ethics Studies really want. And so among the things that the pandemic offered us is new kinds of technologies to connect virtually and, I myself, was taking virtual courses as part of my own healing process in the wake of the loss of my son in August of 2020.

And it occurred to me that, these courses were amazing for my own healing journey and that I could possibly use these same platforms that were helping me to be able to offer Ethnic Studies to a broader audience of folks, especially in a context where Ethnic Studies or CRT was being viciously attacked.

So yeah, that’s really what it started off as, and in its first phase it’s been a series of online courses first in, Asian American studies, which is really in my wheelhouse, and in Filipinx Studies specifically, I’d like to expand even more of the offerings that dive deep into the Chicanx experience and Latinx experience the Black experience, Native studies, Native and Indigenous studies and interracial kind of examinations as well, just in terms of the online courses.

I guess the 2.0 version of this School for Liberating Education is the courses that I’m hoping to offer here on site at the new farm that we’ve just purchased. We want to be able to host intensive learning retreats and kind of educational workshops that center land-based and Indigenous knowledges.

So in other words, either doing in-person short courses that are somewhat based on the current offering of courses online or extensions of them or just kind of new courses.

There’s a lot of new work in advancing healing justice that I also want to help to organize and curate here at the farm. Definitely want to center these land based and Indigenous knowledges and I’m super excited about the possibilities of what I can do as a people’s professor outside of the space of academia outside of also the space of, the politics of it all and here. We’re just at the beginnings of setting up the farm proper we’re beginning to break ground because we have some seeds in the ground. I have my Hmong father and mother-in-law are helping us and already passing on generations of wisdom about the land and how to till the land and how to, just be in community with the land, just, in the work that they’ve been doing and helping us to cultivate it, but yeah, this is the next phase and I’m just really excited about the possibilities for learning that I can extend, but also for myself, I don’t see myself as only being the professor actually in this space. I see myself more as an organizer and a curator who has some knowledge to impart, but also as somebody who can gathered together other people with other forms of expertise.

[00:51:27] Miko Lee: It’s a combination of a lot of your wheelhouse, a lot of your strengths as an educator and doing cross solidarity work and bringing in this sense of connecting to the land and healing and wellness. It’s very beautiful. I’m looking forward to learning more and we will post a link to School for Liberating Education in the show notes for APEX Express. You spoke about healing and wellness. And I know 2020 was a really hard year and I am so sorry for the loss of your son. I really appreciate how you are turning that just tragic loss into a powerful foundation. Can you speak about the foundation and what that’s all about?

[00:52:08] Dr. Robyn Magalit Rodriguez: Yeah. Absolutely. I’m still struggling. The healing process is ongoing for me. And people often talk about how there are different kinds of losses one can experience, and I’ve experienced a lot of those kinds of losses. I’ve lost a dear grandparent, my grandmother who helped raise me, I’ve lost a parent. I lost my father in 2014. And all of those losses, hurt in deep ways, of course, but there is something acute about the loss of a child. And though, he was a young man so full of promise though, just at the young age of 22 to have lost his life. And the foundation is an opportunity for me to ensure that his legacy and everything that he was so passionate about and that he lived and fought and died for lives on. And, so the Amado Khaya Foundation is meant to be a space that will support the causes that , was so passionate about.

Clearly indigenous people’s struggles, that’s where he spent the last few months of his life, he was serving the Magguangan and Maduro in the wake of terrible typhoons that had hit the island. He was also very passionate about Ethnic Studies, that was an issue he was very involved in before leaving for the Philippines. He was passionate about housing justice. He really came of his own as a community organizer and activist. And I want to just ensure that, the work that he started can continue, but I also want to center mental health and wellness in the work that Amado Khaya does because he really acutely understood the ways that community organizers and activists hold the collective trauma of our people. His father who I am no longer with, was an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa. Had really experienced the violence of the apartheid regime was witness to the violent clashes between activists and the police and the state, and that had a major impact on Amado’s father. And deep mental health impacts that Amado recognized, so that’s something I really want to also center in the Amado Khaya Foundation is not just continuing to support the organizations or the issues he fought for, but to support the mental health and wellness of organizers themselves, who are doing all this great work and kind of providing them the support and care that they also really require to continue the work of social justice and among the things that we’ve we’ve done through Amado Khaya, we’re still finishing up our 501c3 process. But we have a home that we purchased in honor of Amado called Amado’s Kaia, which translates into Amado is home. Kaia actually also means home in Zulu. But we have a home that we offer as a gift to organizers as a sanctuary refuge for rest. We’ve been able to get some grants and in the process of setting up a digital media lab, Amado was a aspiring filmmaker. So we want to be able to also use media film in particular, which was what he was passionate about, and video as a way of also supporting activists causes.

Part of what I’m also hoping that Amado Khaya does , and this is what the connection comes back to the school, I’m very inspired by Grace Lee Boggs, so Re-Imagination Lab is the social enterprise that holds all of my kind of entrepreneurial initiatives and the idea is that we want to get to a place where we generate a surplus revenue that we would reinvest into Amado Khaya, other non-profits. Somebody who’s worked in alongside nonprofits we know how much our, a nonprofit organizations struggle to hustle for funding. And they’re often beholden to foundations, that, oftentimes relate to non-profits in what amounts to a very colonized and very white supremacist, relationship and which constrain the kind of work that nonprofit organizations can do in service of the community. And so I want to be able to get to a place where Amado Khaya will either draw sufficient donations from individuals or revenues from Re-Imagination Lab so that we can help fund movements without constraints so they can do the work that they need to do without any limitation. I think that there are a lot of us who are trying to figure out how do we redistribute resources in our community and not have to be beholden to foundations that may very well be responsible for creating the very problems that nonprofits are forced to have to address.

[00:56:56] Miko Lee: Dr Robyn, the people’s professor. Thank you so much. Dr. Celine thank you both for turning your grief into positive action and thank you for just continuing to share your work with by and for the broader community. I really appreciate what you’re doing.

[00:57:12] Miko Lee: Please check out our website, kpfa.org backslash program, backslash apex express to find out more about the show tonight and to find out how you can take direct action. We thank all of you listeners out there. Keep resisting, keep organizing, keep creating and sharing your visions with the world. Your voices are important. Apex express is produced by Miko Lee Jalena Keane-Lee and Paige Chung and special editing by Swati Rayasam. Thank you so much to the KPFA staff for their support have a great night.

The post APEX Express – 11.3.22 – A Tale of 2 Professors appeared first on KPFA.

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