Emulating Los Four, a Chicano arts collective active in Los Angeles in the 1970s, the students called themselves Los 404.2 Many had been recruited from urban centers in New York and Pennsylvania or from migrant labor families working the fields in rural areas across the northeast.3 A few came from well-to-do families on the island of Puerto Rico. All faced an alien environment at a campus where only 3 percent of the more than 40,000 students were nonwhite.
Hired by the English Department to teach African and Caribbean literature, I set up a US Latino studies program after I wandered into a Latino Caucus meeting during my first year on campus. I missed the music, dance, and camaraderie of my home in Miami—to say nothing of the sunshine. I found the Latino Caucus inside a modernist brick bunker, planning a protest to demand that Latino studies courses be added to the curriculum.
"I don't want to dissuade you from protesting," I told the students, "but I'll be happy to propose a Latino studies course to my chair."
The introductory course in US Latino Literatures and Cultures started small, with about 10 students from migrant worker families, 10 urban Latinos, and a white guy whose wife worked as a cashier at a grocery store near campus. The next year, Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Laotian friends from the migrant workers' program signed up, too, expanding the perspective of the course to include a comparison with the Asian immigrant experience. Curious white students enrolled as well, many finding themselves cultural outsiders for the first time. As enrollment in the introductory course swelled, the department approved more advanced US Latino studies courses.
In ENG 404, we read Suzanne Lacy's anthology Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art (1994) and decided to create work that would comment on power relations in public space. We took our cues from Latino public artists past and present. During a campus visit, performance artist Coco Fusco spoke with students about the value of what she called "unannounced performances for unsuspecting audiences" as a way to reach people indifferent or even hostile to the message the artist wishes to convey (1996).
On a separate visit, Fusco's former collaborator Guillermo Gomez-Peña gave advice as well. In a series of provocative performances around the world, commenting on the 500th anniversary of Columbus's voyage to the Caribbean, Fusco and Gomez-Peña had pretended to be "undiscovered" Amerindians displayed in a cage at public plazas, art galleries, and museums in Europe and the Americas (Fusco and Heredia 1993; Fusco 1995). Gomez-Peña warned students to always insure that a video camera is prominently recording events, as a precaution against police intervention.
After a brief survey of the theory and practice of Latino public art in the United States, the students divided into groups working in visual arts, street theater, and video. Cherríe Moraga arrived first, helping the students define the issues they wanted to tackle, then awing them with a lecture on her own work which presents migrant farmworkers as the subjects of drama rather than drones in the fields.
Ela Troyano arrived with the urgency of an independent filmmaker, sharing practical tips, in the predigital era, like how to edit on the fly by turning the camera on and off. Her team decided to dramatize a series of racist incidents they had experienced on campus, ranging from a death threat slipped under a dorm room door to the incident that seemed to rankle the students most: the pie incident. A group of Latino and Asian students from the migrant worker program sat together at a large table in East Halls not long before Thanksgiving, while the mostly white staff of the dining hall distributed pumpkin pie to the students. The staff passed by the migrant students' table several times. The students asked for pie, then waved their arms, until a group got up to intercept a staff member.
"I'm sorry," they recalled the staff member saying. "I didn't see you."
In the video, "We Want Our Pie," this incident encapsulates the students' sense of invisibility and exclusion. Troyano, in her over-the-top comic style, encouraged the group to recast all the racist incidents as somehow related to pie: the death threat was now scrawled atop the message, Keep your fingers off our pie; a threatening phone call recast as the warning, Don't touch the pie. Other incidents were played straight, such as being ignored by white dorm mates and the beating that year of two students who were speaking Spanish near campus.
The video group returned to East Halls roughly a year after the pie incident, and projected "We Want Our Pie" on the lobby walls, along with a series of slides featuring ironic messages—such as a pie chart purporting to show how many Latinos enroll at the university each year and how many "graduate as whites." Residents of the dorm walked through the video project, the images superimposed on their skin. Yet no one stopped to watch. Maybe this was a sign of fatigue with the constant drum beat of diversity presented by official university programs. Whatever the reason, there was no reaction. At least not that day.
Though there was no publicity for "We Want Our Pie," a graduate student familiar with the project posted a message encouraging other graduate students teaching freshman composition to send their students to the installation. Like many universities at the time, this institution used freshman composition as an opportunity to teach lessons about diversity, as well as writing. Many of the graduate students expressed frustration that their predominantly white students denied the existence of racism in the present day. The graduate student posted the catalogue of racist incidents as proof to the contrary. But the graduate student did not show up for the installation. As far as I could tell, neither did any other graduate students or freshman comp students.
Yet the post wended its way from the listserv up layer upon layer of university bureaucracy until it arrived at the office of the provost. The residential director of East Halls was called to account (Why don't you know about this?) and suspicions were raised (Who is out there suggesting there is racism on campus?).
There was no such mystery surrounding the work of the other two groups. The street theater and visual arts groups collaborated on an issue that is still common on most campuses: self-segregation in the food court at the student union. All the students in the class agreed on the precise tables appropriated by African Americans, Latinos, Asians, gays and lesbians, and the vast space occupied by white, presumably straight, undergraduates, distinct from that occupied by white graduate students or by white faculty and staff.
The performing arts group planned to parade through the food court, crossing the invisible lines of segregation, dressed in costumes that mixed up cultures, such as a Puerto Rican vejigante mask with a Japanese kimono. A white, lesbian student wore a black body suit and hood and covered her face and torso with mirrors. Everyone who looked at her saw his or her own reflection.
Lead by a graffiti artist student from the migrant program, the visual arts group designed sign posts directing people to their accustomed territory. Pepón Osorio, during his residency, expressed concern that the action was too subtle. At the time, Osorio was best-known for long-term installations first set up in the communities his work represented, then installed in galleries and museums. He recommended advance publicity.
So the evening before the event, the group put posters with the LOS 404 logo throughout the student union, providing an ironic list of the rules of segregation and inviting readers to "cross the line." Later, we were told by university officials that a group of African American students, unaware of the project, reported the material to management as potentially the work of white supremacists.
The following day, at lunchtime, the visual artists dropped reserved signs on every table, designating the typical occupants: Whites Only; No Orientals. On the opposite side of the triangular signs, the students wrote contradictory messages, such as Black Power and Asian-Americans Please.
The reaction, at least among middle-aged, white, male diners, was immediate. Faced with the dilemma of adhering to the signs by sitting in their usual seats, a few of the white men accused the students of causing—rather than simply acknowledging—segregation.
"You're taking us back to the 1950s," one patron complained.
"Look around you, homies, we're already there," the graffiti artist replied.
Standing in front of one of the posters listing the student union rules for segregation, the white student union manager confronted a pair of olive-skinned female students, saying, "If I were African American, I would be offended."
"We are African American," insisted one student, who comes from an Afro Dominican family.
"Well, as a white man, I'm offended," replied the manager.
"Good," affirmed an Egyptian American student.
In fact, white, middle-aged men were the only people who expressed outrage. Much as they had with the dormitory installation, undergraduates of all races and ethnicities showed little interest in the signs. An older, African American gentleman joked with the two Latina students who sat down at his table, despite the sign reserving the table for "Black Power." A gay student asked for a sign for his table, which on one side prohibited gays and on the other declared, "We're here; we're queer. Get used to it."
Meanwhile, the management called the police.
One of the first officers to arrive asked a group of students: "Does your professor know you are doing this?"
The students responded: "She's right there!"
The officer approached me. I explained the project, and informed him that the performing arts group planned to arrive soon and mingle with the patrons in all sections of the food court. He agreed to allow the performers to enter, on condition that they remain seated at a table in a remote corner—in the section tacitly reserved for LGBT students.
Resplendent in sequins, silks, and papier mâché, the performers entered cautiously. They crowded around a table, swaying to the salsa and merengue playing on a boom box. Their costumes drew a crowd of fellow students who photographed them, then went on their way.
Far from repentant, the students were exuberant. Segregated and partially hidden behind a cart promoting healthy eating, the students discussed the complaints they had heard from management and angry diners. Primarily, they believed, they had been accused of being rude. They had not asked permission for the performance. They had brought attention to an implicit arrangement in which everyone in the food court was complicit. The students pondered the possible consequences of the performance. Almost giddily, they planned protests in case I was fired.
I was not. Yet, once again, news of LOS 404 made its way up the layers of bureaucracy to the provost.
The following semester, the residential director of East Halls happened to enroll in my Race and Ethnicity in the American Experience course. Toward the end of the term, she invited me to give a lecture at the dormitory. I proposed presenting the video installation that had failed to attract any attention the previous semester. On the scheduled day, a modest crowd gathered for the presentation. The student organization that hosts such presentations gave me a certificate of appreciation. This otherwise unremarkable presentation cleared up the mystery that had been plaguing the residential director for the past several months: It was me who was circulating claims about racist incidents on campus!
Not long after, I was summoned to lunch by the Vice Provost for Educational Equity, an eminent African American labor scholar, whose office had funded the Latino public art project. He shared with me that he had once been a member of the Black Panthers and had sported an enormous Afro. Then he showed me a stack of photocopied emails. He pointed to a message on the top page with the subject line: "More on Dr. Celeste Delgado." The message had been sent by someone whose name I did not recognize.
"Do you know who that is?" he asked.
I shook my head.
"She's the provost," he explained.
I stared at him blankly.
"Do you know what that is?"
I shook my head again.
"She's the second-most powerful person at the university."
Although I knew that this gentleman was the vice-provost, it never occurred to me to wonder who the provost might be, or what she did. But if I was unaware of her, she was all too aware of me.
The vice-provost did not share any more emails or relay the provost's concerns. He listened as I described the sense of empowerment the students expressed at being able to represent the daily humiliations they experienced in a public forum, and to have that experience recognized as part of the official curriculum. Persuaded by my pitch, he invited me to present my case before a group I had never heard of before, the "campus climate committee."
My memory of this meeting is faint. I wore my best suit. The room was dim, and dust motes danced in a shaft of light coming from a window down the hall. I don't remember how many people were on the committee, or if any of the members were nonwhite. I know that they sat along one side of a conference table, and I sat by myself on the other. They asked: Why did I not encourage my students to report the incidents they had allegedly experienced to the proper authorities? Why were we accusing the hardworking management of the student union of imposing segregation?
I tried to explain that racism is a social structure, not simply a set of individual actions. I suggested that reporting individual incidents alone would never change the climate and that the students might feel more empowered communicating their experience through art than through incident reports. But my fate was sealed, as soon as I screened the "We Want Our Pie" video. Ignoring the scenarios of social isolation, death threats, and beatings, the sequence that shocked the committee the most was the conversation among three students sitting on a couch and speaking directly to the camera about the school motto.
"What's up with that motto, man: We are [Big State Research School]?" asks the graffiti artist. "Are we included in that, too?"
"I don't think so," a Puerto Rican classmate answers.
"I don't think so," a Mexican classmate from the migrant program echoes. "Are we [Big State Research School]?"
"That's the question to ask," the graffiti artist asserts.
Watching this, a member of the campus climate committee blurted: "You're making them feel like they're not part of [Big State Research School]!"
Certainly, I would not be part of the school for much longer.4
But I cannot be sure how much of a role Los 404 played in my demise. I had emailed the dean immediately after the "Eat With Your Own Kind" performance, to inform her of the police intervention. I never received any response. Perhaps the silence was deliberate. Firing, or even reprimanding, me for championing the cause of multiculturalism on campus would be bad public relations and could invite a lawsuit.
Meanwhile, separate issues were raised about my scholarship, which proved as controversial as my pedagogy. As the chair explained in his letter to the dean at my fourth year review, my work in globalization and transnational cultural studies "informed by political and economic hypotheses," was believed by some of our colleagues to "belong outside the boundaries of English altogether."5 My supporters found themselves defending not only my publications,6 but the entire field. Half of the personnel committee recommended termination.
The chair made an exhaustive case for keeping me, presenting the dean with a detailed analysis of my scholarship and arguing that I should be allowed to play out the two years remaining on my tenure clock, to give me a chance to complete the "most important item of evidence": the single-authored monograph, the book.7 He warned that if I was not allowed that opportunity, "our minority recruitment and curriculum-building efforts would be crippled by what can only seem to those who cannot know the record an arbitrary and premature termination of one of their strongest faculty supporters."8
Not persuaded, the dean cut my tenure clock short. In her letter, she gave me 11 months to complete my manuscript for external review, and assessed the probability that I would succeed as "practically nil."
My supporters pledged to fight for me. Yet, I could not convince myself that the job was worth fighting for. I had taught extra classes the previous year so that I would have the next semester off to complete my manuscript. When I returned to my family in Miami, I was immersed again in the Latin and Caribbean communities and cultures I study. Did I want to return to the eternal chill of an isolated, northeastern town? Did I want to devote my life to cafeteria activism? 9
I resigned. I had an exit interview with a senior colleague who, in a department with 65 full-time faculty members, I had never met before. I told him about the mixed reaction to my scholarship, the chair's support, and the dean's strenuous objection. Then I recounted the provost's response to Los 404.
"There's your letter from the dean," my colleague speculated.
My exit from academia was not speedy. I finished my final semester at the state research university, then spent the following semester on a Fulbright, teaching at the Javeriana University and researching social dance in Bogota, Colombia. I served as a visiting faculty at the University of California-Riverside, teaching a graduate course and leading a faculty seminar on race and dance.
While I was in Riverside, I spent a weekend alone in the desert, crafting a personal mission statement. I did not want to chase a job, far away from my family, friends, and the music and dance I love. I realized I did not care what job I did, as long as I could satisfy three needs: 1) intellectual stimulation, 2) creative practice, and 3) a meaningful contribution to social change.
Not long after returning to Miami, I saw an ad for a "Latin music maven" in the weekly newspaper, Miami New Times. Ricky Martin had recently made a sensation with his English-language crossover, and the national newspaper chain that owned the local weekly was looking for someone who could cover the Latin music industry for the whole chain. I had never so much as worked for a student newspaper or written a letter to the editor, but I was an avid reader of the paper and Latin music and dance was my field. Calling on a few of the sources for my research, I roughed out three sample stories and submitted my application. Within a week, I had lunch with one editor and dinners with two others. Three blind dates, and I was a Latin music maven.
Suddenly I had full access to sources inside the Latin music industry whose motivations I could only guess as a scholar. The job was surprisingly similar to academia, except that I devoted all my time to research, and tens of thousands of people read what I wrote on a weekly basis. My mandate at the paper was to bring the Latin American and Caribbean cultures of Miami to life in our pages. There was nothing to stop me from also sharing the theoretical ideas about cultural identity I had cultivated as an academic, as long as I did so in engaging prose. My reach as a "teacher" expanded exponentially.
Even more surprising, what I wrote at times influenced the world I wrote about. My first cover story, "Cuba Ordinance 101" ( http://www.miaminewtimes.com/2000-03-16/news/cuba-ordinance-101//), examined a long-standing county ordinance which prohibited county funds and facilities from being used by people who "do business with Cuba" as well as by "people who do business with people who do business with Cuba." A local events promoter told me that she was working with the ACLU on a challenge to the law by trying to book a county arena for a concert of musicians living in Cuba. The only catch was that Miami and Cuba were mired in a dispute over the custody of a Cuban boy named Elian Gonzalez, and that supposedly the Castro regime would not provide visas for the musicians, so as not to distract from Elian.
I shared this information with my editor, who wanted a story. There was no story in the conventional sense, because the promoter could not yet challenge the law. I shifted focus from this individual—and the narratives of individual action that are typical of newspaper stories—to frame the problem in terms of what the philosopher Michel Foucault termed "conditions of possibility." I interviewed a dozen arts organizations to see how this law foreclosed possibilities for them and whether they would be willing to challenge it.
The story revealed that the law's consequences reached further than US-Cuban relations. For example, a local arts organization had hosted a workshop for aspiring filmmakers with a representative from Sundance. Sundance also has a program for filmmakers in Cuba. So even though the program in Miami had nothing to do with Cuba, the local workshop violated the law.
Soon after the story ran, a lawyer from the ACLU called, asking if I could put him in touch with some of the more outspoken subjects in the story. Five arts groups challenged and eventually overturned the law, changing Miami's cultural landscape. I would never have conceived of that story the way I did without my academic training. Yet I am convinced that the story would not have had anywhere near the impact if I had published it in an academic journal, which would likely have had few, if any, readers among ACLU lawyers or the Miami arts community.
That was not the only impact. In "Feel the Latin Grammys," http://www.miaminewtimes.com/2003-08-28/music/feel-the-latin-grammys/, I criticized the Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences about what I saw as pandering to hyper-sexualized fantasies about Latinos during English-language broadcasts of the academy's awards ceremony. The president of LARAS met with me after reading the story, to discuss those ideas.
In "Colombian Elvis," http://www.miaminewtimes.com/2001-12-20/music/colombian-elvis/, I applied theories on cultural appropriation from African American studies to the work of Carlos Vives, a blonde, blue-eyed Colombian pop star who popularized an Afro Colombian style of music. The artist later told me that he wrote his next album, El Rock de Mi Pueblo (My People's Rock), in response to those theories.
While I would like to attribute this influence to my personal genius, I have to admit that I simply took the opportunity to share ideas that usually circulate within the limited circles of academia with a wider public. In "Enjoy Your Symptom!" ( http://www.miaminewtimes.com/2001-12-06/music/enjoy-your-symptom/), I applied psychoanalytic theory to homophobia in the Jamaican dance hall. In "Cuts You Up" ( http://www.miaminewtimes.com/2004-03-18/news/cuts-you-up/), I applied feminist theories to political organizing by local midwives. For "Free Trade Miami" ( http://www.miaminewtimes.com/2003-11-13/news/free-trade-miami//), I lobbied my editors and colleagues to produce a deeply researched special issue on the Free Trade Area of the Americas—an effort to expand NAFTA to the whole hemisphere—rather than to simply lampoon the labor unions and anarchists who gathered to protest the proposed treaty.
While covering the FTAA protests, I was arrested in a massive police sweep that the mayor and police chief claimed saved the city from dangerous anarchists. Upon my release, I wrote "Jailhouse Crock" ( http://www.miaminewtimes.com/2003-11-27/news/jailhouse-crock/), a cover story that belied the mayor's boasts that this suppression of free speech should serve as a "model" for policing protests everywhere. I was quoted in Newsweek and appeared on NOW with Bill Moyers, reaching a much bigger audience than I had when I tried to explain structural racism to the "campus climate committee" at that large state research university.
If I had lived in an earlier time, my story might end here, with a fulfilling career as a music journalist. Unfortunately, the digital age has radically reshaped both journalism and the music industry.10 So I have lived many more lives, always guided as much as possible by the personal mission I devised in the California desert.
From 2004–2008, I served as managing editor of an international Latin men's lifestyle magazine; managing editor of a trade magazine for event planners; founder and publisher of my own online city magazine; a blogger for a multimillion dollar social networking start up; director of special projects for an architecture firm; marketing copy writer for a cruise line; and senior marketing editor and writer for Barry University, a Catholic liberal arts college in my neighborhood.
Beginning in 2005, I also taught up to five courses per semester at Barry University as an adjunct. Eventually, I was offered a full-time faculty position. While hiring from within is unheard of in the research institutions for which I was trained, it is commonplace at Barry. Rather than transplant my life to an environment where I have no ties, for a more prestigious job, I now teach in my own community, near my family, my friends, and the artists and political activists I have cultivated relationships with over the past 15 years. This has allowed me to put my skills to use for the benefit of my community. The job at Barry was especially attractive because the university had recently adopted a new mission, based on the school's Adrian Dominican Catholic heritage, focused on public scholarship, diversity, social justice, and community engagement.11
My position is in the School of Professional and Career Education (known until March 2014 as the School of Adult and Continuing Education), so my students are in the midst of their families and communities as well. I am just a few years older than the students' average age of 39, with many students in their 50s, 60s, and a few in their 70s. The racial make-up is roughly evenly split among black, white, and Hispanic. I am frequently the only white person in the classroom. Many of our students have deep insights into racism, sexism, homophobia, and poverty because of their personal experiences; but I have yet to hear a student express feeling discrimination on campus.
The curriculum recognizes the students' rich experiences. For example, in a course called Storytelling for Social Impact, my students choose a social issue to address by collecting stories from people affected by the issue, as well as people acting for change. Inevitably, many of the students have personal or professional experience with the issue. One of my students, who works as a corrections officer in the county jail on the floor where the mentally ill are warehoused, rallied the class to focus on mental health advocacy—and in particular the campaign to build a public mental health facility ( http://stories4justice.com/2013/10/07/the-surface/).
Barry University's commitment to public scholarship has allowed me to help build new networks for creating and sharing knowledge with the community. In 2009, I served as the founding editor of Artburst, ( http://www.artburstmiami.com/), an arts media bureau funded by the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and managed by the Arts and Business Council of Miami. Artburst counteracts the shrinking coverage of the arts by providing stories produced by professional arts critics free of charge to any media outlet that will publish them in print, online, radio, or video.
The Miami Bridge youth crisis shelter sits on an acre of land on the southern bank of the Miami River. On a sweltering Sunday last summer, six teenagers stood in a line, teetering on the top step of the shelter's front porch. A lanky man in a blue polo shirt blocked the teens' way, his arms stretched wide, reminding his charges to take this event seriously, "like any other group." They nodded solemnly, springing down the stairs, and then stopping short again, this time in front of a middle-aged white woman who gestured for them to form a circle on the sidewalk.
As the circle took shape, four more teens straggled out of the building and fell in. During the week, the shelter residents meet in groups to discuss topics such as anger management, sexuality, and substance abuse. Sundays are different. Over the past seven years, youth at the shelter have spent Sunday afternoons in workshops on the traditional carnival arts of dancing, drumming, and mask-making.
Carnival Arts presents to these young people the traditions of their ancestors from Latin America and Africa, traditions that are rarely taught along with their European Enlightenment legacy in schools. Carnival Arts also recognizes the rich creative resources each of these young people has developed in confronting the challenges of their everyday lives, whether they have been abused by their families, bounced around in foster care, indentured to drug dealers, or exploited in South Florida's sex trafficking rings.
On this day, the picnic tables where the youth often eat lunch were covered with gleaming conga drums, bongos, maracas, and gourds draped with beads. The lyrics to a rumba song were written in marker on cardboard signs affixed to bamboo sticks jutting from the tables. Gradually, I introduced the group to a popular Cuban dance and rhythm known as rumba. We clapped, bent our knees, swung our hips, shifted our shoulders, tapped our feet, and slid side to side. Two staff members joined in. Shyness fluttered around the circle with an embarrassed grin. The teens giggled, bowed their heads, stepped out, stepped back in.
Turning away from the circle, I danced down a stone path toward the picnic tables, where musical instruments awaited. The group rumba'd behind me, spreading across four picnic tables, each bearing a sign with a notation for a rhythmic pattern. I visited each table, demonstrating how to play each pattern.
Playing along with whichever group lost its way, I sang the lyrics written on the cardboard signs. Repeating after me, the teenagers urged each other to seek consolation for their broken hearts. Emboldened, they declared: That's why from now on/I'll never fall in love again. We repeated the last lines over and over. Yet the words did not ring true. We were already in love, at that moment, with the song, with the rhythm, with the swaying of our hips. We found consolation in the beating of the drums, and the sound of our own voices, shimmering beneath a blue sky.
A week later, on another blazing Sunday afternoon, the love affair was over. The clapping and dancing did not go smoothly. Half of the group sprawled across the picnic tables. A newcomer joked, "My Haitian heritage is not kicking in."
To a semblance of a rumba beat, I sang "Console Yourself Like Me."
"That song again," a girl complained. "Can't we upgrade to a new song?"
Another girl interjected: "Can't we write our own song?"
Suddenly, everyone facing the river stopped playing and stood on the benches of the picnic tables. Coming from the direction of the trailer park, a man rode past the shelter on a bicycle, with a terrier wrapped around his shoulders like a scarf.
After a brief consultation, one of the staff members and the boy who said his Haitian heritage had not kicked in came up with their own song:
Just seen a man with a dog on his neck.
If he pees, it's gonna get wet.
Dog on his neck/neck get wet.
Those sitting closest to the composers picked up the beat, passing it along to the players beside them. The story of the man was punctuated by an accelerating chant, like a cheer at a high school football game: Get wet! Get wet! Get wet! Get wet! Get wet!
The youth and the shelter staff worked on the song for the next two Sundays.
"We need to make a music video," one boy declared.
After so many years covering the music industry, I had plenty of friends who could help. The following Sunday, video producer Damian Rojo arrived to record the youth singing their song and inventing beats on the congas and cowbells. A week later, he returned with a camera crew, a team of stylists, and racks of outlandish clothes, wigs, and masks. We secured permission from the director of the shelter to film the video in front of the trailer park next door, drawing a crowd who all recognized exactly who we meant by the Man with the Dog on His Neck.
The shelter's director requested that we have a police escort for the youth at the trailer park. The officer who accompanied us agreed to run the siren and allowed the youth to dance around the car, as long as we did not reveal his car's identifying number. The youth, many of whom had already had considerable run-ins with the police, were thrilled to stage a mock confrontation with authority that they were sure to win. They had spent most of their lives feeling like outsiders. For them, the question is not whether they belong at any college or university, but whether they belong anywhere at all.
For one delirious Sunday afternoon, these young artists belonged to a world they had created, populated by a man they see every day, and his remarkable dog. I tracked down the man on his bicycle, and arranged for him to arrive as a surprise toward the end of the video shoot. He cycled past the police cars, the dog clinging to his shoulders, and announced, "This is my song! This is my song!"
The youth felt the same way. They kept performing after the official shoot ended, still striking poses inside the shelter. The stylists kept offering new, more outlandish clothes. And the camera crew kept shooting. The team opted to make not one, but a series of Dog on the Neck videos. No one wanted to stop. We had created our own carnival, with our own myth, our own costumes, our own rhythms, and our own song.
The conventions of scholarship in the arts and humanities would restrict our audience, stilt our language, reduce our fields of inquiry, exile us from our families, and limit our embrace of other cultures. There is no reason to follow the lockstep of narrow expertise and narrower knowledge too often demanded by the top universities. The skills that make artists and scholars candidates for prestigious positions in academia, make us candidates for so many other occupations. Academia is only one among many spaces where we can produce knowledge, and our academic colleagues comprise a very small portion of the potential audience for our research. My career did not end with my premature exit from a research university. I have lived to tell many tales.
"Why," I asked the man, "do you ride with your dog on your neck?"
"Because," he answered, "I don't have a leash."
1 I use the metaphor of "career suicide," which is often heard in relationship to engaged scholarship, with reservations. In the Imagining America publication Scholarship in Public: Knowledge Creation and Tenure Policy in the Engaged University: A Resource on Promotion and Tenure in the Arts, Humanities, and Design, authors Julie Ellison and Timothy K. Eatman state twice that the report was "inspired by faculty members who want to do public scholarship and live to tell the tale" (iv, viii). This anxious academic joke grossly overstates the stakes in academic success and perpetuates a culture of conformity. The profound distinction between ending an academic career and ending a life was driven home for me when I learned, days after I resigned from my first academic position, that my former Duke University classmate and dear friend Brian Selsky and former Princeton University professor and role model Lora Romero each took their own lives in unrelated acts on October 10, 1997. I cannot employ this metaphor without acknowledging the loss to academia and the world at large of their brilliance and generosity. .
2 Los Four included Carlos Almaraz, Gilbert "Magu" Sanchez Lujan, Roberto de la Rocha, and Frank Romero (Tartan 2004).
3 This university is a host of the College Assistant Migrant Program, a federally funded program which "assists students who are migratory or seasonal farmworkers (or children of such workers) enrolled in their first year of [undergraduate] studies" (US Department of Education 2014).
4 Though the incidents I describe took place at on large state research university, they appear to be typical of historically white institutions, particularly research universities. As Angela P. Harris and Carmen G. González point out in their introduction to Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia: "Academic institutions remain, at their core, profoundly inhospitable to the experiences and points of view of those formerly excluded" and "the culture of academia overall remains not only remarkably blind to its own flaws, but deeply invested in a thoroughgoing denial" (2012, 7). Even the "campus climate committee" is a regular feature; as Harris and González observe, "most faculty of color on predominantly white campuses, if they have worked for more than a year or so, are familiar with the committee appointed to investigate diversity concerns" (2012, 7). This is a good place to clarify that I am not a woman of color, but of Scottish American heritage, suggesting that the institution was not reacting to my phenotype, but to the challenges my pedagogy posed to established racial practices.
5 This response also appears to be typical. As Harris and González assert, "methods of knowledge production that challenge the idea of value-free academic inquiry are bitterly attacked" (2012, 5). In Engaging Contradictions: Theory, Politics, and Methods of Activist Scholarship, Charles R. Hale identifies the most common objections to activist scholarship as resting on claims that it lacks "positivism, objectivity, and rigor" (2008, 8). Significantly, none of the written reviews challenged my work directly on ideological grounds. Instead, I was criticized for "writ[ing] poorly," and lacking "intellectual rigor, depth of argument, and grasp of current scholarship in my field."
6 The chair summed up my body of work as follows: "A 400-page edited collection to which Dr. Delgado has contributed a 22-page coauthored introduction plus ninety pages of translation, two chapters and two refereed articles totaling more than 80 pages, . . . as well as three brief substantive articles in an encyclopedia sponsored by a major press."
7 The Tenure Team Initiative addresses the book-or-nothing gauntlet by calling for tenure committees to "evaluate more diverse artifacts and a broader spectrum of creative and critical work informed by matters of public salience" (Ellison and Eatman, 1).
8 The chair's concern for my career portended the findings of the Imagining America Tenure Team Initiative: "The theme of safety recurred throughout our interviews, as did the call for institutional change that responds in concrete ways to the real and perceived vulnerability of engaged students and faculty. . . . The risk is that the relationship between the university and the faculty member will end prematurely" (Ellison and Eatman, 18).
9 Here, I make a belated contribution to what Slate columnist and former graduate student Rebecca Schuman has humorously termed "an important, growing subgenre of American essays" on the theme "I Quit Academia." I share some of the reasons these writers give for quitting, which include: there are no jobs to begin with (Schuman 2013); there are only poorly paid, part-time jobs (Kendzior 2013); landing a job usually requires relocating to an isolated, little town (Lord 2012); and universities stifle innovative and interdisciplinary work and the private sector pays more (Ernst 2013).
10 New Times Media acquired Village Voice Media in October 2005. In the 18 months prior, a new managing editor at Miami New Times fired or harassed to the point of quitting all but one member of the editorial staff, who were then replaced by less experienced journalists, presumably at lower salaries. I was fired in June 2004. Subsequent to the acquisition, every prominent journalist at the storied Village Voice in New York City also was let go. In the meantime, daily newspapers and music magazines nationwide were radically reducing staff or shutting down, making it nearly impossible to find full-time employment in the field of music journalism, and increasingly difficult in the field of journalism in general.
11 Barry's mission statement lists four core commitments: 1. "knowledge and truth," to find sustainable solutions to pressing human problems; 2. "inclusive community," emphasizing the need not only to admit diverse people, but to be open to diverse perspectives; 3. "social justice," and 4. "collaborative service," which emphasizes reciprocity between the University and community partners (https://www.barry.edu/about/history/).
Ellison, Julie, and Eatman, Timothy K. 2008. Scholarship in Public: Knowledge Creation and Tenure Policy in the Engaged University. Syracuse, NY: Imagining America. http://imaginingamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/TTI_FINAL.pdf.
Ernst, Zachary. 2013. "Why I Jumped Off the Ivory Tower." Inklings. http://zacharyernst.blogspot.com/2013/10/why-i-jumped-out-of-ivory-tower.html
Fusco, Coco. 1995. English is Broken Here: Notes on Cultural Fusion in the Americas. New York: The New Press.
———. 1996. Informal discussion with students. Paul Robeson Cultural Center, Penn State University. Fusco, Coco, and Paula Heredia, directors. 1993. The Couple in the Cage: Guatianaui Odyssey. Chicago: Video Data Bank, DVD.
Hale, Charles R., ed. 2008. Engaging Contradictions: Theory, Politics, and Methods of Activist Scholarship. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Harris, Angela P., and Carmen G. González. 2012. "Introduction." In Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia, edited by Gabriella Gútierrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores
Niemann, Carmen G. González, Angela P. Harris, 1–14.
Kendzior, Sarah. 2012. "The Closing of the American Academy." Aljazeera. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/08/2012820102749246453.html
Lacy, Suzanne, ed. 1994. Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art. Seattle: Bay Press.
Lord, Alexandra M. 2012. "Location, Location, Location." The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://chronicle.com/article/Location-Location- Location/134264/
Schuman, Rebecca. 2013. "'I Quit Academia,' An Important, Growing Subgenre of
American Essays." Slate. http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2013/10/24/quitting_academic_jobs_
Tartan, James, director. 2004. Los Four/Murals of Aztlan: The Street Painters of East Los Angeles. UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, DVD.
US Department of Education. 2014. College Assistance Migrant Program. Accessed January 30, 2014. http://www2.ed.gov/programs/camp/index.html