Mikko’s Interview with Dr. Deena Gonzalez

 

Dr. Deena Gonzalez

“We all need things,need others, have needs; it isn’t in wanting to fulfil needs that one’s agency is undermined; it’s in surrendering to a situation that we can in fact change or fix, it’s in thinking we are not good enough, strong enough, capable enough.”

Dr. Deena Gonzalez grew up in New Mexico and is the fourteenth generation of her family. Leaving her home and family, Dr. Gonzalez went to study in University of Berkeley California with a medical focus. A couple of her 41 cousins had gone to Georgetown Law and Harvard but for the most part, the majority of her family stayed in New Mexico and became teachers or accountants. Therefore, it was rare for anyone to leave but Dr. Gonzalez did not let this stop her.

“Every weekend was devoted to traditional Catholic Church on Sunday and followed by Sunday lunch or early dinner with my grandmother in her home or on my mother’s side, we would drive an hour to be with her parents’. I grew up on a farm. And so on the farm were on one hand I would say a couple traditional gender roles and on the other things were all blended. So we played basketball with the local neighbors or softball. We had various teams, we did a lot of sports, and were outdoors all the time. And we helped out a lot on the farm too. I learned to drive when I was five and my grandfather outfitted one of the tractors that they used so I could move it from one end of the farm to the another, and I was pretty good at it. He created these kind of sticks for me so I could use that for the gas pedal. So there were all kinds of ways in which I never thought or felt myself constrained even within the kind of 1950’s growing up Catholic tradition where girls still, you know, wore dresses, where when you went to Mass before Vatican II you wore a headscarf, girls sat on one side in the church and boys on the other and so on. Even with all that, I always felt much like you know I can do anything I wanted. It helped a lot that my mother was a professional. She was a school teacher so she pushed the boundaries a lot too for my sister and myself.”

Right off the bat, I received the strong sense of family values listening to Dr. Gonzalez talk. One could easily tell she loves her family and labels that a significant part of her identity. We started to talk about the type of schools she attended, and I found myself relating to a lot of her points. For starters, she pointed out how the Catholic religion was forced on her and agreed that this ultimately led her to question her ideals and beliefs. “I did everything the family requested and required like Baptism, Confirmation, and all those things. So I think one of the points of college was to shake your values out of the tree and see what falls and see what gets back on the tree, what is it that you hold onto.” For the longest time, she was convinced she was agnostic or atheist believing in multiple gods or none at all. I found this particularly relatable since my mom forced the Catholic religion on my siblings and I growing up which in turn, left me in a constantly challenged state when I realized I did not agree with several of their doctrines. I continued to resonate with her as she talked about how even though she grew up with a forced religion or a strict dress code in school, she still felt like she could chase any dream she wanted to. I believe this confidence is rooted in how she was brought up and the values that were carried down from her close family line. Even though my mom made me go to church every Sunday and enrolled me in all private schools, I still received her full support and encouragement in chasing any future I want to have.

Dr. Gonzalez is the Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs and a professor of Chicana/o studies at Loyola Marymount Institute. She attended New Mexico State University and then University of California, Berkeley studying the field of U.S. Western History and U.S. Social History. As a published author, speaker of four languages, and recipient of multiple scholar awards, Dr. Gonzalez is an accomplished woman of color to say the least. When asked about her dream growing up, she revealed she originally went to school as pre-med and switched when she reached organic chemistry. Realizing the pre-med route was not for her, Dr. Gonzalez turned to her other thriving subjects, history, anthropology, and literature. With that new realization, she discovered she wanted to be a historian.

Once we ended the background portion of the interview, we started to discuss womanhood and the important women in her life. I asked if and who were her women role models.

“My grandmother, of course, because she was a very hard worker. She was a rancher who helped my grandfather with every aspect of the ranch. When they retired she remained a very active person. She cooked. She cleaned. She would always be on her feet. So I developed a perception that life was not easy, it was kind of work, work, work, and then reward, reward at the end of the working. Animals’ care came first. I also learned a lot about ones’ talents importance. My grandmother’s cooking was phenomenal, and she was well known for that. I also saw her make things out of nothing. She would tell stories and very involved remembering her past and how she had grown up. Her stories were always touching and amazing to me. They would always mark my privilege in not having to, for example, learn how to sew, crochet, mend, or all sorts of things. I kind of learned from her but I never had to do those things. She would tell me they never really played as children, they worked.”

 One of my favorite parts of the interview was when she started to talk about her coming to consciousness as a woman of color and a Chicana because I, too, had a similar story.

 

 

“In New Mexico, Hispanics were the majority there and you always felt that. You were surrounded by people who were more like you than less like you.”

The first thing that shaped her consciousness was “the influx beginning in the 50’s with the Bracero Program and then in the 60’s with migration and immigration programs of Mexican labors. “Mexican workers who would come, mostly men, were very different hispanics in New Mexico.” She was not able to articulate how but she could tell that there was a difference with class, state, and regard when seeing these workers. She reported that they lived in harsh conditions and were treated very poorly working the fields with not enough to eat. I assumed it related to a concept so close to slavery. Seeing this situation unfold in her hometown as she grew up as a Hispanic created a sense of awareness within herself. Another reason behind her social consciousness was here experience in high school. She said in her high-accelerated classes the majority of students were white and then just a few minorities. Dr. Gonzalez concluded that these markers of difference and status were very evident if one cared to look at them.

“No one would talk about them. Everyone would talk about sameness.”

She added that the Civil Rights Movement was a huge deal during the 60’s in New Mexico because it was one of the centers of the Chicano movement. This garnered a lot of attention caused by incidents, protests, and a plethora of public demonstrations.

“a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.”

 

Once I shared bell hook’s definition of feminism and asked what she thinks feminism means, Dr. Gonzalez said that it is a vocabulary and perspective that allows one to look at the world in a particular kind of way. I found this very interesting and complementary to bell hooks understanding. hooks is known for her scholarly writing on hegemonic based thinking. I felt that Dr. Gonzalez definition only emphasizes this because it is rooted in looking at the world in a different, clear light. Dr. Gonzalez went onto saying, “I think that feminism helps one develop a sense of place and personhood that really was important to forming human beings and becoming whole again. The sexism that we encountered in the 60’s and so on were very strong. We were told regularly “you can only go so far.” The glass ceiling was very clear. I think anything that holds women and girls back in particular needs to be criticized.” At this second, I realized I never heard anything more true. We should be focusing and criticizing these hegemonic and patriarchal stigmas because it hold us young women back from believing we can live this life to the highest potential.

Me: “bell hooks is known for her scholarly work on the two-parent patriarchal family and how it is unnecessary for culture to hold it to such high esteem. What do you think about the importance of family structure and how that affects the upbringing of children? Like do you think it needs to be two-parents?”

When asked this question, I felt Dr. Gonzalez’s urge to answer and immediately, in her response I found out why. She did not think one needs a two-parent led home to succeed in this culture. “Among Latinos where you have one of the strongest traditional family structures. In communities, extended families, and dual parent households, you still see the same level of drop out rates, imprisonment, and you also see the same rates to children born to single mothers. So I don’t think we can say it is as simple as one man, one women, and several children creates a stable, nurturing environment.” I most definitely agree with Dr. Gonzalez when she shuts down the idea people associate with broken homes. Abuse still happens in what may seem like the perfect family. Her solution was like we need more expansive view on what it takes to raise a child, supportive structures, and particularly more resources to families in poverty. She ended with the strong fact that children can become successful and reach their highest potential if nurtured and cared for.

“First and foremost, feminist movement urged females to no longer see ourselves and our bodies as the property of men.” –bell hooks

Dr. Gonzalez was well-aware during her childhood the natural authority given to men. Through the way she saw her grandfather interact with her mom and her father tried to do so but failed because of his addictive behavior specifically with alcohol. She has seen what positive and negative authority could look like. Instead of having a father as a backbone to her upbringing, she constantly had to deal with his rehab and recovery.

We then moved onto Audre Lorde’s theory that “sisterhood does not exist.” Dr. Gonzalez response was straight to the point.

“I mean I don’t think that there’s any such thing as equality yet. I mean I think that’ll take 2,000 more years. If it takes 2,000 years to create a patriarchy, it’ll take another 2,000 years to undo it.”

I found it pretty easy to believe this strong statement she made. It is hard to know whether women will be equal or not with the modern capitalism and technological revolution. Technology can either help the interests of independent, educated women or continue to only focus only on the woman’s body. Dr. Gonzalez stated the host of the problem is our lack of understanding and cultivating differences.

“We have a lot of work to do, and it doesn’t happen overnight.”

Like mentioned earlier, Dr. Gonzalez is an accomplished author. She has written multiple articles based on the works of women of color. Lorde says that the literature of women of color is seldom included in academic courses. At first, Dr. Gonzalez assumed that there would not be a lot of information in the field she chose to study and teach but she quickly realized she was mistaken.

“You can’t go into an archive and not find something about women in there every other page. The question is are you looking for it and are you willing to read and do the work that’s needed to understand it. Because it’s not easy. Because if I wrote about men, I could go into any Wikipedia article, I could go into any number of biographies. If I wrote about Lincoln I could go into 15,000 books about Lincoln, you know? But I don’t write about those people, I write about people who are unknown.”

I think this was her most insightful statement I heard throughout the interview. It is true to that if we always look for the same thing or one aspect, we blind ourselves from looking at the other perspectives. Having an open mind and studying every point or view takes a lot of brain energy that not everyone has. Dr. Gonzalez shared how she had to do a lot of demographic work when writing a book of the women of Santa Fe because it has never been done before, so it was “double the work and double the time.” She understood that when her book was evaluated or review, people were not going to acknowledge that she had to do that much work compared to “some guy writing for Meyers” but instead just notice that they are different. Dr. Gonzalez had a different mindset and willingness to go after the story despite the credit she knew she would not receive. For her, the most important thing was to locate the stories and articulate them in a way that made sense.

 

Patricia Hill Collins suggested in 1993 that we must shift our discourse away from additive analyses of oppression in order to “reconceptualize race, class, and gender as categories of analysis.” Dr. Gonzalez agreed and went on to further saying how these categories are not like hairstyles or articles of clothing where you have 45 options. She thinks understanding these oppressions in different ways that it manifests is important in which I agree. If we lack a full understanding of how things are the way they are, we lack the ability to change this thinking. She brought up a certain example where a case was being presented in front of the supreme court and in the midst of all the action and chaos, one judge asked, “what good does this do?” It was a matter of asking the right question at the right time that made all the difference. Dr. Gonzalez connected this story with Patricia Hill Collins’ consistent writing on legal codes and systems since those are the proprietors of what we can and can’t do. Presently, Dr. Gonzalez sees the matrix of domination heavily emphasized during this Trump administration.

“Well I think who speaks, screams, and shouts the loudest is the one that is getting the attention. The one who can bully the way. As we have seen bullies fall. Bullies fall everyday.”

We both agreed that even within our President’s political party and within those who would most likely be inclined to support his ideas, we see descension. She continued to say how it was going to take time and effort for people to “really stand up for those democratic principles that are at our disposable and are being violated at our every turn.” I found this part of our interview really eye opening that way she characterized the person leading our country and what his decisions can do and has done. She calls out the removal of healthcare and how the continual termination of resources to the citizens will lead to a drop in the stock market. This truly does affect everything.

“This is exactly what happened in Germany in terms of fascism. People looked the other way until it was too late.”

This strong statement of hers opened my eyes to the potential of what this harsh political climate could be. It actually is frightening. Collins expands on systemic relationships of domination and subordination structured in social institutions like schools, the workplace, or hospitals. Like students necessarily do not have to listen to teachers or staff member, but not only do students follow what they are told but they are scared to otherwise. Dr. Gonzalez responds saying how all organizations including universities have a hierarchy or a “charted way” to conduct work. 

“If we use, us at LMU, the teacher-scholar model, we necessarily invert that structure because Teacher-Scholars become students as well in a classroom; that is, the intellectual exchange is not just one directional, but varied and works in multiple directions.”

I like how Dr. Gonzalez puts this relationship in more mutual balance where students also are exchanging knowledge. Meeting Dr. Gonzalez was truly inspiring. I learned not only about her life and success but more about my own views. She did not see her intersectionality as a burden but her own unique “way of being in the world.” She advised students like me to “cultivate awareness, read widely” which I highly intend to improve in.

Words Cited

Collins, P. H. (1989). Toward a new vision: race, class and gender as categories of analysis and connection. Memphis, TN: Center for Research on Women, Dept. of Sociology and Social Work, Memphis State University. 

Hooks, Bell. “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators.” Black Looks: Race and Representation, Routledge, 2015.

Lorde, Audre. “Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference.” Amerst College , Sister Outsider Crossing Press, 1984.