Traveling. I’m Always Traveling.
By José Alfredo Menjivar
“i know only that i am here waiting remembering that once as a child i walked two miles in my sleep. did i know then where i was going? traveling. i’m always traveling.”
–Sonia Sanchez, “Poem at Thirty.”
Born in Honduras, and raised between Clinton Hill, Brooklyn and Woodside, Queens, schooling and education were foundational cornerstones in our bicultural, bilingual, first-generation American home as far as I can remember. It wasn’t that my mother spent hours helping my sister and me with our reading, writing and arithmetic homework. Nor did she read bedtime stories, hoping to strengthen our linguistic repertoires. In fact, she never did any of these things. As a single, working-class, mother of two, her time outside of the home was consumed with various part-time jobs in order to make financial ends meet. By the time she got home, the assumption and expectation was that our homework was completed–which it was, most of the times.
Thus, from an early age it was communicated and understood that schooling–the act of attending an academic, institutional setting–and education–the processes of learning–were my sole responsibilities as a household member. And for a while, they were. But somewhere along the path of my educational trajectory the commitment to upholding my end to mami’s parent-child contract began to slowly deteriorate. In middle school I began to cut classes, and then missed entire school days. I was bored and disengaged with academia primarily because my hybrid Latino-American culture, languages, or myself were not represented in an overwhelming white, male and heteronormative curriculum taught by all white teachers.
When I turned fourteen years old and began public high school, I took a part-time afterschool job at a New York Public Library. During the school day, I would stare at the clocks and count down the seconds until the school day was announced over. I could not stomach the thought of staying an additional second more than I was required to. Therefore, I did not partake in any clubs, extracurricular activities, or college now opportunities. By the end of my high school career my resume was skeletal and bare bones. In spite of this, I was able to still able graduate on time, with honors, at the age of seventeen.
As a result of not seeking post-graduation guidance, I attended Hunter College primarily for two reasons: one, it was the only college whose name I heard before, and two, it was the college closest to home, thus requiring the least amount of travel to and from. While at Hunter College I majored in cultural anthropology primarily because culture was what I spent most of my life navigating and trying to understand. A semester shy from graduating, the responsibilities at my full time job increased, and caused me to take a year off of school to reevaluate and collect myself.
A year later, I was encouraged to apply to The New School. As apprehensive as I felt, knowing well I could never afford to pay the cost of tuition, I applied to Lang College through the HEOP. To my surprise, I was accepted, given scholarship, and allowed to transfer half of my credits from Hunter College. For the next year and a half, I worked hard to accumulate credits for my new major, Urban Studies. If it were not for HEOP, I would have never been able to attend a private university, and would have never discovered my passion for social justice education. Once graduated from Lang, I taught for three years in a pre-school and various primary school classes as a literacy coach and an assistant teacher. Afterwards, I completed a Master of Arts in Teaching Degree in Literature at Bard College, and worked as a guidance counselor and literature teacher at a transfer school in the South Bronx.
This past summer, I had the privilege of returning to The New School and worked closely with HEOP staff to develop and teach two original courses: Feminist Identity Politics: From Margin to Center, From Theory to Action and Queer(ing) Cinema: Gender, Sex and Sexuality in the Films of Pedro Almodóvar to incoming freshmen HEOP students through the “Summer Bridge Program.” Currently, I am a doctoral student in the Urban Education Program at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), a board member for the organization Queers for Economic Justice, and an active member of the New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCoRE). After a lifetime of traveling, it seems my feet have found root and rest in the terrain that is urban education.