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Scholar's Corner: A letter from a #LatinaMamiScholar: Dear Younger Me

Supporting the Profession Latinx/a/o Womxn in Student Affairs
September 18, 2019 DeAna Swan

The NASPA Latinx/a/o Knowledge Community (LKC) strives to support the research and share stories of colleagues who are engaged in scholastic work, especially those who focus on Latinx/a/o educational issues. This year, the LKC co-chairs are highlighting the strength, resiliency, and tenacious nature of mujeres in the field who deliberately and wholeheartedly embrace both motherhood and their professional roles as scholars (#LatinaMamiScholar). We would love to feature your story on the NASPA LKC Scholars Corner!   


If you would like to share with our communidad, please contact LKC Research and Scholarship co-chairs Claudia García-Louis ([email protected]) and/or Tracy Arámbula Ballysingh ([email protected]).


DeAna Swan is a fifth-year doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin in the Education Leadership and Policy program. Her research focuses on the experiences of Latina doctoral student mothers where she uses Chicana feminism and testimonios to amplify the voices of Latina-mami-scholars. She has a Bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin Madison and a Master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania. 


A letter from a #LatinaMamiScholar: Dear Younger Me

            To best depict how my identity as a Latina-mami-scholar has evolved, I have to start at the beginning of graduate school. Five years ago when I enrolled at UT-Austin to pursue a career in academia, I had no idea how these interconnected identities would shape the person I am today. In an effort to share my journey with you, I wrote the following letter to an enthusiastic and optimistic younger me. The young woman to whom I write this letter had just moved to Austin ready to make a change in the world. Instead, the greatest change would actually take place inside of her.

Dear Younger Me,

            You are about to embark on an adventure. Graduate school will change you. Embrace it. When you don’t meet the expectations you have for yourself, be gentle. Treat yourself with the same grace you offer your own daughters when they try so hard, but don’t quite achieve what they wanted to achieve. Like all Latina-mami-scholars, you are a superhero. You are resilient. You are ambitious. You are brilliant. You are powerful. Don’t compare your journey with anyone else’s. Instead, use the mujeres who are paving the way as your inspiration.

            Right now, you have so many ideas about the differences you hope to make in your community, the research you want to do, and the career you are striving toward. You are confident that if you work hard enough, in four years, you can begin a new role as a profesora. These goals feel within reach. You are at a selective institution in a new city with endless opportunities and abundant resources. Your advisor is an incredible scholar and mentor. Right now, all the stars seem to be aligned and your dream to becoming Dr. Swan feels like it might actually be possible. Never forget this feeling.

            Be prepared. Your enthusiasm and your hopefulness will be tested. Stay steadfast because as your faith reminds you, God blesses those who patiently endure testing. In the next five years, you will face the greatest personal and professional challenges of your life to date. These challenges will both stress you and bless you. With each hardship you overcome on your graduate school journey, you will find a lesson and a reward waiting on the other side. For example, even though you will be terrified to share the news of your pregnancy with your advisor, he will become one of your greatest advocates and supporters. Your pregnancy announcement will just be the beginning.    

            The birth of your first daughter at the end of your first year will bring self-induced pressures that feel impossible to overcome. You will think about the way your own mother modeled her role as a Latina mama without an utterance of complaint. It will astound you and overwhelm you. There will be many times when you ask how it is possible to be present for your child, be a caretaker, a cook, and a homemaker while juggling a baby’s schedule, a graduate assistantship, coursework, and those extra research projects you will learn are “required” for a future profesora. Your mom will keep reminding you that your kids come first, and the words she means as encouragement will increase the pressure you feel to be better and do more for your familia.

            Before you are emotionally or physically ready, you will return to the classroom for summer school to prove to yourself that you can do it all because so many sacrificed for you to have this opportunity. You believe that you owe them. Not to mention, your own pride won’t allow you to “fail.” Ironically, it will be that summer course that will ultimately change the entire trajectory of your research agenda, your scholarship, and your career path. A subject you never considered before will become your new passion and the experiences of Latina doctoral student mothers will eventually become the topic of your dissertation. Your dream and desire to become a profesora will slowly begin to take new shape because the pressures of life in the academy as a Latina-mami-scholar will feel too overwhelming.

            So, when you miss the deadline to turn in that paper because you fell asleep rocking your baby to bed, you are not a failure. When you have to go back to work full-time in order to help support your family after the birth of your second daughter, the progress toward your dream will not end, but it will actually spark new dreams. When you find yourself as a single mom of a 2 and 3-year-old in the fourth year of graduate school, you will find a community that will encourage you and keep you going while granting you the utmost grace.

            Give yourself permission to be a mama first and miss out on that publication opportunity. Give yourself permission to go to that conference alone and stay the extra night just to enjoy a new city, even if that means five nights away from your girls. Give yourself permission to break the tradition in your familia where mama carried the full load at home. Give yourself permission to forge a new path. Because finally, in year five of graduate school you will learn to accept this journey as being uniquely yours without shame or regret in your slow progress as many of your colleagues cross the stage. The shame will be replaced with determination that is truly distinctive among Latina-mami-scholars.

Sandra Cisneros once wrote, “It takes a long time for women to feel it’s alright to be chingona. To aspire to be a chingona!...You are saying, ‘This is my camino, this is my path and I’m gonna follow it, regardless of what culture says.’” It is with that quote that I leave you to pursue the end of this doctoral journey in your own timing and in your own way. Don’t wait any longer to let the chingona out of you!