This is U.S./HOME (end of year reflection)

Yesterday, my wife and I went to the museum to view an exhibition of the creative genius that was Oscar De La Renta.  I am not much into high fashion, I never quite understood the idea of some things that are considered “in style”.  However, I found the exhibit we attended quite amazing and educational!  Much of Mr. De La Renta’s work paid close attention to not how a woman looks like in his dresses, but how a woman *feels* when they put on one of his creations.  According to the audio narration that accompanied the exhibit, De La Renta wanted women to feel comfortable in his tailored clothing and many pieces were described as actually being light and airy with no bulk and heaviness to burden those that wore his works.  Mr. De La Renta was described as someone who valued women and whatever role they were in when they wore his dresses.  Many of the pieces on display were noted for who wore them – celebrities, political figures, art patrons, and socialites.  One piece in particular stuck out for me, not for the designer but for how the person viewed Mr. De La Renta.  One outfit was described by a Houston socialite who apparently had a close relationship with the designer.  The socialite is a big name in Houston society.  However, something she said in her narrative struck me as odd.

While describing the greatness of De La Renta, the socialite had to add in her story that he was “quite the Latin charmer” which was followed by a burst of laughter.  Ah yes, the Latin lover image where respect and attention to women by Latino men is equated to the “latin lover” charmer caricature.  After all I heard throughout the exhibit on how De La Renta, a gentleman of Dominican Republic descent,  respected the women who wore his dresses, the statement which came in the last space in the exhibit had to be made.  I know that I might be a bit sensitive to the comment but I was truly impressed by the works on this Latino genius in the fashion world.  In a way, my thoughts of how others really come to respect and honor this man kind of got diminished in that others listening to the narration might have a little giggle and be put back into the world of how Latino men are viewed.  I was disappointed to leave the exhibit with this thought.

It reminded me that this is the U.S. , where we are often surrounded by casual reminders that diverse groups have their “place”, or at least their perceptions that others hold.  Despite that subtle reminder in the exhibit, we continued on into the museum.  Thanks to one of my close friends, we were recommended to check out another exhibition titled “HOME”, where several contemporary Latinx artists created pieces of art depicting their views of “home”.  It was another great exhibit.  One piece in particular hit me emotionally in its subtle message of what home is for many Latinx individuals.  The piece was a series of paintings by the San Antonio artist Vincent Valdez.

The art was titled “Excerpts for John”, a friend of the artist who suffered from PTSD and unfortunately committed suicide.  The artist powerfully depicted his friend returning home in an imagined series of paintings where his friend’s flag-drapped casket is being led away from the military cemetery where he’s buried to return to his home, a simple one-story wooden house that looked almost like my Grandma Inez’ house.  The procession with full military honor guard goes through what looks like the barrio.  The image where the casket passes the supermarket got me for some reason.  I think it was because that market is something most Mexican Americans in Texas have seen and visited, especially during the holidays.  Who hasn’t gone with their parents to buy ingredients for tamales, menudo, and if you’re lucky, some pan dulce to eat on the way home?  The artists’ ability to capture that moment at least for this patron was amazing.  To see the painting end with his friend returning “home” with his casket now facing the front porch was beautiful and sad.  I would recommend that you visit the artist’s section of his website to view this great piece of Texas art

How we view “home” in the U.S. gets taken for granted, I think.  I’ve always seen myself as extremely fortunate that I still get to visit my Mom in the house where I grew up.  I can also say that in my lifetime, my parent’s never moved from that same house.  The neighborhood that I visit is still the same neighborhood I rode my bike and walked to elementary school.  I think that is special.  For me, “home” is more than a structure, it is a space where I know I feel at ease, where I feel connection, and most importantly, I feel some sense of identity.  Home with all its comforts also provides challenges.  In my home space, I encountered racism and discrimination at an early age.  I was called “beaner” “wetback” and other terms despite being born in that space.  I was bullied for being just me: a chubby Mexican American kid who was dealing with other challenges personally.  Sure, I had friends but I also had individuals who made life miserable for me.  It was rough, but despite that, my home is what it is and I learned a great deal from these experiences.

Back at the museum, I was given another reminder of having a home here in the U.S.  As a Mexican American who lives proudly in Texas and loves his cultural heritage and identity, I found my introspective self continuing to analyze the surroundings at the museum.  In a large gallery, I noticed there was a huge installation with a video projected onto the wall.  I’ll confess, I didn’t make my way down to the gallery to learn more about the piece of art, but what I did see was the videos had pictures of monuments marking the southern border of the U.S.  Various images showed how these monuments are represented in marking the border.  From my vantage point, I saw something different.  With the “Latin charmer” comment on Oscar De La Renta made by the Houston socialite, to the imagined homecoming of a soldier friend through a San Antonio barrio, to my own reflections of what “home” meant for me, I saw the art installation in the gallery below of representing the U.S. – where home can be an interesting conflict of success, barriers, sadness, beauty, stereotyping, and respect.

I looked down at the people below me and wondered, do they really understand the message the art is expressing?  For many, a border (and not just a physical geographical one) is a daily part of life.  Living in the U.S. is a challenging one, yet it is also one that provides many rewards and opportunities.  I have found balance in living in this country.  However, the balance can be a bit tricky to keep centered but still I find ways to keep it where I would like it to be and to adjust when possible.  It requires thought and like the like the pieces of art I viewed, interaction.  The Latinx artistic minds I saw yesterday gave me a much needed opportunity to reflect on this important fact.

Today is the last day of 2017.  This year was odd.  Yes, Houston had its challenges and personally, I had mine.  Despite this, another year awaits and what is ahead is yet to be seen.   I think this fueled my intense thinking at the museum.  I want to continue to be a curious, introspective mind and be the observant person I’ve always been.  2018 will hold good changes, I feel it.

I am surrounded by a great deal of love.  Blah! Sappy statement, I know, but a recent Facebook posting about my Zodiac forecast (I’m a Cancer) told me to just let love rule.  I’m going to take more care of myself (physically and mentally) and I’m going to remind myself of those who support me in all my endeavors.  Reflecting on the past year, I have made a great deal of great friends.  I know some that will be lifelong friends and that is amazing when you think about it.  I hope to return all the good that those folx provide to me and to help them in their goals as well.  Of course, I cannot forget my family and loved ones.  These individuals are my reason for being.  In 2018, I will make sure to let them know how much they mean to me.  2018 will be a good year.  Why? Because I am home



(Moral) Leadership

These are interesting times.  Last week, I attended the Digital Pedagogy Institute at the University of Mary Washington in Fredricksburg, Virginia.  Attending this institute was re-energizing and interesting since I conversed with many higher education colleagues looking to change how online learning is delivered and transform what it can provide to student learning.  My discussions with my new friends and colleagues from around the nation allowed me to reflect on why I teach and what I hope my students gain from the knowledge we share in the online classroom environment.

At the end of the week, refreshed from my knowledge, my SHSU colleagues and I who attended the institute were reminded of the problems that have always been a part of U.S. history.  Just 66 miles down the road in Charlottesville, hatred and bigotry was in full display for all the world to see.  The discussions shared during our trip back was filled with anger, disappointment, and in very blunt terms, validation that all is not good in our nation when it comes to diversity concerns.  For me, the images of [tiki] torches held by adults, young and old, marching through the campus of a highly esteemed university were surreal.  The pictures I viewed on my smartphone that morning after were not only disturbing, but real and raw.  In my initial reactions, I felt numb.  You only see pictures like the ones you saw in history books, not in today’s newspapers.  It was happening.  Torches lit not to provide light for a march, but lit to intimidate and to remind all of us of our nation’s ugly racist past.  However, the individuals holding the torches were not hidden, they were for everyone to see.  What was once a secretive action by community members was now out in the open for everyone to see.

In the aftermath of the march and tragic death of Heather Heyer, we as a nation are still trying to make sense of everything that has and is occurring.  As of today, I believe the nation is trying to figure out what direction we are going.  Within these discussions are questions on leadership.  This posting isn’t going to address any person by name, but it will address how leaders respond to imagery and actions connected to Charlottesville and incidents of a similar and lesser nature.

The word “moral” in this posting is placed in parentheses on purpose.  Leadership involves much more than achieving goals.  In my teaching of leadership theory and concepts at both the master’s and doctoral level, the resources I used for class frequently addressed the avoidance of coercive leadership usually held by authoritarian individuals.  In my most recent teaching of the leadership course for doctoral students, I used Juana Bordas’ (2012) book Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age.  In the book, Bordas beautifully described different perspectives of leadership formed by cultural experiences and ideas.  In using the book, my students appreciated most, if not all, of the leadership knowledge provided by Bordas.  Among the most frequently discussed were the ideas of being a “leader among equals” and looking at leadership through a “we rather than I” lens.  Key to these two characteristics is the thought of how leadership impacts not just your organization, but the surrounding community and values of everyone affected by your organization’s actions.  Deeply embedded in Bordas’ teachings is the moral responsibility of being a leader.

I would add that being a leader is not always associated with a holding a top-level position.  Being a good leader also is reflective of what you value and what you hold close to your heart with regards to impact of your own actions and most importantly, the actions of your organization.

The above image is from is interesting to me when I view it.  As of this morning, there are many viewpoints and opinions being stated on how our current president responded to Charlottesville.  I personally deeply disagree with how this person views this national tragedy.  However, with regards to what I believe is moral leadership, those individuals standing to the side of the person speaking is the most important focus of the picture.  Moral leadership, I feel, is being tested at that moment.  There is no denying that individuals blazingly displaying Nazi flags and chanting nationalist slogans have no place in our democratic society.  So, with that simple knowledge, what made these individuals politely stay still and silent?  I wonder what was going through their minds as statements giving 50/50 blame on actions were being stated by their leader?  They just stood there.

(Moral) leadership.  I would like to think that all the individuals in the above picture are indeed moral individuals.  Morality is not necessarily something you tell others verbally on a daily basis, you show morality through your actions.  What you do and how you do it lets others understand your level of making sound and responsible decisions.  At times, your morality is tested.  When it is, you might often speak up or leave the presence of what you feel is immoral.

This summer, I attended a concert by Roger Waters, from the band Pink Floyd.  I grew up listening to Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” and appreciate the music of the band.  Anyone who is a fan of Mr. Waters knows that he wears his heart on his sleeve and doesn’t hold back on his views of politics and society.  Prior to attending his current “Us vs. Them” tour, I knew that one portion of his concert (interestingly enough during the classic “Pigs (Three Different Ones)”), he was going to let the audience how he personally feels about the current presidential administration.  I will be honest, he didn’t hold back any punches.  It was blunt, straightforward, and at the end of the song, a message so powerful that even I was aghast.  Knowing that I live in a red state, I was curious how the crowd would react.  While I guess that a majority of the audience responded to the messages and images with applause and cheers, I noticed some visibly in disagreement, leaving their seats making their way straight to the exits.  Their disapproval was shown by their own actions and I would guess that while many did agree with this part of the show, for those people who left, their values were challenged and they acted.  They (for what I could see) politely left.  So be it (and they missed a hell of a closing set!).

Going back to the image, I am struck on the different reactions to the press conference.  As of today, some reports state that some in the administration were uncomfortable, surprised, and flabbergasted.  However, my moral self would like to think that if I was in the same room or standing next to the individual, would I act in response to someone I call my leader?  Would my morality have more weight than my affiliation to a party of individual?  Would I visibly react (like my Roger Waters concert goers) or would I just accept it and move on?  I placed (moral) in parentheses because I believe for many of us, we consider ourselves moral but for some, we might find it convenient to hide it within a small space only to make visible when interestingly, no one cares to notice. That is what happened at the Roger Waters concert.  Folks left knowing that others were still enjoying the show.

Morality is still a concept that I am learning.  I go to Mass and try my best to learn how to become a moral person.  I do my best to read what others state on how to live a moral life (right now I’m reading The Book of Joy to learn from the Dalai Lama and Rev. Desmond Tutu).  In my actions as a faculty member, I try to do good and even when I have a challenging student, I show empathy to do my best to understand why that person is finding my course difficult.  Being a moral individual requires effort and constant reflection.  However, sometimes morality tests you to respond quickly and immediately.  I find that aspect fascinating and frightening.  How would I act as a moral leader?

To this day, I am still trying to break myself from being a (moral) leader to becoming a truly and fully moral leader.



Bordas, J. (2012). Salsa, soul, and spirit: Leadership for a multicultural age. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Dalia Lama, Desmond Tutu, & D.C. Abrams (2016).  The Book of Joy: Lasting happiness in a changing world. Random House Publishers.