Testimonios: Understanding Ourselves First

I am from…a family full of stories. Stories that I remember as a child. Stories that I continue to hear as an adult. I am from a family of hard-working dreamers. A family that worked the cotton fields in Central Texas. A family that found work on the migrant farm routes. These experiences created stories of joy and hardship. I am from a family that has fought racism in its ugliest forms as children. I am from a family that experienced discrimination that blocked them from educational opportunities as young adults. Inequities that placed barriers as they worked hard to make a better living for their families and loved ones. I am a product of these stories. They were told to me, my siblings, and my cousins because our ancestors fought hard despite what they faced. We continue to survive and succeed while those that gave us hardships fell victim to their own hate and vitriol. They likely never experienced the level of love and support that my immediate and extended family has provided. I am eternally grateful that I am able to continue the legacy of storytelling to my students and my colleagues.

This I believe…I believe in hope. I am an eternal optimist. Much of this comes from my personal belief that good exists in a world that many question that exists. Ever since I was a kid, adults noticed that I was inquisitive. Often mistaken of being extremely shy, I knew even at a young age that I would rather listen and learn to others to try to understand their perspectives rather than trying to have my verbal thoughts be outwardly projected. Even to this day, I often do this. I do this because I naturally fit into the role of mediator, comforter, and rational-thinker. In a group, I am usually the one that does not (rarely) get angry. I tend to remain reserved and when asked to speak, try my best to guide the discussion into a space of hope and opportunity. This is quite difficult and stressful, but I do believe in hope in situations where hope seems to be either forgotten or impossible. Hope in the dark.

For me, education is….power. Plain and simple. When one has knowledge, one finds their voice. One can dissect and analyze arguments to potentially find flawed thinking and fallacies. Education provides freedom and empowerment to individuals who often are told you cannot reach your aspirations. I am one of those individuals. Starting in junior high, I received many messages that told me I would never *ever* reach the levels of education I now have. I worked so hard to break down my own self-doubts. Being able to achieve a PhD was a monumental task, but I did it. Since achieving it, I have power to share knowledge that has be avoided in our classrooms. Learning is meant to be difficult and challenging, not to be easy and free of discomfort. Your mind needs moments where confusion and dissonance opens the door for new ideas. For many years, as a Chicano student, I felt this dissonance in lessons I received from those I called “teachers”. Often, I asked myself, “this narrative in the lesson is not what I have experienced or what my family experienced.” As an educator, I now have power not in an authoritative sense but in a transformative sense. Education can transform – individuals, communities, and quite obviously, society at large.

I know…that I am spiritual. Now more than ever. Spiritual in a sense that I am understanding the inner-workings of who I am and allowing myself study on why others do what they do and how that impacts their actions and beliefs. Spirituality is not always connected to organized structures of religion. Spirituality, to me, is asking yourself “what brings me joy?” During our quarantine, one positive outcome of it has been that it allowed my busy rushed scheduled to slow down. In slowing down, I needed to ask myself how did we come to the place we are currently at in our history. I continue to read on the works of St.Benedict, Benedictine philosophies of knowledge, patience, work, and deep reflection – ora et labora.

Throughout my education, I found myself…surrounded by fantastic friends. Friends that have become my family. A few have become my brothers and sisters in the truest sense. I find it amazing that in addition to the knowledge you gain from education, you likely will be able to build strong relationships with individuals who could be from completely different backgrounds from you. Yet, through the love of learning you connect in advocating for issues, voicing those who have been denied voice, or exploring new ideas that are unique and challenging. I have found amazing people that I am privileged to call my friends. They have been a key part of my own success in reaching my educational and career aspirations.

I feel most alive when...I am with my students. When I work with undergraduates, I am alive by learning from their fresh views on the world. I love learning about things in popular culture that excite them (especially music!) and the latest digital technology that keeps me on my toes with regards to strategizing on how to engage the next generation of learners. I especially come to life when I mentor young scholars of color. Students who often have been told that they do not belong in certain learning spaces and fields of study. I guess that is why in my administrative career I felt most alive in working with students in academic difficulty (i.e., those on academic probation). They need someone who believed in them so that they could believe in themselves. I feel most alive also when I’m with my graduate students. Our next generation of higher education leaders provide me hope. Hope that I know soon they are going to transform higher education structures and traditional ways of knowing. They are going to challenge and disrupt how education is run today. The disruption has positive outcomes, I believe, in making campuses welcoming spaces, not exclusive ones.

As a higher education leader, I want to…thrive. I want my scholarship to motivate and create change. I want my scholarly activity to collaborate with others who need the world of research and publications to include their voices, especially from practitioners. I am a pedagogical dissenter (Rendon, 2014), I use my teaching spaces to explore and “play” to allow new forms of knowledge creation and expression. I thrive when I try out something and students “get” where I am coming from in terms of how I see learning. I thrive when I work with individuals who value the benefit of letting knowledge “seep” into their understanding of ideas. In our fast food culture, dissertations and research can be more about “how long”, “how many”, “how selective”, or worse…”how quickly can I get it done?” I thrive when I see students and colleagues resist that urge. Knowledge is best when slowly simmered and served with patience, respect, understanding, and a sense of community-building.

I wrote my above testimonio (Espino et al., 2012) in free-hand style. No preliminary notes. No planning. Just thoughts straight from my head to the keyboard. From start to finish, it took me roughly 30 minutes. After typing my response to the last prompt in bold, I was a bit amazed on the introspective thoughts that come deep inside. This story – mi testimonio – allows a look inside on who I am. I provides an idea of what motivates me to do my work and what I hope to accomplish within higher education and beyond. It is my lifeblood.

Students in the class I am currently teaching at Sam Houston State University, HEDL 7332 Organization and Administration of Higher Education, had as their first assignment to write their own personal testimonio – their story. Using the same prompts that you see above in bold, I gave them very few directions other than provide responses to the prompts. I gave them no word count, no specific guidelines on what their responses should include, or directives that it needed to include any specific course content. The only requirement was that they had provide me their testimonio as a handwritten document (mailed to my residence).

Removing oneself from digital technology for this exercise, I figured, added the “humanness” to the creation of the testimonio. Using a pen and pencil as a mediator between the mind and the task allowed for a deeper connection on story creation and the eventual reader of the testimonio – me. In reading the testimonios of my students, I learned amazing feats that have been accomplished not only in their adult lives, but also as young adults and even as children. Stories of overcoming inequities, discrimination, and racism were often presented as childhood memories. As adults, they shared epiphanies of self-discoveries, identity development, and the importance of raising the next generation of engaged citizens (including their children). While my own testimonio provided in this blog entry does use digital technology, it still connects my mind to the task and eventually, I hope, to the reader. Allowing myself the opportunity to just let my mind speak to the prompts allowed thoughts that often shape who I am an opportunity to emerge to the surface to highlight who I truly am in the role as educator and higher education leader. In doing this exercise, I want my students to first learn and understand who they are within higher education organizations before they learn about the organizational behavior found in those spaces. Who they are, what motivates them, and their “reason for being” is important to know. I want to create a “human centered” approach to my teaching of the subject. Human relationships and understanding how organizations respond my students needs, wants, and motivations is what they are reading currently – understanding how organizations see the HUMAN (resource) side of administration and professional service (Bolman & Deal, 2016). However, I want students to understand when we include “human”, it is much more than seeing us as “resources” to make the organization successful. Humanness means that you allow opportunities for individuals to find value in the work they do and to create opportunities that their work has meaning for them and others.

I used the work of Dr. Laura Rendon in my teachings and scholarship. In my current research on applying Benedictine spirituality in higher education administration and organizational issues, I have also expanded my readings to include how cultural practices shapes this spirituality and how higher education member’s define “spirituality” in their work. Dr. Rendon explains her ideas in the book Sentipensante (Sensing/Thinking) Pedagogy:

I find her book insightful and for me personally, validating (a term which she also uses in her scholarship). I reminds me that I am not an “oddball” in this career as a college professor. Teaching is meant to break boundaries and to welcome innovation. Teaching also is meant to allow students to understand themselves. They are not meant to be passive recipients of knowledge…they are meant to respond emotionally, to receive encouragement, and hopefully to experience a sense of a spiritual journey to find their place in our field and in the larger world at large. A daunting task, but one that begins with first writing your story – your testimonio – where you uncover and unearth your lifeblood in creating change on this (physical) Earth. As Benedictine monks will say, the most important lessons likely will come from the most simple, sometimes mundane, tasks. When they do occur, find joy and love.



Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (2017). Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice, and leadership. John Wiley & Sons.

Espino, M. M., Vega, I. I., Rendón, L. I., Ranero, J. J., & Muñiz, M. M. (2012). The process of reflexión in bridging testimonios across lived experience. Equity & Excellence in Education, 45(3), 444-459.

Rendón, L. I. (2012). Sentipensante (sensing/thinking) pedagogy: Educating for wholeness, social justice and liberation. Stylus Publishing, LLC.

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