I still remember my first time at C’s—St. Louis. There were a lot of things I did not know and was not sure of before C’s. I did not know what C’s or NCTE was. I was not sure how much more I could take in and from gringodemia. I did not know if I would fit into a field that had expressed many times over that I just did not have what it took to write well. I was not sure if the field was for me. Yet, then and now, I have found that over the course of my trajectory in composition and rhetoric, there have been opportunities.
Before my first C’s, I was welcomed into an M.A. program by Cristina Kirklighter. I struggled with the idea that I was still “behind” and “catching-up.” Yet, I was provided the opportunity to show that not only could I open up a book but that I could read it too. The same can be said with regard to writing. And I read. I read Connors, Burke, Bartholomae, Yancy, Cushman, Shor, Freire, Cintron, Guerra, Smitherman, and many more. And I wrote. I wrote about where I came from (el Valle), about my struggles with gringodemia, and how pedagogies and theories were insufficient insofar that their scope and breadth still excluded local people and students. Amidst all the shitty things about gringodemia, Cristina Kirklighter showed me a brighter side of the field. I still remember her asking if I would be interested in attending C’s. I did not know what it was nor was I sure I could afford to attend. She told me not to worry. She told me she’d show me.
St. Louis. It was at C’s where I finally heard in person Victor Villanueva’s words on memoria. It was where I met Steven Alvarez, Isabel Baca, Juan Guerra, Aja Martinez, and Jaime Mejia for the first time. They sat there watching a young cagapalo reading hesitantly off a paper he prepared about who he was, where he was from, and why he was there. It was at that moment, at that Latino caucus gathering, that I got the opportunity to listen to and engage with others. I remember Cristina Kirklighter taking me to the cultural celebration later that evening and introducing me to Geneva Smitherman, who I’d have the opportunity to engage in conversation with. C’s, and the people I met there, provided me with the opportunity to see, amidst all the shitty things about gringodemia and limitations of our field, that I had something to offer and that I could pursue research that mattered to me. It all started with C’s in St. Louis. Since 2012, I have attended C’s. It is where I expanded my scholarship. It is where I go now with “new” colleagues such as Jay Jordan and José Cortez and meet up with mentors such as Steve Parks, Gesa Kirsch, and Brice Nordquist.
In 2018 I had the opportunity to attend C’s as a newly minted Assistant Professor. Imagine that, a chavalo from el Valle who went from feeling insecure about his presence in gringodemia to earning an M.A. (TAMUCC), Ph.D. (Syracuse University), and securing an Assistant Professorship at the University of Utah. I attended C’s in 2018, despite all the tension and conflict surrounding the choice of the organization to remain in Kansas City, because there are students there who are/were just like me. You see, I now see an opportunity to mentor other Latinos like I was mentored. The type of mentorship that allowed me to reach out to Damían Baca, Jaime Mejia, and others as I contemplated continuing higher education. For me then, there was no contemplation if I should or should not attend, because I knew such students would indeed be there.
The opportunity to mentor also extends to the field writ large. I took the opportunity to be a part of the Task Force on Social Justice and Activism, which also provided the opportunity to lead two pre-workshops dedicated to activism and organizing. While it is unfortunate that more people of color did not attend the pre-workshops, it was an opportunity to usher in a new C’s experience that needs to continue to be a part of C’s. For me, this added a different component and layer to C’s, one in which a group of people committed to activism and organizing could come together on common ground and work through difficult questions surrounding what that work looks like and how best to carry out that work amidst institutional and material conditions. I, and countless other as well, put on display that we had something to say and to offer. This was what the pre-workshops were about, about serious and difficult dialogue and coalitional building.
C’s is about an opportunity to give back and to contribute to something much bigger than individual scholarship and much bigger than the organization itself. There is still much work to be done. 2018 was like my other C’s experiences insofar that I still encountered the very casual statement, “Oh, you don’t look like someone who…” or “you teach English, you have an accent…” I say this because it does not matter whether I am in St. Louis or Kansas City, racism and discrimination take place everywhere. Like my other C’s experiences, though, I did not need a “chaperon” to keep me safe as some conversations circulating wanted. There are two issues at hand here that I hope keeps things in perspective.
Nonetheless, having the opportunity to talk about, write about, and present about difficult societal issues within cities like Kansas City, alongside the community, is what makes our work human work. It is what makes our discipline unique from others because we are so much about actions. C’s as a conference, and NCTE as an organization, still has much work left ahead with regard to taking action. But, [we] cannot be absent from that action if change is to take place.