Josephine MÉNDEZ-NEGRETE, associate professor in Mexican American studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio, received her PhD at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Duke University Press published Las Hijas de Juan: Daughters Betrayed as a revised edition in 2006. Her current manuscript A Life on Hold: Living with Schizophrenia, a testimony of schizophrenia in the context of lived experience, documents her eldest son’s and her family’s struggles with the illness.
I Am Driven By | My sense of social justice and my desire to leave a better world for those who are coming behind us—that’s what drives me.
My Highlights | The highlights of my life and career begin with my passion for education—a trajectory that despite a fractured journey of having had to repeat the sixth grade three times, twice in Mexico and once in California—I have been able to obtain a higher education. Reading, learning, and understanding cultures and societies are central to my everyday relationships with others as well as with me. I have long recognized that intelligence comes in many different shapes and forms, it’s not just about book knowledge but it is also about self- and others-understanding that provide us a forum for making change in a world that continues to decay as times goes by, especially ecologically and environmentally. Integrity is key to all I do, personally or professionally. As a woman of color who immigrated with her family as a child without documents, I do not always reflect the image or the expectations others may have of someone who has achieved my educational and professional goals. Thus, I conduct myself in the most authentic and compassionate of manners, so as to model by behavior what I expect of myself as I inspire others to follow suit.
The Difference Between Good And Great | Persistence and tenacity, with a vision to pursue the greater good over personal gain, are what allows for an individual or a collectivity to create change. For me, giving up is never an option, especially when we perceive all doors to have been close; there is always another way, an alternate route to take when we want to make a difference. This also implicates not dismissing the “no” or “inability” messages that others place in our path. We are the ones who decide when and how we get things done and if we have sufficiently tried all that we could to create a different reality for those who are the most marginalized or oppressed by the cultural, economic, and social forces that would limit our ability to reach our dreams.
A Key Talent | For me, it has been the capacity to keep going and the ability to not give up on achieving a dream because things that are hard to accomplish are the most rewarding to complete. We are not alone or the only ones with dreams. We need people to support and inspire us and we must surround ourselves with those who bring out the best in us—male or female, relative or stranger, professional or laypersons regardless of their social position or social location. Once you have surveyed the options, do an inventory of what you bring and figure out all the possible barriers or limitations you may confront. Decide on what route to take, as you elicit support from those individuals who believe in you. Trust. Confide. Ask for support. But, most of all, do not give up on your dreams until you have done everything possible to attain them.
The Characteristics Of Success | I have a strong sense of justice. While life may not be fair or just, I believe in justice and fairness and often take on life with those precepts in mind. I am an honest woman of integrity. When I give my word, I keep it and follow through. I am my word. I will not taint myself or mar my name by undermining or sabotaging its value. I act on my beliefs, always informed by what I would want others to do in pursuit of the greater good. Clearly, I learn more than I teach, as those who take courses with me or learn from me bring a collective knowledge that exponentially expands as we exchange what we know. I am your mirror and you reflect who I am at my best. For that reason, I try to walk my walk and talk my talk, so as not to compromise the legacies that have been left to me from my maternal and paternal ancestors whose Italian, French, American Indian, and African ethnic knowledge I carry in my relationship to myself and those around me.
Principles I Live By | Treat others, as you would want to be treated. Do not leave for tomorrow what you could do today—except when you are writing a book. Err on being compassionate and giving. Be open to learning from others, as knowledge and wisdom can be found where we least expect it. Love paves the way to health and social change. Be honest. Speak with frankness without injuring or upsetting others. Accept your mistakes and do everything you can to correct them.
Critical Skills I Develop | To continue honing my ability to communicate orally and in writing, so as to impart the life lessons that have made me the person I am today. To shed the insecurity that comes from growing up as a migrant farm-working child of a despotic sociopath who could have destroyed my family and me. To more readily believe in myself as I believe in others with whom I interact. I have contributions to make and have worked to share those, with the knowledge that we all bring something to the table to create the learning/knowledge environment we have imagined.
Dealing With Doubt | This is an interesting question. Because of the strong women who influenced me in my early years (great aunts Rosenda and Hermelinda Mendez), I had no difficulty imagining I could achieve what I set out for myself. They believe I was intelligent, creative, and very adept at relating to my peers and the adults of our community. The fear fueled me to protect my sisters and me. The negativity became irrelevant in the context of a domestic violence war with which we contended in our daily lives—if we could survive that, we could do anything. In the United States, and under the control of my father, I learned to think in opposition to the messages he conveyed to me about my worth. If he expressed that I could not, I would show him I could. Always in opposition, I was like the little train that could and who would show them that I could realize whatever dream I had for myself. I painted. I wrote poetry. I learned how to sew and repurpose fancy used clothing into new garments for my sisters and myself, so that we did not look like mendicants who could not properly dress because we were poor.
Performing At My Peak | I engage in self-talk and affirmations. Hold myself to deadlines and let others know that I have an up-and-coming deadline because vocalizing it holds me accountable to achieving it.
My Future Dreams And Ambitions | I still want to stage a full-blown play of Toña La Negra: Cancionera Nací—María del Carmen Peregrino Alvarez—a Mexican interpreter of some of the greatest 20th-century composer of Latin America such as Agustin Lara.
The Meaning Of Life | Life is the path to knowledge where we find the love and passion to make a difference in the lives of others.
The Best Advice I’ve Received | It’s not what they say about you that matters it’s what you do that counts. Be true to yourself and your beliefs will inform your actions.
Advice On Building Wealth | If material wealth is what you seek, put your eye on the prize and do all you can to get it done without hurting others in the process.
On Inspiring Others | We share a vision in common. We are inspired to make a difference. We join together to make our common dream a reality.
I Am Inspired By | My male children, my husband, mother and all my sibling, along with every student who has crossed my path at The University of Texas at San Antonio, San José State University, and Our Lady of the Lake University, as well as those community activist and artists who are engaged in creating a just and fair world for others.
The Legacy I Would Like To Leave | My words in Las hijas de Juan: Daughters Betrayed and A Life On Hold: Living with Schizophrenia. Other work will speak for itself once I have departed this world.