Tag Archives: Brenda Sendejo

Reflections from Within: Explorations of Spirituality, Identity and Social Justice

December 10, 2012

Photo by Crysti, (Flickr, taken June 19, 2008)

Photo by Crysti, (Flickr, taken June 19, 2008)

By Brenda Sendejo and students at Southwestern University

This trensa, or braid, weaves together the voices of a group of students in this semester’s Latina/o and Latin American Spiritualities course at Southwestern University. The course is cross-listed in anthropology and feminist studies and students come from a wide array of majors. I invited students to reflect upon the ways in which the class and our explorations of spiritualities, identities, ways of knowing and issues of social justice have impacted them. I am grateful to them for “risking the personal”[i] and for serving as teachers to me in so many ways.


I took this class hoping to find something, a tradition, a practice, anything to help me better define myself.  I have always struggled to identify as Latina.  My mother was adamant about it, “you are not white, you are not biracial, que gacho, you are Latina.” Not that I didn’t want to be Latina, but I questioned it sometimes, it was easy to: I was never treated as a Latina by anyone.  I can’t blame people, I don’t speak Spanish and I don’t look the part, my mother’s family gave me nicknames like güera — sometimes it felt like one step above gringa. I never thought my spirituality would give me this identity until I took this class and I realized that this spirituality, this piece of my identity was uniquely Latina, uniquely Mexican. What I now see as the source of my Latina identity I fought growing up. It wasn’t until I was older that I appreciated the relationship with God, the relationship to my ancestors, the relationship to my culture. Bless my mother for her patience because I fought her every day, resisting her spirituality, which I now cling to, for they are the roots of my Latina identity.
–A. O.

My entire life I have grown up with the Catholic faith: going to church every Sunday, being baptized, celebrating my first communion and becoming a godparent in the eyes of the Catholic Church, twice. Now, I find myself going to full moon drumming circles, using sage to cleanse my room and experiencing nature and peace at Alma de Mujer. Part of me wants to embrace the spiritual side, the one that gives me the agency to find my true self and empowers activist work. The other part of me wants to rid itself of the Catholic faith, but this is the side that also represents my family and my family’s faith and comfort, so I hang on to it. “It is this learning to live with la Coatlicue that transforms living in the Borderlands from a nightmare into a numinous experience. It is always a path/state to something else.”[iii] I signed up for this course out of the pure interest in knowing what it was; it was never about knowing who I was. My identity continues to be questioned, even today, but the path that I am on has taught me to not simply continue going through it but the experience of “growing through it.”[iv]

My concern with religion has always been of an epistemological nature. I’ve understood religion as different peoples ways of articulating the world for themselves. I must admit that rooted as I was in a ‘Modern’ way of thinking—that privileges the empirical and scientific over the spiritual—I viewed religion with skepticism and sometimes disdain. However, Latino/a/Latin American Spiritualities provided me with different insights. The colonization of the Americas tends to present itself as the domination of the colonizer over the colonized.  In particular, colonial violence lies in the subject’s (colonizer) attempts to strip the ‘other’ (colonized) of their subjectivity. However, Latino/a/Latin American Spiritualitites, demonstrates that these attempts have failed to be successful. The course provided me with numerous examples of different peoples exercising their subjectivity through their spirituality. In particular, it demonstrated to me how knowledge can be both geopolitical and geohistorical. New identities were crafted in response to attempts of domination, new subjectivities  and new epistemologies. Spirituality has gained new significance for me. It seems to be the manner by which the ‘other’ not only resisted objectification, but carved out a space for itself, providing Latin America with new meaning.

I now truly understand the importance of remembering the past in order to shape a brighter future because of this class. Recently, by overcoming a bout of susto, I have developed a new routine of meditation every morning to align myself in the divine light. My true nature is God, but as I stray from that point of awareness, interesting things happen. Gloria Anzaldúa is an excellent scholar who eloquently explains the experience of conocimiento: the path towards the “Ah HA!” moments in life. In reading her work, I felt a sense of security and ease, in realizing that all of my personal hardships and setbacks were not in vain. Every experience has a purpose, and our lives are valuable, not only to our friends and family, but to society and the entire global population. Stemming further from that note, I now am able to see immediate connections through indigenous practices and beliefs across the world. Eastern religions use similar practices like ridding the body of negative energy, or using prayer or meditation to quiet the mind. Coming from a purely spiritualistic approach, this class has shown me the ways in which scholarship can be applied to spiritual aspects of life.

I grew up praying once a week and spent every day watching out of the corners of my eyes for duendes and earth-bound spirits that my family told me about. Later, my mother began immersing us more in the Catholic faith. I began to study the Catholic Church. Soon I studied any religion: Buddhism, Wicca, etc. In many religions, something would strike a chord with me. The chakras in eastern religions, the worship of a feminine deity in Wicca, the pillars of Islam, all fell in with the way I perceived the world and my existence in it. I believe “God” to be genderless yet able to take on a gender. Catholics perceived God as male, but Wiccans saw the Moon Goddess and the Horned God. Likewise, monotheism, duotheism, polytheism- all rang true. I became confused about how to practice what I believed in. I confirmed Catholic, but my other beliefs remained. This course has given me concepts that eliminate that past confusion. The writers whose theories and practices we have explored, the fusion of indigenous beliefs with more organized religions we have studied, all of it, has enabled me to grow comfortable in my practices and beliefs.

This class has been a unique experience. I have been able to vocalize ideas and emotions that haven’t been validated within my academia before. Meeting other people, students, professors and Austinites, who are “all in the same boat” has renewed a sense of peace within myself and sense of solidarity with my communities. It has given me a framework to think about my experience in activism and spirituality. This and the communities we build give me strength to deal with hardships concerning activism and spirituality. I’d like to share a poem concerning a difficult conversation with a friend over what we discuss in class.

It’s because I like the mountains and you like
the ocean. Both lack oxygen, and we like to have
our breath taken away. Despite our similarities, there are
clear boundaries where water ends and sky begins. I admire
that you haven’t changed as much as I have. You are still
conservative, steady as the tide. But there are problems
bigger than your own anxiety. I was fourteen
the first time I was called an exotic beauty
by your parents. My skin is olive but my eyes
are light; to most who see me, my race doesn’t
compute like they think it should. But I am not made
of palm trees and sand; and while activism
may not be important to you, it is important to me.
And you’re only Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.

From the black they are revealed to me. First, and most clearly my granddad, shining a bright radiant gold.  More vibrant than he ever was in those last few years. He does not say anything; indeed, none of them do, but his smile is the best of family-acceptance, understanding, home. To his right is grandma sitting on that same couch from her trailer behind my grandparents’ house—piles of family albums stacked up beside her, holding the vaguely remembered mythology of my childhood. The next and least clear of the recognizable ones shifts shape—boy then girl, old then new, toddler, youth, each flickering seamlessly into the next. The one who never was. Surrounding these filling in the gaps, linking to the time the living ancients do not remember are the old ones. They are more a feeling than a reality now, I hope of a time to come, a time when I will know them and gain some connection, some rooting to this me that is more than my time here. This is the way I see—my classroom daydream. But I question—imagination, vision or possibility, I wish it the legitimacy of a drumming circle, a prophetic vision, the safety of sacred space-of the earth or church. Still, I do not desire to care. This is what has been given to me or maybe what I have taken for myself. And I dare you to try to assign it a religion. I am embraced by “the practice of imagination. . . its ability to speak to [me] about [my] worlds”, by the notion that “to imagine spiritual mestizaje is in some ways to enact it.”[ii]
– A.H.

Brenda Sendejo is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Southwestern University. She researches religion, spirituality, the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, racialization and feminism. She shares authorship of this week’s Mujeres Talk blog essay with her students.

[i] “Risking the Personal: An Introduction.” Interviews/Entrevistas by Gloria E. Anzaldúa, edited by AnaLouise Keating. New York: Routledge, 1-15.
[ii] Delgadillo, Theresa. Spiritual Mestizaje: Religion, Gender, Race, and Nation in Contemporary Chicana Narrative. Durham: Duke University Press, 2.
[iii] Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Press, 95.
[iv] This was a statement made by A.G. in class.


Sara Ramirez    December 13, 2012 at 9:48 PM

Brenda, it sounds like you’ve impacted these students for life! Thank you and congratulations!

On Doing Work that Matters and Sustaining Ourselves in the Interim

May 28, 2012


By Brenda Sendejo

It’s a week since the 2012 El Mundo Zurdo Conference at UTSA. I feel a rejuvenated sense of purpose about my work, my heart is full, and my mind and soul inspired. I sat at my desk working on an essay today, and as I did, I periodically glanced over at the brightly painted rock I got at the conference. I got the beautiful rocks with quotes by Gloria Anzaldúa for friends, and minutes before the conference ended decided to go ahead and get one for me. The lavender rock with the words of Gloria Anzaldúa, “Do Work that Matters” called out to me as the one I should keep (Zapotec curandera Doña Enriqueta Contreras once taught me that lavender is the color of healing). The rock serves as a reminder to me that I do the work that I do because I believe that it matters and because I hope that it makes a difference in the world. The rock is also a reminder to myself to stay on that path and focused on doing the work as a teacher and scholar. Because, while it’s a rewarding path and at times a healing path, it’s not an easy one. I reflect here on the conference, thinking about the stakes involved in doing work that matters and how we sustain each other and ourselves in the process.


At the opening plenary of the conference Northern New Mexico College President, Dr. Rusty Barceló discussed what I view as doing work that matters. She talked about working to diversify the academy as we make our way down our individual — and often lonely — paths at our perspective institutions of higher learning. We are often the only, or one of few women, people of color, and/or LGBTQ staff, faculty, or students “at the table,” whether in a meeting of college presidents, department meetings, diversity enrichment committees, or in our classes. Dr. Barceló talked about the meaning of diversity and instances where we might be “at the table” with regards to representation, but have no voice. Engaging head on with issues of diversity means more than increasing the number of faculty and students from underrepresented groups at our institutions. It’s about the inclusion of our voices and responding to our calls for equality, inclusion, and an end to institutional violence. It’s about working to ensure recognition for the diversity work we do in our teaching and research at tenure and promotion time, and it’s about helping to promote the idea that a real commitment to diversity — in perspectives, life experiences, and beliefs — must permeate through all facets of an institution.


Doing work that matters can be frustrating and draining. It requires opportunities for us to rejuvenate our spirits through community, at conferences such as the MALCS Summer Institute, SSGA and NACCS. In the interim between seeing our comadres and compadres whose support, encouragement, spirits, and intellect fill us, in between moments when students remind us that the struggles we faced and continue to face as women, people of color, and queer people in the academy are worth it, and in between the inspirational conversations with colleagues who “get it,” we need to cultivate strategies for sustaining ourselves, strategies for being in those spaces and doing work that matters. I would guess that tenured professors, junior faculty, community members, graduate students and undergraduates all experience those in between spaces. I’m fortunate in that I possess the resources to attend conferences, trips to Anzaldúa’s grave in Hargill, a cell phone to call my comadres from grad school when I need a little pick me up and reassurance. But what about when we don’t have those resources in place to lift our spirits? Where do we turn in the interim to help pick us up in the struggle to do work that matters? Where do those who don’t have access to conferences and comunidad nearby find fulfillment in moments of alienation, homophobia, sexism, racism, in our hometowns, universities, communities, familias? I write this for those who have been or are or will be in that in between space and don’t have those resources. I was there once, and I so I offer our community an invitation. It’s an invitation to share via this space, to share your virtual words of encouragement and consejos, strategies for how you sustain your mind, body, and spirit in the interim – between now and the next conference, or between now and any other moment that feeds you. And so I put this out to you. I ask you to respond to this blog entry with your strategies for continuing to hold on to that light from within. Some of us have the privilege to get to attend conferences. Others do not. Others are alone, sin comunidad, fighting the fight and I write this for you. There is a lot of healing that needs to happen, mentoring, guidance and this is just one small, humble attempt to see if we can work as the strong community we are to offer support to one another in this wonderful space that has been created.


Dr. Barceló offered a reminder that as we pursue our career and personal goals as we all do, that we keep this awareness about us; keep an eye towards working for inclusion and diverse ways of thinking and being; for inclusivity and creating change. While it’s not an easy place to be, perhaps we can locate allies and continue to use this and other spaces of community to remind us that we are not alone as we navigate nepantla towards the goal of shifting consciousness and conocimiento. It may feel like a lofty goal at times, but it is one in which I have much hope, in particular as I reflect back on Dr. Barceló’s talk, on the numerous fierce and stimulating presentations, performances, and experiences at the conference, and the work of Gloria Anzaldúa, constant reminders, like my lavender rock, to keep moving forward in doing the work that matters.

Brenda Sendejo is on the faculty of Southwestern University and an At-Large Representative of MALCS. 


  1. Mujeres Talk Moderator  June 2, 2012 at 5:59 AM

    Thanks Brenda for your blog essay. I’ve been thinking about your question in terms of the differing missions of MALCS, SSGA and NACCS. Whereas SSGA is all about examining Anzaldúan thought and practice at the conference and in publications, one of MALCS’s purposes is to support and sustain us both at the Summer Institute and in the interim so I appreciate your work in doing that in this forum.

  2. Bren  June 15, 2012 at 12:20 PM

    thank you so much for your comment. i agree that MALCS is an important space for sustaining ourselves, and as i’ve heard from a few people since this essay posted, there are many out there who are seeking out strategies for doing so. so i hope this is a conversation we can continue, both online and at the institute.

“This Is Us”: A Legacy of Mentorship and Scholarship con Corazón

April 2, 2012

By Brenda Sendejo

On March 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, the 2012 Tejas Foco Regional Conference of The National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS) convened at Texas State University, San Marcos.  Scholars, writers, artists and community members gathered to recognize and celebrate scholarship, art and knowledge of nuestra cultura. Over 200 conference participants attended more than 60 panel sessions with a rich array of topics. I participated in an intergenerational panel of Chicanas with two students from our university and feminist scholar and historian, Martha P. Cotera. Through testimonio, personal narrative and historical analysis, panelists showed how Our Lady of Guadalupe-Tonantzin has acted as a symbol of Chicana identity and catalyst for social change over three generations. The perspectives on the intersection of spirituality and social justice spoke to the conference theme, “This Is Us: Cómo Nos Ven, Cómo Nos Vemos / Changing Chican@ Identity in the 21st Century.” Our respective lenses on our relationships to La Virgen reflected who we are Chicanas today, and how we have developed politically, spiritually and intellectually over the decades. But our experience at the 2012 Tejas Foco also served to show how, as a Chicana/o community we believe in and are committed to mentoring and producing scholarship con corazón.

I invited Susi and Melissa to participate on the panel because I had seen how deeply Chicana feminist scholarship has impacted them and resonated with their lived experiences. I suspected attending their first Chicana/o Studies conference could be a powerful experience for the students, and this proved to be true. Being with them at the Foco took me back to my first MALCS conference several years ago, where I found a space of validation and community where discussions around integrating our scholarship and teaching with activism were central. I continue to be inspired by mujeres whose paths I have crossed through MALCS and by those in the NACCS community. Through these communities I’ve learned that intellect has little meaning, unless it is passed down to future generations used to make a difference in the world. And, importantly, that it must be motivated by corazón. This year’s Tejas Foco was my first opportunity as an educator to see how the impact of this on my students.

I recognized Susi and Melissa’s starry-eyed looks upon meeting Martha and later, other scholars whose work had impacted them so, as to this day I still get that same look in my eyes. I watched as the students’ eyes lit up upon walking into the ballroom and hearing mariachis playing the familiar, “Volver.” They were in a space where they were in the majority, rather than the norm of being in the minority on our campus. These first generation college students have been involved in various struggles and social justice work over their lives and at our predominantly white liberal arts college. Therefore, entering the conference, a space of acceptance where they, their stories, cultural heritage, and histories were embraced and validated, was a moving experience for them, and for me to witness. Our panel presentation would prove to be a similar experience.

The panel audience of approximately 12 attendees was comprised of scholars, including MALCSistas, Profesora Norma Cantú and conference organizer, Profesora Ana Juárez, students, community members, and two members of our campus community. The panel itself represented a legacy of Chicana feminist scholarship and mentorship. We explored the ways that the historical and cultural legacy of Guadalupe-Tonantzin has manifested in the social activism and spiritual identities of generations of Chicanas since the movimiento. Martha discussed how La Virgen saved second wave feminism, Susi presented on how La Virgen aids her in moments of choque as a Chicana activist, and Melissa discussed how she invokes her mother and her teachings of La Virgen in persevering as an activist. I discussed teaching about Guadalupe-Tonantzin to Chicana/o students through a spiritual activist pedagogy that informs our understanding of Chicana identity.

Sharing their personal narratives for the first time in public elicited, as one would expect, strong emotions from both Melissa and Susi. As others and I have done when talking about the difficult and empowering moments in our lives, the women shed tears. I recall the saying, “Tears are not a sign of weakness, but a sign that you have been strong for too long.” These women epitomize this kind of strength, and it was apparent that the audience could feel this as well. One of the students, overcome with emotion, was having difficulty continuing on with her paper. Dr. Emilio Zamora assured her from the audience that she was doing just fine, and would later tell her that her tears were a sign of maturity. I watched as more such moments of support unfolded, as in a tender moment where Martha told a joke about a statue of La Virgen in Crystal City that lightened the mood and almost brought us all to tears of laughter. In the Q & A Dr. Cantú assured one student self conscious about her writing not to worry, that she was fine and that she can just get a good editor, for the ideas, the feeling, the intellect, the corazón were there. Following the presentation they received well-deserved accolades for their presentations.

My heart grew full witnessing this outpouring of communal support for Susi and Melissa and their work and lives, and I am truly grateful for a wonderful Tejas Foco Conference whose organizers and attendees embraced student research and growth. Melissa and Susi will carry this experience with them always, as will I. Moments like these and working with students like them help keep my spirit in tact in the academy; they are healing for me, and, I hope for them as well. Our panel on Guadalupe-Tonantzin’s continuity as a symbol of Chicana strength, perseverance, ability to overcome adversity, and as a catalyst for social justice was in itself a symbol of these things. This legacy of mentoring and doing scholarship con corazón characterizes us as a Chicana/o community. This is us.

Brenda Sendejo is on the Faculty of Southwestern University.


  1. Anonymous  April 10, 2012 at 7:36 AM

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  2. Bren  May 3, 2012 at 3:39 PM

    Thank you so much, Deena! This means a great deal from you, someone who has modeled the kind of mentoring and scholarship development of which I wrote. I feel so fortunate to be a part of this comunidad.

  3. Anonymous  May 15, 2012 at 11:45 AM

    So beautifully expressed, Brenda; and such amazing things you are doing for SU students…This is what anthropology should look like; indeed scholarship and the academic world in general should model itself on this kind of integration of community, reflection and activism ….You rock! Your SU colleague, Mel

  4. Anonymous  June 2, 2012 at 6:50 AM
    From Deena Gonzalez on April 10, 2012 7:36 AM
    Thank you, Brenda, for sharing this information and in this format; so many faculty, students, and staff of MALCS continue this tradition, enacting the two things consistently at once, mentoring awarenesses and developing scholarship. They go hand and hand as MALCS and NACCS have shown over the decades. There is a lot of work and strength going on in Texas and it is great to learn about it! Saludos, Deena Gonzalez (CA, Loyola Marymount University)