Chicana · COVID-19

5) When Tenure Goes Queer: “Surprise! You’re Retired” or How to Proceed If the Pandemic Has Forced Your Departure

In post #4, I wished for queer mestiza sci-fi dreams that would help me integrate my computer/tech and Chicana feminist worlds. That is a big dream given that Chicanx digital visibility has not increased much in the 41 years since my first computer at age 13. The pandemic has revealed a digital divide in communities of color where academics are teaching via technology when their students lack access to the required resources. Without a community of Chicana feminists analyzing technology, I feel more alone than ever.    

Serendipitously, I found a handwritten note to me from the late Dr. Lora Romero. It reads, “To Lisa, With cariño + good luck in the future. Lora.” The note was written at the top of her essay entitled, “‘When Something Goes Queer’: Familiarity, Formalism, and Minority Intellectuals in the 1980s.” A few minutes after finding her note, I opened the regular mail to find an AARP article entitled, “Surprise! You’re Retired: How to Proceed If the Pandemic Has Forced Your Departure.” While the AARP article focuses on financial planning, the title struck a blunt and direct blow, and it exposed my shame at losing my hard fought tenure because of budgetary issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In my state of despair, the always kind Lora Romero visited me through her writing. 

Romero’s essay explains a pattern of minority intellectuals who build their authority by placing themselves between academia and their community by rhetorically placing community in opposition to consciousness. Rereading Romero helps me make sense of being a Chicana feminist intellectual outside of the accreditation afforded by academic tenure. Her life helps me to understand what is at risk; although as a daughter of a Chicano Movement activist, I know my path has always been made possible by “radical” academics who were expelled from the university.

Romero analyzes Moraga’s Loving in the War Years to illuminate how Moraga uses her distance from the Chicano community to situate her critique of the Chicano Movement’s sexism and homophobia. Romero examines work by Donna Haraway, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Barbara Johnson to find that “difference critics have used the logic of defamiliarization in an attempt to transform what might be seen as a political liability into a cognitive asset” (129). The essay ends by declaring “hope that in the 1990s institutional circumstances will allow intellectuals writing on minority cultures to create an alternative rhetoric of accreditation, one which they can put to use in transforming the educational system and making it more responsive to the needs of the ethnic community” (137). 

After reading Romero, I noticed that the AARP article includes an image of a gift box complete with a COVID-19 shaped balloon and a balloon with a “Good Luck” message. Because of Lora’s note, I realize I am transforming tragedy. Recognizing that I am no longer inside an academic institution, I feel the pull of Althusser, Gramsci, Spivak, Cornel West, and theorists like Romero. I feel far more hesitant to give up and leave academia for a computer programming or database job. Her writing better enables me to make sense of my feelings about chasing tenure again. I feel Lora looking on in support as I apply her analysis to Gloria Anzaldua’s writing in hopes that the concept of mestiza consciousness can help me continue to find my way even when tenure goes queer. 

Work Cited

Romero, Lora. “’When Something Goes Queer’: Familiarity, Formalism, and Minority Intellectuals in the 1980s.” The Yale Journal of Criticism 6, no. 1 (1993): 121–141. Google Scholar


One thought on “5) When Tenure Goes Queer: “Surprise! You’re Retired” or How to Proceed If the Pandemic Has Forced Your Departure

  1. Hi Lisa,
    I miss you my friend. You have always thought outside the box, unafraid of the unknown. Even as I read this post, you’re examining possibilities that others might not have seen. Cherrie had to distance herself to see and understand the movement and her place within it. You’re on to something Lisa. Explore it further…I want to read more. Abrazos, Adriana

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