Originally posted on April 15, 2013
Last night we were watching Gabriel (Fluffy) Iglesias’ latest special. Fluffy is a comedian and a hilarious one too. He is also (relatively) clean, which is a plus. I am no prude, but a comic that uses profanity and/or crude behavior continuously just turns me off.
But this is not a post about comedy.
In last night’s special, Fluffy talked a little bit about his personal history, specifically in terms of his struggles to establish himself as a performer. He spoke of his frustration as being labeled as a Latino comic rather than as a good comedian, period. I get him; I really do. Let me say right away that he is obviously proud of his heritage while at the same way acknowledging that it has very little to do with his talent.
So, again, I get him; I truly get him because I feel exactly the same way about being a scientist.
First, dear readers, I want to tell you that I am very proud of where I come from. I was born and raised in the tropical island of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory since 1898, but with close to 400 years of Spanish colonization before that. Even today, the political reality of Puerto Rico is strange, even truly weird to say the least but this is a topic for another day.
The main point is that culturally, I am Hispanic or Latino, however you wish to label me. This includes aspects like habits and customs, food (Puerto Rican food is the best, bar none, period!) and language. For example, even though I am completely fluent in English, my first language is Spanish. Physically, I do not look like the stereotypical “Hispano”, I am a blue-eyed “jincho” (a Puerto Rican term for someone with “fair skin”, incidentally, not usually a compliment), and again, my mother tongue is Spanish.
By the way, how can you tell what is your true first language?
Easy; there are two main ways of knowing. You just need to ask yourself two questions: First, in what language do you count (especially in a hurry)? Second, in what language do you pray?
Anyway, I love my culture, which to up to a certain point defines who. I am, but my culture of origin is does not say everything that there is to say about me. You see, I am a husband, a father, a son, a brother… (You get the picture)…, but I also am a pretty good professor and scientist, etc… who happens to be Puerto Rican.
The point that Fluffy tried to make in his brief monologue spoke to me because sometimes I get irritated when I hear people identifying themselves as “a Puerto Rican Scientist” or something in those lines and I get **really** irritated (starting with the letter “p”) when I am described as a “Puerto Rican Scientist”.
Now, my dear fellow Puerto Rican scient…. Darn it, I did it myself!
The point that I am trying to make is that I am a good scientist because I worked for it; I am a scientist because I was fortunate enough to have a pretty decent mind, the support of a loving family, the financial means (through a MARC predoctoral fellowship –full disclosure– and student loans) and tenacity (the kind of tenacity and work ethic that you absolutely must have to **earn** a PhD) that allowed me to go to graduate school and eventually get my dream job. And I am incredibly grateful for that.
I suspect that the path that led you to your science career is very similar to mine.
We are not good scientists because we’re Puerto Rican. We are good scientist because we took full advantage of the opportunities and abilities given to us. By allowing yourself and others to define you as a Puerto Rican scientist, you are implicitly accepting thinking of yourself in the lines of “I am a good scientist… for a Puerto Rican”.
Now, please tell me, is that the way to gain respect?
Now, all of this also applies to people in all areas, it will also apply even if you are not in the sciences (nobody is perfect… (;-)…)
Let me point out that as a good friend of mine told me, this does not preclude the possibility that good scientists, who happen to be Puerto Rican, African-American (and sometimes both, yes, it’s true, we come in all colors!), any other ethnic / cultural group or even Martians for that matter can serve as role models and good examples for younger minds, and I am all for that!
P.S. If you disagree with me and want to yell at me, fine. Just note that Doña Lucy Ojeda (mi madrecita) had nothing to do with this blogpost… (:-D)
I thank my wife, Liza and my good friend, Dr. Mónica Feliú-Mójer for useful comments.
Picture credit: http://images4.fanpop.com/image/photos