Right before my grandpa passed away, he made it clear how unimpressed he was by my early academic career. I was a young graduate student trying to convince someone who owned a bar on Olympic Blvd. in East LA for over 50 years that what I was doing was different or important. He was a man easily turned off by self-importance, and he was rightfully as interested in hearing about my dad’s night at the Stadium as he was in hearing about some guy named Wittgenstein and some book called the Tractatus. (My dad, who calls himself the “Peanutman,” has been throwing peanuts at Dodger Stadium for 41 years). If I had any talents, he said before he passed, they were not for me.
Like my partner in self-torture (see Carlos’s blog, June 3), I have also taken the long way back to Mexican and Latin American philosophy. For better or worse, I also wrote a dissertation on something seemingly unrelated to our project, and like the rest of us, I had to, even though I knew that I wanted to work on Mexican philosophy eventually. As several of the already-established Latin American philosophers in the US know all too well, doing so was the price of admission, and anyway, our dissertations were and are not completely unrelated to our aims as Latino/a philosophers. But what does this have to do with my grandpa?
As we begin this project publicly and in earnest, I feel the need to state up front why I’m engaged in this huge task. It is not a natural impulse or obvious course. Again, I’m the son of a peanut-throwing carpenter, who’s the son of a bartender. Nor is it just for me. From the beginning, I’ve had this nagging feeling that this may be a huge professional mistake and it may turn out to be. Instead, I’m doing it because I’m convinced that studying philosophy is a huge privilege that is surreptitiously and unnecessarily being denied to people like us. Too many minorities are excluded–and/or exclude themselves, a topic for another post–because they do not recognize themselves in the “profession.” So our goal, in a word, is to do our part to make philosophy available to people like us, to make it slightly less foreign and to let people decide for themselves what its value is or isn’t.
My grandpa tended bar for half a century. He carried cases of beer back and forth and hired a band to play the norteño music that drew his crowd. But he also read the encyclopedia and, as I would later find out, would buy piles and piles of the cheap Dover editions of the classics for kids in the neighborhood who would probably never read them. In the end he was a mystery to me and he was probably a mystery to himself. But we shared something and this is my version of handing out the Dover classics.