I recall working for a certain public entity once, and learning the term of “public servant”.  That concept appealed to me.  I was a servant to the people.  

This is big for Chicanas.  So much of our education involves the discourse of service.  Those of us who are educated, must, must use our privilege to serve the needs of those who didn’t have that privilege.  It makes real sense.   I distinctly remember the contributions that my extended family made to my education.  Before each school year, they helped me to find school supplies.  My godparents ran a salvage store in Austin and would send me the neatest notebooks.  My aunt would babysit me so that my mom could work longer hours.  Eventually, my grandfather and uncle moved in with us to help around the house.  Each time the discussion of education came up, it was incumbent on me to represent the family, the community. I was the chosen one.

I went to a great college, Mount Holyoke College.  At the time I was one of about 8 other Mexican American students, and 20 Nuyoricans.  Though not surrounded by other Chicanas, I was surrounded by other women of color .  We all had the same mandate:  go to school, learn, and bring it back to serve your community.

Later, in my years as a company member of El Teatro de la Esperanza, I had the good fortune to tour the U.S., performing for all kinds of audiences.  Many times on tour, some Chicano students would host a dinner for us, and we would discuss the role of being a community servant, and those implications in Teatro.  Very scholarly stuff.  And in the end, we would invariably agree “We are here as the chosen ones.  others have sacrificed so that we could get an education.  Our way to repay is to act as humble servants when we return home.  And return home we must.”

The meme of service runs deep.  So, when I became a public servant, I eagerly learned the role of a government employee–the mindset and values of equity, transparency, service.  Drilled into my heart. These are not bad things,  These are great things.  We need these things and we really need them in our public servants.

But the effect on artists is silence.  We learn to silence our own agendas for those of the public.  We learn to silence our voices most of the time.  

As it turns out, it’s rather easy to hate government employees.  Our silence means that our servitude often goes unnoticed, unappreciated, mocked, and even despised.  How can a person be so devoid of personality?  Why would someone care so much about paperwork?  Each morning, I would try to give myself and my boss the pep talk about how we are helping community members navigate the municipal labyrinth.  Each day, I would be called a name, either to my face, or told “you’re not like them.” meaning….city employees?  Latina?  Chicana? Woman? Artist? pues, si, soy.

One night, after many months of being harassed by a board commissioner, I delivered some bad news.  In truth, I can’t remember what it was. His reaction was to throw a garbage can at the meeting, yell out at me, threaten me, and wait in the parking lot while I walked to my car.  It was my boss’s boss who stopped the shenanigans and reminded me, “It doesn’t have to be like this.  You have rights.  You do have a voice.”

She needed me to document the situation, write a simple letter asking for his resignation.  Easy, right?

I remember shaking when I wrote the letter.  I remember reminding myself that under no circumstances is what he did okay.  Over and over I repeated this to myself.  But no matter what, I still kept thinking that I was making too much of a big deal.  I mean, I’m supposed to be a tough Chicana from the Westside (well, Woodlawn.  But it counts!).  Why am I even scared of him? 

Finally, I found a way to write the report in a manner that did not cause a nervous breakdown.  I reminded myself that this wasn’t about me.  That the public deserved a safe and productive working atmosphere.  

In looking back, I wish it had been about me.  I wish I could have claimed my rights for the sake of having them. Instead, the only thing that could motivate me was my sense of protection, of servitude for the community.

Que conviniente, no? My twisted sense of servitude was competing with my sense of logic, and even my sense of survival.

The irony is that the act of questioning myself, of questioning my power and sense of servitude made me feel tan Chicana, como la Madre Virgencita–subservience in every cell, more than any of the years I had spent doing teatro.

This stitch of servitude is a deeper wound than all my cousins’ years spent stealing pencils for me before school, or my mother standing in Project Read lines so that I can get tennis shoes.  It goes back 500 years, to a time when we buried Tonanztin and covered her with Madre Virgencita.

Underground, under temples, under an entire cult of religious fervor to La Madre, lies our other madre, silent, waiting.  Much like the woman who stands triumphantly on top of her, she is also filled with love in her every pore.  Unlike her, she is a woman who understands that action is something measured in decades, that subservience and subversiveness are not theoretically oppositional ideas.

And so, to unseam mis labios, I begin to turn to Tonanztin.  I hesitantly, reluctantly learn about the power of fecundity, fertility….(as a woman who had had no children to this point, I had some issues with Latinas and fertility.).  I begin to practice subservient subversiveness.  I become one of the best double agent you could imagine.