Naomi Raquel Enright lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is a teacher at the Manhattan Country School.
“From one exile to another.” This is what my mother once asked Chinua Achebe to write in her copy of ‘Things Fall Apart.’ I stood right next to her and in that moment I realized the impact of my mother’s experience coming to study at Tulane University from Guayaquil, Ecuador at the age of 19 in 1965. She subsequently married my Jewish-American father, had two bilingual children with multiple citizenships, and was an impassioned, influential English Teacher at the Horace Mann School in Bronx, NY for 10 years. Her entire adult life has been spent in a foreign land, and when she returns to Ecuador, she has now become the foreigner.
In my home growing up discussions of race, culture, and identity were commonplace, and in fact were encouraged as a way for me and my brother to feel confident in a world where we could and often would be questioned or challenged. My parents ensured that my brother and I knew who we were. I am the daughter of an Ecuadorian mother, a Jewish-American father, born in Bolivia, and a citizen of three countries. I have two native languages, and I do not fit any box.
These realities have informed my curriculum for the past seven years as the Upper School Spanish Teacher at the Manhattan Country School. In my classroom the inextricable link between language and culture is consistently made. I encourage my students to think of their own cultural identities, and to look at our society with new eyes. We examine the ethnic diversity within Latin America, and we also examine the reality of Latinos in America. In many ways my Spanish class is more of an Anthropology or Sociology course. I have always known that the culture/identity piece of my curriculum is my real passion.
After attending and presenting at the NYSAIS Diversity Conference in April, it became clear to me that Diversity work is my true professional calling. I feel this even more so now because I am married to an American of Irish and German ancestry and our son is fair-headed, fair-skinned, and blue-eyed. I communicate with him solely in Spanish, my husband in English. Our son is a multiethnic person despite his physical appearance and I will not allow him to define himself otherwise. I realize it is my personal and professional duty to engage in work that will continue to resolve the legacy of racism, and the impact it has on every facet of our society.
I also feel called to this work because of losing my beloved father to pancreatic cancer in November 2011. He died two days before my son’s first birthday. Losing him profoundly changed my life. It has redefined me. As with any tragedy, it forced me to take stock of my life – where I’ve been, where I am, and where I would like to go. My father was always encouraging and supportive of my passion for race, culture, and identity. He and my mother clipped articles for me, bought me books, took me to hear speakers, engaged me in conversation and made it clear to me that I had an uncommon and necessary perspective to offer. My father even said to me on more than one occasion that he could easily see me in an administrative or leadership position in an independent school.
I now see that my work as a Spanish Teacher has been an active learning step toward becoming a Diversity Practitioner. I in fact feel that my own schooling and the work I have done both as a student and as a teacher have also been active learning steps toward working in the Diversity field. I am determined to make this goal a reality and I already see how I am on the correct path.
I am convinced that I have a great deal to offer our students of color, our students of mixed heritage, our students who are transracial adoptees, and the list goes on. I would communicate to these students who so often feel that they are navigating foreign shores that they do in fact belong where they are, that they are entitled to be there, and that they can and will shine there. I would communicate this to them through my work and my commitment, but also as an individual who understands the experience of being the other. I would communicate this to them from one exile to another.