Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Controversia: A "Mexican Enough" Pedagogy?

Is There Something to be Learned from a Mexican-American Journalist/Activist about Pedagogy?

I had the distinct pleasure to hear Stephanie Elizondo Griest read from her most recent book Mexican Enough at the close of Heritage month at the University of Arizona.

And I've been hot on the trail of Latino/Chicano/Mexican/Mestizo/Subaltern pedagogy & perhaps other notions of what makes an educated person, which has perhaps led me to perspectives outside of traditional academia.

I spoke with Gustavo Arellano & he invoked the Aristotelean awareness of taking into account one's audience. I guess it makes sense that this same principle resurfaced in my discussion with Stephanie Griest.

CM: As someone who's become more aware of their cultural heritage later in life, do you keep anything in mind about your cultural perspective as a Mexican-American?

SG: Other than the ["Traveling Sola"] seminars that I teach, I mostly teach memoir writing courses. In the seminars, it's more about empowerment, letting women know how to pack, haggle and conquer any fears.

CM: So you would say that empowerment is a key goal that you try to express?

SG: I've taught memoir writing all across the country--and some memoir courses with an organization called Media Bistro in New York--and the main lesson I've learned from teaching is empathy. When I'm doing these workshops with these people, they are truly exposing themselves. It can be challenging because they have some extremely tragic stories, and you have to evaluate their stories not as a tragedy--with what specifically happens--but for the story--how it's written and presented.

CM: You also have experience as a journalist. Is there an aspect of journalism that you've carried over into the classroom when you're teaching?

SG: The first thing you learn from journalism is that the goal is to tell the story in the best way you can. So I think that's definitely how I approach workshops.

CM: Having also worked as an activist, where you're essentially speaking in front of crowds, trying to educate in a public forum, is there something that helps you to keep in mind?

SG: When going into a given crowd, you don't know their positions on issues. Let's say you're talking about immigration--you have no idea if they're pro-immigration, or vehemently anti-immigration, or a mixture of the two. In that situation, it's best not to focus on the politics. If you focus on a personal story, and get the crowd thinking about the issue on a personal, human level, then you can gently guide them to your own conclusions. There are a few apparitions, but most people have love in their heart, and maybe haven't had the right kind of experience to lead them to just conclusions. And this is also something that I've learned from journalism, which is: everyone thinks they are right. And I think that to become a good writer, or listener, you need to be able to find out why people believe what they do--you maybe find out that a parent died that was in some way related to the issue--people aren't born with these hatreds.Politics & Critical Pedagogy

What Stephanie Elizondo Griest mentions about her experience as an activist remind me of the pitfalls of a new instructor attempting to apply a critical pedagogy, pointing out how hegemonic ideologies marginalize minorities. As with what Griest mentions about speaking in front of a potentially volatile group, it can be dangerous to attempt a critical pedagogy with a class hasn't achieved a sense of community, which could make the students feel threatened, and confrontational, or completely unwilling to participate.

What is an educated person?

This has been an important question that is important for one to consider before developing their teaching philosophy. If you don't look at your students as coming to the class with funds of knowledge that will allow them to contribute, or disregard all other forms of literacy than academic literacy, then you start your students at a deficit for the authority that we try to empower them with in their writing.

Reading Mexican Enough, I find myself becoming more aware of cultural practices, like the use of Coca-Cola in Mayan rituals to substitute for alcohol, or cleaning as a form of making sense of chaos & corruption out of our control. These aren't necessarily concepts that are taught in textbooks, but Griest is the type of author who has the characteristic of an organic-educated person whose curiosity replenishes her thirst for knowledge.

March 13 - 15 - TUCSON, AZ
-- Stephanie will hold several events at the Tucson Festival of Books. For details, visit

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