Friday, November 21, 2008

Controversia: Teaching Chicano/a Lit

Can teaching Chicano/a lit empower students?

When I corresponded with Professor Frederick Luis Aldama at Ohio State about his perspective with regards to pedagogy, he pointed me in the direction of his book Brown on Brown.

In the conclusion, Aldama touches on relationships of pedagogy and power in the classroom when he writes:

"If authority is everywhere, the it is nowhere. There must be an identifiable center of authority in the classroom that provides useful limits and rules as required by its respective disciplinary methodological contours for students to learn and become independent thinkers...

"And to suggest that power in the classroom is everywhere follows a belief that power is everywhere. This is necessary, of course, if one believes that we can enact resistance and political intervention through language and cultural phenomena...Perhaps the best way for us to further democratic goals is to encourage the learning of methods that can verify facts to build our understanding not just of Chicano/a literature and film but of the world we inhabit" (Aldama 145-146).

Aldama brings up the fact that we can hardly circumvent a hierarchy, in which we are a part. The term "empowerment" can be often-times overused, but it could be worth noting that we empower students to take part in democratic processes that don't readily lend themselves to the classroom.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Controversia: Systemic Corruption

Can pedagogy compensate for systemic corruption?

In a chapter of Stephanie Elizondo Griest's Mexican Enough, which describes a protest by educators in Mexico City, Griest not only touches on a quarter of Mexican educators teaching classes of more than three grade levels, but she also addresses the issue of corruption.

Griest speaks with an employee of the striking Noticias newspaper & the reporter explains: "I didn't pass the university exam. Hardly anybody does. If five hundred take it, only like seventy will pass--and those who do usually bribe someone. The system here is so corrupt. If you don't have money, you can't get a degree, and without a degree, you can't get a good job, and without a good job..." (201).

Part of what's alarming about Mexico's education is perhaps that the rhetoric surrounding education is similar to our own regarding jobs. The correlation between money and a degree still remains a mental/financial roadblock for underrepresented students.

Ghost in the Machine

Anthropologist, scholar and Assistant Professor at Columbia University, Nicholas De Genova spoke this past Thursday at the U of A & I was excited to hear his discussion: "The Ghost in the Machine: Migrant Labor and the Homeland Security State."

An apt analogy, the title "Ghost in the Machine" reminds me of when Richard Rodriguez describes in Brown going to see Malcolm X speak and noting, "No one seemed to notice my brown in the crowd." Rodriguez points out that in a black & white discourse, brown is often excluded.

De Genova is concerned with problematicizing the notion of citizenship--post 9/11 & the Bush rhetoric of 'Everything has changed' has rolled back the privacy & freedom relating to citizenship--De Genova posits that we need only look to the treatment/experiences of "illegal" citizens to see into the future of our "legal" citizenship.

The two-tiered justice system is also a concern of De Genova because it further splits the binary of "legal/illegal" into "good-illegal/bad-illegal." The supposed "bad-illegals" are those terrorists lurking in the shadows, but the reification of the notion of the "bad" and "unlawful" illegal has resulted in the raids of meat-packing plants where the undocumented laborers are more often dispersed to other work places. Instead of know terrorists, hard working laborers trying to start over are harassed, punished twice for past offenses.

Relating back to the title, during the Q&A, there was discussion of how laborers are locked into meat-packing factory/warehouses during the night hours & released just before dawn. It was poignant to hear how the metaphor of living in the shadows has become a lifestyle forced on undocumented workers.

De Genova's discussion navigated through a complex system of opposing political ideologies & didn't attempt to give an easy answers, but ended on a message of hope, reinforcing that "Freedom is a practice that has to be exercised."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Controversia: Julio Cammarota

How does pedagogy change when working with socio-economically challenged Mexican-American students?

This is a question I found myself thinking when I went to speak to a Latin-American Literature class at Cholla High School, where the teacher pointed out a few of his 'better students' who were earning Cs.

From my experience attending school in Ontario, California (with a similar working-class population that didn't emphasize education), I wondered what is it that educators can do to connect with potentially resistant students.

I had the opportunity to see Julio Cammarota speak at the U of A Little Chapel, where he spoke about the research that he did for his book Sueños Americanos: Barrio Youth Negotiating Social and Cultural Identities.

Cammarota did his research in northern California, working with youth in Latin American communities, talking to them about their different reasons for not continuing with education.

Issues of profiling seemed to be a common thread amongst most of the males & females were spoken to as though them becoming pregnant was an inevitability (a sentiment that I've heard is also echoed in the Mexican-American Tucson community.)

What most seemed to stand out about Cammarota's research was that he found that cultural identity played a large role in how the high school students, with whom he spoke, thought of education. Cammarota found that if the students found a link between their education and helping their family, they were more likely to become invested in education.

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

Se Llama Obama

¡Felicidades Presidente Obama!

The world rejoices...

Monday, November 3, 2008

Post-Colonial Side Note

When I read this weekend that Tony Hillerman passed away, it made me curious to know about the perception of him in the indigenous community.

Said has me continually second guessing myself, making me wonder: 'Am I essentializing someone if I look for a representative of a community to speak on its behalf?'

Throwing caution to the wind, I looked to one of my favorite writers (to read & teach) Sherman Alexie.

When googling "Alexie thinks of Hillerman," I came across an older interview in the, in which Alexie comments on the work of Hillerman:

"Tony Hillerman's work [mystery novels set around reservations] should be classified as what it is - colonial literature... I think there's an arrogance amongst white Americans about their relationship to the oppressed people that prevents them from seeing themselves as coming from a position of privilege."

When asked what non-Indian artists who use Indian stories for their art should do to take themselves out of the position of the colonialist, Alexie recommends donating 10% to the tribe, or Indian artist funds (Alexie sits on a board & said he's never heard Hillerman's name mentioned as donating.)

To end on a fun note, here's Alexie's recent appearance on the Colbert Report. ¡Disfruta! (He's pushing his newest book)