Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Holiday Break Fiction

Te extraño ficción
It happened that I saw Manuel Munoz read a few weeks back at U of A. He did an amazing reading from The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue, but I picked up a copy of Zigzagger on the recommendation of a friend.

In a week or so, I hope to have my life back & a little time to get into some fiction...

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)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Controversia: Subaltern Studies Pt. 2

Is there a Subaltern pedagogy & how does the field influence the instruction?

Borderlands & Subaltern rhetorician/scholar Damian Baca, author of Mestiz@ Scripts, Digital Migrations, and the Territories of Writing (New Concepts in Latino American Cultures) (summary & review) took some time to provide me with his perspective on pedagogy.

Having had a distinct interest in post-colonial literature & criticism, I am curious about the field of how Subaltern studies would influence the pedagogical practices of those in the field.

CM: I was wondering if there's a particular pedagogy that goes along with Subaltern Studies. Do you find yourself using a particular lens through which you approach teaching?

DB: My own interpretation is an epistemological shift of placing the "subaltern" at the very center of intellectual and creative thought. Unlike others in rhet/comp, I apply this to both teaching *and* scholarly inquiry. Rhet/comp "writes about" the disenfranchised within U.S. borders, but they do not "think and write from" subaltern and hemispheric perspectives... Another reason has to do with the dominant Eurocentric pedagogy and history of the field... The field turns to "whitened" Greeks and Anglo-Saxon thinkers and Western European philosophers and Euro-American pedagogues. What if we flipped the script? What if we learned nothing at all about Western-Anglo civilization other than the literacy of poor white folks in Appalachian countrysides? And then spent the rest of our studies learning about Maya writing and Aztec philosophy and Chicano rhetorics and AfroCuban anthropology? This would require an epistemological shift of global proportions.

CM:I spoke with other Borderlands rhetoricians who finds a feminist lens reoccurs in her different pedagogical practices.

DB: For me, questions of classroom pedagogy are always linked to political commitment, ethical practice, and intellectual investment. In other words, pedagogy goes far deeper than "how do I teach my first-year students of color?" inquiries that dominate the field. Notice how nobody asks about a third-year pedagogy for students of color, or a pedagogy for first-year graduate students, or a "minority" graduate student's right to their own pedagogy?

There's something empowering about the term 'minority grad student', no? This makes me wonder if there have been courses that I responded with more interest to given the teaching style of the professor. More later...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Controversia: Subaltern Studies

Is there a Subaltern Pedagogy & would it lend itself to a Latin Lens?

When comparing pedagogical approaches, it's easy to become caught in a negative capability of differences and similarities within Western philosophy & application that the perspective of the subaltern is ignored. Is it a splitting of pedagogical hairs if the comparisons vary in slight degrees of Critical, Latino, Chicano & LatCrit categories? Is there a way to come at teaching from the literacies of the under-represented and speak from a classical education/codex literacy that privileges the marginalized who are almost never heard from?

Some Latino pedagogies emphasize what can be called funds of knowledge, or the literacies that students learn outside the classroom, like corridos & traditional wisdoms that are passed down through informal-mama-in-the-kitchen-wrapping-tamales-as-she-tells-it-how-it-is. From what I understand of Subaltern Studies, it seems as though these funds of knowledge are followed back to the classical roots of indigenous knowledge & wisdom that was oppressed during colonization.

Subaltern is defined as:

Subaltern Studies seeks to engage the subaltern as an ally and participant in the academic process through modified research methodologies that describe the subject on its own terms, instead of recasting it as the “other” of the dominant culture. This means that academics must both modify their own methodologies and perspective to allow for the differences between their hegemonically centered view and that of their subjects and seek to establish new relationships between themselves and the subaltern populations that they are studying (Latin American Subaltern Studies Group 121).

A colleague and Subaltern scholar at U of A referred me to this extremely informative Subaltern site at OSU.

Unlike critical pedagogies that challenge the dominant/hegemonic beliefs, a Subaltern approach to pedagogical practices seems to draw attention to pictographic texts that require different kinds of literacy that simultaneously possess deeper wells of knowledge than generally celebrated when the literature of people of color is the focus.

More later...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Controversia: Tex[t]-Mex

Is There a Tex[t]-Mex Pedagogy?
I hardly think it's possible to speak about Bill "Memo" Nericcio without stealing some of the artwork from his website to give my humble blog some sabor.

I not only enjoyed Nericcio's book, but I took it a step further & wrote a review that I'm sure I'll add at a later date. Right now, I'm still hot on the trail of a tride, true & tested Latino pedagogy. For all of the Chicano Arellano dispenses, he was wise enough to refer me to Nericcio because education isn't his forte.

Writing from deep in the borderlands, I communicated with Nericcio visavi e-mail, to which Nericcio was more than generous with his response. Without further adieu, Nericcio's pedagogical perspective:

CM: My name is Cruz Medina, a first year PhD student at the University of Arizona. A
few months back, I spoke with Gustavo Arellano at one of his readings, and he recommended *Tex[t]-Mex* to me when I told him that I was going to begin earning my PhD in Rhet/Comp. I'm actually writing though because I had a few pedagogical questions that I hoped to hear your perspective on because of your experience as a Mexican-American having taught in different English departments.

Dr. William Nericcio: i am honored!

CM: In the field of English, where teaching writing can go along with the teaching of close reading practices, is there a way to apply a pedagogical Latino lens that may be critical of canonical texts while avoiding the controversy of teetering into cultural studies that some departments try to distance themselves from?

WN:yes, it can be done--look at my "mainstream" intro
to lit class i am teaching... it feature 6 or 7 chicano texts,
but by stressing the theme of NAKEDICITY, i sidestep
the whole canon issue..... but we are doing cultural studies,
i have to confess.... you could do my same class and kill
the movies and artbooks i imagine.....

look at some of my other classes here:
babel, worked as well.... american lit survey with healthy dose of latino magic

CM: Is there an alternative pedagogical standpoint that you have taken which allows
you to teach subversive/controversial/critical material to audiences of predominantly Caucasian students who may be resistant?

WN:stress psychoanalysis and sexuality.... throw in canonical with raza, have fun.... it seems to work for me....

CM: Is there a simple answer? like humor??

WN: yes! humor works! comedy..... always a better way to go than righteousness!

CM: Or is the answer a much less static stance that maintains some fluidity that allows for greater adaptation?

WN: call to chat sometime... the number's below....

As you can see, I have some websites to check out. But I do feel a bit more grounded. With an
undergraduate degree in German, I have to admit that psychoanalysis comes as something of a second nature & sexuality provides an approach to notions of identity that arise in 'raza' texts. I'm planning on teaching the film Amores Perros in my next unit & there's a noteworthy relationship forged between the subaltern hero & the homosexual head of an underground
dog-fighting circuit. The film takes place in 'DF,' Mexico City, where machismo and the staggering economic divide position both characters as 'others.'

Nericcio suggests Babel, which is the most recent film by the same director of Amores Perros, which makes me feel like I'm on the right path. Babel deals with more obvious issues of disconnectedness of language, save for the humanistic bond between people, in addition to excellent issues of border politics.

More to report after I check out Nericcio's sites...

Update 27 Oct: What Nericcio refers to as Babel is the overarching theme that he uses to teach a lit course with an amazing mix of Kerouac, Cisnero & other influential writers.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Controversia: ¿Que es?

An Introduction

So I've been teaching first year composition, and I've become curious about the pedagogical practices of Latin-American, more specifically Mexican-American educators. As educators, we all possess a lens through which we view culture, and this lens influences our decisions on a subconscious level.

Some 'cultural studies' educators practice critical pedagogies that challenge the hegemonic culture in the study of literature, pointing out the marginalization of the minority 'other.'

As we move further and further away from the 70s, more institutions have moved away from the subversive counterculture-influenced critical pedagogy. Some have adopted Western literary philosophies that focus on what non-European/American texts are doing, and the appreciation of these texts as art.

So I'm caught in the mestizo paradigm of academic cultural identity crisis.
Having read a LatCrit article discussing the trenza y mestizaje approach of braiding theories, I've become more curious of how interdisciplinary theories might be applied in the classroom. With this question in mind, I assembled a growing list of academic educators, and educators in the public forum, who I have chosen to inquire about their pedagogical perspectives.


Controversia: Ask a Mexican

Is There a Latino Pedagogy That Works in the Public Form?

Strangely enough, one of the first people I decided to contact was Gustavo Arrellano, syndicated columnist for the OCWeekly and most well-known for his "Ask a Mexican" column, in which he dispels, de-mystifies and often-time simply educates non-Latinos about Mexican/Mexican-American (Chicano) culture. Below is a picture of the both of us from a book signing (note: He's the gentleman doing a great promotional job of his book.)
I think I oddly enough started with Gustavo because he was the first person to turn me onto William "Memo" Nericcio's book Tex[t]-Mex: Seductive Hallucinations of the "Mexican" in America.

In e-mail correspondence, Gustavo advocated that I check out Tex[t]-Mex, by William Nericcio, in addition to his blog:

One more time in hyperlink, here's the blog for "Memo," but after you see it, you may never want to return to my humble blog:

When I got back to Gustavo, asking him for his perspective on education, given his role as educator of Mexican-American culture in a public form, his response reflected his un-biased position as someone in the field of journalism.

He said that much of what happens in the field of education is special to education, and that he doesn't consider "Ask a Mexican" to reflect 'a Mexican sensibility' despite his graduate degree in Latin American Studies.

His most helpful advice was to consider my audience, because each one is different, and my teaching should reflect that.

This advice reminded me of his reading at Martinez bookstore when he asked the large crowd the parts of Mexico where our families were from, and made a joke about how you can easily end up with a small town with five names.

It makes sense that even within the five different names that the sensibilities would change.

Update 11/03: I found this great interview with Stephen Colbert

Welcome & ¡Bienvenidos!

My name is Cruz Medina. I am a PhD candidate at the University of Arizona in Rhetoric, Composition and the Teaching of English.

This blog is dedicated to my scholarly, professional & writerly interests.

I will be highlighting my on-going correspondence with Latino scholars regarding their pedagogical approaches, as well as contributions from the Latino community outside of academia.

My research interests include, but are not limited to, borderlands rhetoric, and new media, as well as the intersections of the two.

Before beginning the RCTE program at the University of Arizona, I earned an MFA in creative writing, as well as an MA in Literature. This blog will also highlight those experiences I've had as a creative writer, as well as a published journalist.

Be sure to check back for updates.