This post is written by NCTE member, Iris Ruiz.
Last year at the 2015 CCCC conference in Tampa, Florida, I became co-chair of the NCTE/CCCC Latin@ Caucus, along with Raúl Sanchez. I promised my constituency that I would work toward bringing some of the long-standing concerns, interests, and scholarship of Latin@ members of NCTE and of CCCC to the realm of visibility that has often eluded them.
One of the core issues that a large number of our constituency has supported is the implementation of Ethnic Studies in K–12 classrooms. We firmly believe that education is a vehicle of empowerment, no matter one’s race or ethnicity, but we also believe that empowerment is obtained through purposeful and meaningful education.
Education has to have purpose for it to be effective—it has to have an end goal. Education also has to have meaning—it has to mean something to us personally. When education does not have either of these elements for students, students become disenchanted with the goals of education. The classroom can sometimes seem like a sterile place with no mirror that reflects students’ lived realities.
We believe that Ethnic Studies provides both purpose and meaning, as well as a mirror that reflects the realities of many US ethnically diverse students, and we believe that it does so with all students, not only ethnic minorities.
In the US, our ethnic diversity is what makes us rich. It puts us in situations where we are obligated to get to know one another regardless of difference and, due to this somewhat unavoidable contact, we have the opportunity to connect via our most common denominator: our humanity.
Diversity is thus a blessing. We have a wealth of diverse experiences to enrich our lives here in the US. Education, we feel, should capitalize on those experiences through the implementation of Ethnic Studies. Thus, we created our own task force and wrote the current NCTE statement in support of Ethnic Studies for K-12 schools, which was adopted by NCTE in October, 2015.
We wrote this statement because we witnessed a purposeful and quite successful education program lose its space, its purpose, its richness, and its success.
This was the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson, Arizona. [See endnote regarding NCTE’s coverage.]The political beliefs of some of the most powerful lawmakers in Tucson and Arizona at large made this class illegal through the signing of House Bill 2281.
This, we felt, and many of our gente felt, was an injustice. How could literacy become illegal? How could a successful pedagogy become illegal? How could learning about one’s own history become illegal? Simple. It was deemed the wrong kind of literacy, the wrong kind of education, and the wrong kind of people benefited from it by reading the wrong kind of books.
So one thing we decided to do as a Caucus was bring a local activist group from Houston, called Librotraficante, to our CCCC workshop in Houston to discuss their unique response to HB 2281. Thanks to Bruce Martin, one of our Caucus members, Tony Diaz, the founder of Librotraficante, came and blessed our Caucus with some wonderful words of inspiration, and brought along some young poets who truly invigorated the audience with their captivating linguistic flows of Latinidad and Mexicanidad.
In addition to Librotraficante, we had Arte Publico Press visit our workshop to tell us about their cultural and historical recovery project. Next we were fortunate to learn of the great accomplishments of Barrio Writers. Lastly, we had a visitor from Own the Dream provide us with some pertinent policy information relating to undocumented students who must deal with the policy outcomes of both DACA and DAPA. Most fortunately, we are able to share highlights of this rich experience with the NCTE community thanks to our Caucus video archivist, Alexandra Hidalgo. I hope you enjoy the video!
Dr. Iris Ruiz is Continuing Appointment Lecturer for the Merritt Writing Program at UC Merced. She teaches courses in advanced composition, journal editing, first and second year composition and Chicanx Studies. Iris is the current co-chair of the NCTE/CCCC Latin@ Caucus.
Note: NCTE coverage of the banning of the Mexican American Studies program included the following:
“Arizona Bans Mexican American Studies Program: ‘It was never about what we were doing, it was about who we are.’ ” (The Council Chronicle, September 2012): http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/CC/0221-sep2012/Chron0221Arizona.pdf
English Council Raises Its Voice to Protest Tucson, Arizona, Book Censorship (NCTE Press Release, 1/30/12): http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Press/Tucscon_rel_for_Web.pdf