Happy Latinx History Month: 3 Latinx Artists Students Should Know

It’s Latinx Heritage Month and (some) schools are honoring the contributions that Latinx people have had on our country and beyond. As one of my school’s administrators, I expect all teachers to expose our students to the histories of communities of color throughout the year. In addition, we celebrate the various heritage months, such as Latinx Heritage Month. This year, every class is spending the heritage months honoring the contributions of artists of color.**

Below, I have included three Latinx artists that I recommend teachers to expose their students to. I have not included Frida Kahlo or Diego Rivera, because if I were teaching, my students would already know who these iconic figures are by this time of the year. In addition, it’s important to expand students’ database of famous people of color so that they understand that there are more than 1,2, or 3 famous people of color who have had remarkable accomplishments. The list I have included is simply the beginning…

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Autorretrato, 1952
  1. Rosa Rolanda. Rosa Rolanda was a Mexican-American artist who was born in Azusa, CA. A contemporary of Frida Kahlo, her paintings often feature children, images from folktales, and herself. Rosa was also a subject of many stunning photographs. One of the most recognizable photos, is by Edward Weston. The photograph was featured on an edition of the book Caramelo by Mexican-American writer, Sandra Cisneros.

 

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Rosa Rolanda, on the cover of Sandra Cisnero’s Caramelo.

 

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2.Jean Michel Basquiat.  Jean Michel Basquiat was half Puerto Rican and half Haitian and grew up in New York. His art- abstract, sometimes aggressive, and controversial-is attractive to children. The attraction, however, is not necessarily because they think it’s pretty. His art- some featuring dinosaurs, others featuring kings- is familiar to them. When I show his art to elementary children, it often brings up interesting questions around what constitutes art and what doesn’t. What makes art “pretty,” and what is art?

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I asked a second grader what was happening in this photo, and his response was: “Two Kings Fighting.”

 

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Favianna Rodriguez in front of one of her iconic Migrant Butterflies.

3. Favianna Rodriguez. Born, raised and currently living in Oakland, CA, Favianna Rodriguez is not only a local treasure, but she has made a name for herself as an art/activist. Favianna uses her skills to speak against and for the social issues she believes in. Favianna identifies  as an Afro-Peruvian and often uses the features of indigenous and African people in her art. Her work addresses racial justice, sex positivity, and immigration rights. Her Migration Butterflies have become iconic throughout the country and in Mexico, reminding people that migrating from place to place, country to country, is not only natural, but beautiful. Go to her tumblr page to view her art and learn about the work that she does for communities of color: http://favianna.tumblr.com/.

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One of my favorite posters that I have hanging in my office.

 

**We have a theme for each Heritage Month to avoid students only being exposed to the same “key players.” (As a fourth grade teacher, I noticed that the only leaders of color my students knew were Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez). By having a theme for each Heritage month, we’re ensuring that students are learning about different people and a different aspect of each marginalized group  every year, while bringing cohesiveness to all of the classes. Having the same theme for each heritage  also shows the connections that marginalized communities have with each other. 

Watching Strange Fruit: An American Tradition

When Billie Holiday performed  “Strange Fruit” in the 1930s she’d only sing it to a completely quiet audience. Drinks weren’t allowed to be served, people weren’t allowed to speak. The audience- which was oftentimes predominately white- was made to respect Billie Holiday, as well as the Black struggle, when Billie Holiday was on stage. This was significant for multiple reasons. First, for a Black woman to demand anything was (is) an act of protest against the expectation that we are to accept the status quo. Second, calling out the atrocities of white violence and demanding white folks to listen quietly was not only bold, but it was a shift to some of the traditional responses to lynching. The hanging of Black bodies was sport for some white Americans. White folks would announce the lynching of Black people as an event. When the killing took place, people would gather with their picnics and watch as Black bodies swung from trees. Photos of these human killing events were captured and even turned into postcards for people to collect and send to loved ones. Watching Black bodies die is an American tradition that has only advanced in how it’s shared.

We fast forward to our present, and death by rope has been replaced with the bullet from a police gun. With the most recent deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, people across the globe have been encouraged to practice in this American tradition of watching Black people die. Traditions once thought of as reserved for the backwoods of the South can now be seen on television screens, laptops, and phones with frightening ease.

Without warning, we can go from looking at a picture of a puppy on Instagram to watching the death of someone’s son, someone’s daddy, someone’s partner. I’ve tried to avoid watching any of the deaths that have been caught on tape. Knowing that another Black person has been killed by police is pain that I greatly internalize. I, personally, don’t need to watch it happen to comprehend its tragedy. Trying to avoid these killings has been difficult and has taken much strategic work on my part. This is both concerning and violating.

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Last week, this image, was posted and reposted on social image, reminding us that American traditions don’t dissolve with time.

Don’t misunderstand my concern. Our ability to record police in action is pivotal. It’s our weapon in battle, and we’re still hoping it will bring us justice. When I see police interacting with people of color, I know it’s my obligation to watch what happens, with my phone at my fingertips, just in case. The camera on our phones have granted us the gift of proving our injustice. All these years of others accusing us of storytelling and exaggerating our experiences of police violence is now captured on film.

Yet, still, we have yet to find justice for our murdered brothers and sisters.

There are still people who don’t recognize our deaths as tragic, and there are people who watch these killings over and over and over, trying to figure out some sick way to justify the murders. Even some well-intentioned people have watched the killings, and without realizing it, are becoming numb to seeing a Black person take their last breath.

Meanwhile, children who are savvier with technology than many of the adults in their homes, are learning to watch the murder of people who look  like them and their family members. They are having to make sense of what that means for them and their personhood. I have to lead these children and figure out how to support them when summer ends. How does one explain America’s tradition of watching Black murders to an elementary child?

Ted Talk: The Consciousness Gap In Education

Yesterday, I wrote about my current experience addressing race and equity with teachers. Today, after watching this Ted Talk, I was reminded why I do this important work.

When you do work that is resisted by others, it’s easy to wonder what’s the point. I’m always grateful for those who have done this work longer than me, and who are around the corner affirming those of us following their trail.

“The Consciousness Gap in Education – An Equity Imperative: Dorinda Carter Andrews at TEDxLansingED”

On Going THERE with Teachers: Discussing Race & Equity in the Classroom

It’s been six months since transitioning from the classroom to administration, and its been a welcomed challenge. One of my responsibilities as the Director of School Culture is providing training for teachers on culturally relevant pedagogy. As a nation, we lack the ability to address race responsibly, and this is also terribly true in the field of education.

Brown and Black students make up 50% of students enrolled in public schools, while more than 80% of teachers are white (National Study for Education Statistics). The culture gap is intense, and while some people try to act like it doesn’t matter (kids are kids, right?), some folks are trying to respond to the varying cultures that coexist within the classroom, and the disconnections that take place because the cultural differences aren’t usually addressed. I’m one of the educators trying to address the culture gap, and I’m currently doing so with the teachers I work with. While I love this work, am dedicated to this work, and predict it will be a part of my work for a long time, it’s also difficult, and, takes a lot of work. Discussing race is provocative enough to elicit interest, but can also cause a lot of discomfort for people who aren’t willing to go THERE.

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As a teacher, when I’d describe someone as white or Black for the first time, my students would perk up, and without a doubt, someone would say “oooooh that’s raaaacciiiiist.” Of course, I’d unpack that statement, and by the end of the year, we had a shared lexicon when addressing race, but I was always surprised that my nine and ten year olds had already learned to be uncomfortable when simply describing someone’s race.

I experience similar reactions when discussing race with adults. I think this is because of two reasons:

1. Most of us haven’t been supported with how to discuss race responsibly and        authentically (political correctness has altered our authentic voice).

2. Because of America’s history, discussing race requires that we go THERE, and going THERE is not always a welcomed destination.

Where is THERE, you ask? You know, THERE—that frightening place where we must confront, own, and shift our own biases. Whether you have a nuanced perspective on the politics of race, or have never thought about race, going THERE with a mixed group of people with different perspectives on and experiences with race is tough. Going THERE may result in people feeling uncomfortable at best, but defensive and angry at worst. I say uncomfortable at best, because even if discomfort isn’t an easy feeling to sit in, it is a learning feeling. When we’re most uncomfortable, we’re experiencing the potential to learn, and, hopefully, shift our practice.

Discomfort, however, must be followed with reflection. Otherwise we fall into simply feeling uncomfortable and defensive, and those feelings don’t shift perspectives. When I’m most uncomfortable, I try to question my discomfort and dig deeper- why am I feeling uncomfortable? Do I feel uneasy because I need to confront and/or change something within myself? Am I uncomfortable due to my own ignorance on something? It takes work to go THERE with yourself, but if we don’t, we rob ourselves from the potential to grow.

So…. I’ve been going THERE with teachers, and it has been a challenge that I’m trying to welcome with open arms. I was first met with eagerness. Immediately, teachers acknowledged the existing culture gap, and agreed that it needed to be discussed and dealt with. But, during our last meeting, things got real, which means things got uncomfortable. I think some people were frustrated, definitely defensive, and I felt bad. The training was planned in a way that caused deep self-reflection, and it didn’t feel great for some people. I felt uncomfortable for putting teachers in that position, but, in reflection, I know it needed to happen. I’ve been a part of this work before, I’ve led this work before, and it’s never been neat. It’s messy, emotional, and intense. But these are the necessary emotions that come with the work of going THERE.

Happy Birthday Cesar Chavez!

On my Instagram page, I’m counting down to Sunday’s premiere of Mad Men by posting images reflecting 1969 (the first part of the series finale ended in the summer of ’69). What an appropriate treat it was to discover that Cesar Chavez graced the cover of Time Magazine that same year! Happy Birthday Cesar Chavez!

#1969- July, 1969, Cesar Chavez was on the cover of Time Magazine, brining more attention to the work of Farm Workers, and their leaders. They should have shown someone reading this issue on Mad Men (#myfantasy) … Happy Birthday Cesar Chavez!!! Your inspiration continues to touch lives today. It was your biography that got some of my students to finally pick up a book, it is your story that inspired some of my students to say "I'm Latino/Chicano/Mexican and Proud!", it is your story that allowed some of my Black students to see the similarities between themselves and their Latino classmates, and it is your story that inspires me to show my students their own power. Thank you! #countdowntoMadMen #CesarChavez #americanheroes #LatinoHeroes #CaliforniaHistory #americanHistory #TimeMagazine

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Langston Hughes’ Teachings: A Fifth Grader Breaks It Down

 

I wrote this a few months ago, but never posted it. Since it’s Langston Hughes’ birthday, as well as the first day of Black History Month, I thought it would be fitting to post it today. As always, when referencing students, names have been changed to protect their identities. For this narrative, I decided to use the names of Kendrick Lamar and Lupe Fiasco to replace the names of my students, because at one time, they were boys too–maybe collecting their thoughts is similar ways as my scholars.

In the beginning of the year, my scholars and I read a biography about Langston Hughes. We were reading about Hughes’ early life—how he almost grew up in Mexico City, but his mother moved back to the States. How he and his mother struggled to find stable jobs, despite having college educations. And of course, we learned about Hughes’ skill for writing poems in the voices of Black people he knew from the streets of St. Louis and Harlem.

Langston Hughes: American Poet by Alice Walker is a biography that I read to my scholars every year. It’s a great book that not only explores Hughes’ life, but it also captures the complicated relationships that exist within the Black community.

When we got to the point of the story where Hughes can’t find a job outside of being a busboy or bellhop, I paused and asked my students what was the problem, or conflict, of the story.

“There is no problem,” said Kendrick Lamar, who is one of my strongest students.

“Really? You don’t think there’s a problem?”

In addition to gathering information for their upcoming essay on Hughes, we were also working on how to write a succinct summary, by focusing on conflicts within a story. A common conflict we’ve read about is how racism has interfered with the work of leaders such as Cesar Chavez, Richard Wright, and Sonia Sotomayor. I was surprised that racism wasn’t an obvious problem to locate for Kendrick.

Using our class signal for disagreeing, other students, however, showed they had located a conflict in the story.

“Lupe Fiasco, why do you disagree?” I asked.

“There is a problem in the story. I think the problem is that Langston Hughes can’t find a job, because the white people won’t hire him for the good jobs, because he’s Black.”

Most scholars communicated they agreed with Lupe’s noticing.

“That’s not a problem,” Kendrick, who’s not really into the whole raising your hand system, shouted.

That.

Sounds to me.

Like a prawww—lum.

“A prawww-lum?” I said. “There’s a difference? Tell me more.”

I knew what he was about to break down for us. I, like Langston Hughes, know that my people have a beautiful gift of playing with language, creating new words, as well as new ways for using words that transcend what’s been deemed “appropriate” for school. Kendrick broke down his wordplay like very simply. He said:

A problem is something simple that can be solved. But not being able to get a job, because you’re Black? Well, that’s a Prawww. Lum.

At this point, Kendrick could have dropped the MIC and spent the rest of the day enjoying recess, as far as I was concerned. Not only did he demonstrate one of Langston Hughes’ life-long projects—to honor the beauty and skill of Black people seducing the English language as we see fit—but he also summarized one of the biggest praww-lums that continues to plague communities of color.

As I prepare lessons to tackle fifth grade standards—the skills that I’m supposed to have taught my scholars by the end of the year—I wonder….

When will the beautiful ways that my students manipulate and engage with language be honored and showcased in a respectful way? When will my scholars’ sophisticated observations about the world be valued, and be a part of the ways they are formally assessed and evaluated? When will unemployment for Black men no longer be a praww-lum?

Kids of Color & Intellectual Intuition: Brought to You by Art

There are many stereotypes projected onto children of color. Black boys, in particular, have been statistically struggling academically at a nationwide level. There are some questioning why Black boys, and kids of color, aren’t performing well on standardized tests, while many have wrapped all kids of color into  boxes labeled “Deficit.”

Since I started teaching, I’ve been trying to uncover what’s getting in the way academically for all my students– particularly my Black boys. One, is performing at grade level; the others are not. This isn’t a new trend, yet, all have always been so brilliant– each holding unique skills that haven’t been uncovered.

My students been revealing their intellectual selves to me more each day. Or maybe they’ve always been revealing these characteristics, and I’m simply making a more concerted effort to uncover them. Whatever the case may be, I know that during today’s field trip to the Oakland Museum of California, I was mostly in awe and wonder of my students ability to interact with art in ways that I don’t think was expected of them.

Docents smiled at me approvingly as my students got excited when they saw Frida Kahlo’s, “Frieda and Diego Rivera.”

“Ms Peters! It’s Frida!!! We have this photo in our class!”

Then, they proceeded to look at other work and note artists’ varying styles, question some of the artists’ choices, and infer the different mediums that were used to create the art. But, really, I had little to do with their enthusiasm and their ability to interact with the varying pieces of art. Yes, I introduced them to Frida Kahlo, but I, unfortunately, have spent little time  teaching my students how to interact and talk about art. This sophisticated skill was intuitive.

Do others know that kids of color have intellectual intuition? Is this considered when discussions are had about how Black and Latino boys are underperforming compared to other groups of students?

By the look of surprise from some of the docents, I would assume no. Many times, even I underestimate what comes naturally to my students. But, as I eavesdropped on the two boys below observing and discussing art with each other, I realized that instead of focusing on teaching my students new things, I need to focus on bringing out their intellectual intuition.

Some might say  this is an obvious teacher move, but if it were so obvious, would kids of color still be underperforming at the level they are now?