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. 
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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?

Getting Into Formation with EXTRA Black Beyonce

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I’m not part of the Beyhive. I’ve followed Beyonce since the “No, No, No”era, but haven’t praised every move she’s made. During this 19 year distant relationship, I’ve freely critiqued artistic choices she’s made along the way, while dancing my ass off to many of her songs (I used to clear the dance floor for “Crazy In Love.”) There have been moments (i.e. when she culturally appropriated herself into Coldplay’s music video) when I’ve wished she’d use her talent and her fame differently. And when I say differently, I mostly mean that I wish she’d called us to get into Formation a long time ago. But, I won’t sulk about how long it took her to get here. In fact, I think her timing of being unapologetically EXTRA Black (hot sauce bag, swag) and EXTRA proud (you mix that Negro with that Creole makes a Texas bama) is appropriate. We needed this.

Whatever the reason is behind her shying away from race politics in the past, I’m glad she showed up. My students look up to her, and so do many people of all ages. And whether it’s right or not, celebrities have the platform when it comes to naming what matters. They are the ones archiving our voices and concerns. In this video, Beyonce puts her stamp on many important things that matter, but have been ignored or mocked:

  • Hurricane Katrina
  • Black Lives
  • Police Brutality
  • Baby hairs & Afros
  • Long braids, colored wigs, and many other creative Black hairstyles
  • Cornbread(s) & collars greens

And, now, at the club, tons of Black women who’ve been hiding behind their Negroness- because that’s what we’ve been taught to do- will be proudly be shouting, “I like my Negro nose/ with Jackson Five nostrils,” and that’s fly. #BlackPower

 

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.