A Sense of Community

In late July, I moved to Austin to begin my job as an Assistant Professor of Language and Literacy at the University of Texas at Austin. This move was one that was filled with many emotions. Born and raised in Arizona, close to my family and surrounded by a community of support and love, I never thought that I would leave my beloved hometown. In fact, my sisters would always joke about me being the one that would always be in Arizona and would lovingly call me a, “homing pigeon.” This meaning that I would leave, but always come back because of the pull that I felt from the need in my heart to be near my mother.

Boarding the plane with my daughter, Milagros, and my older sister, for support, was definitely difficult, but at the same time a step toward the rest of our lives. I had been offered a job, or as a friend always reminds, “the job,” to continue to pursue my passions and my community-based research with Latina girls and families while teaching pre-service teachers in our field based teacher preparation program located in classrooms and schools throughout Austin. This is the best of both worlds, and when I started my doctorate, I envisioned this for myself. Perhaps, I dreamed or envisioned this path into existence for myself.

Leaving behind my family and community has been hard. As I walk this new path in the academy, there isn’t a day that I yearn for those that I left behind in Phoenix. You see, the people in our lives are those that make a place feel like home, and my community that I built for the 36 plus years took time to grow. My community consisted of people that I worked with, people that taught me, formal and information settings, my students and their families, friends from childhood and my young adult life, and all the spaces in which I connected with folks through shared loves, passions, talents, desires and hopes for the larger community in which we resided. This community took time to build and nurture, and it is this people that I miss the most.

Yesterday, during our first meeting with parents, grandparents and caregivers from the SEEDS program, I was reminded of the importance of community and what it feels like to be part of a community. As part of a field based course that I teach in our teacher preparation program, my students, future teachers, have the opportunity to work alongside parents as part of a practicum embedded in our Community Literacies course.  For the next eight weeks, we will join a community of parents, grandparents and caregiver that are part of the SEEDS community.  The SEEDS program is a dynamic family and adult learning community that is grounded in the lived experiences and realities of the adults that are part of this community. All activities and learning experiences stem from the needs and desires of the adults that have cultivated the program – together.

At our first meeting with parents and caregivers, we spent our time in whole group getting to know each other through the reading and writing and sharing of our personal experiences. Using the book, Family Pictures/Cuadros de La Familia, as an anchor for our own sharing, we read illustrations and bilingual vignettes from the lived realities of the artist and writer of the book. After sharing and discussing the vignettes, we drew our own “Cuadros de la Familia,” illustrating the people, places and moments of our lives, that are part of our histories.

As we finished, parents and pre-service teachers, entered in dialogue, as several people shared their illustrations and the stories behind these moments. Our dialogue grew out of the stories that were shared, with questions to clarify and consider new perspectives.

Within our time together, I witnessed the strength of the community that we had been invited to collaborate with for our Puente partnership. Parents and caregivers are committed to improving their lived conditions and imagining a different future for themselves, their children, and their communities. There are some parents and caregivers that have been part of the program for several months or years, while others have been part of it for two weeks to two days. The parents that have been part of the space for months and years, bring others that they meet in the community, family members and new friends, to join the space—to join the SEEDS community. Parents and caregivers gather on a daily basis, to learn from each other and support one another in further developing the resources of the adults that are part of the program. This support, these relationships and the work that they are doing together takes time to cultivate, and has the power to transform lives, schools and communities.