Somos Escritoras/We Are Writers: A Creative Space for Latina Adolescent Girls

“I change myself, I change the world.” ― Gloria Anzaldúa

This summer, I co-facilitated the FIRST Somos Escritoras workshop in Austin, Texas with a group of talented doc students and undergraduate students from UT and my younger sister.

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In previous Somos Escritoras workshops, Latina girls and their mothers and Latina girls and their mothers and fathers met to write, draw and share stories from their lived experiences. Each time, I work alongside girls and their parents in this space, the girls always describe that they feel free and comfortable to write and share alongside—unlike they do in school or in other settings. For many, this feeling of comfort and solidarity comes from hearing each other’s stories, and being heard and realizing from this sharing that they are not alone in their experiences. They ask for more time and they ask for a space for them to meet and share—just the Chicas.

To honor their requests, I decided that I would organize a Somos Escritoras creative writing workshop for the Chicas to come together to share and perform stories from their lived experiences through artwork and writing—while building and growing alongside one another.

During the first two weeks in June, 13 Latina adolescent girls in grades 6-12 met at the Con Mi Madre offices to participate in Somos Escritoras/We Are Writers. At workshops, we explored topics related to language, culture, gender, family, education and advocacy. Girls read and listened to poetry and essays written by Maya Angelou, Gloria Anzaldúa, Audre Lorde, Pat Mora, Michelle Serros and other Black and Latinx writers. storytellers and spoken word poets that connected to these topics and their lived experiences. They discussed these texts, connecting them to their lived experiences, and those of their friends and family, while considering how this impacted their worlds and how they had the power to create counter narratives through the writing and speaking of their own truths. Girls created self-portraits, masks, advocacy posters, illustrations and other pieces of art in which they defined themselves in their own words, extending meaning through writing.

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Throughout the week, we played improve games and warm-ups to not only strengthen our bond and have fun, but to continue to reflect on the importance of teamwork, working through tensions and always coming back to our breath—our center.

On the final night, we gathered on the University of Texas at Austin campus to celebrate the work that we had done together as a community of escritoras poderosas.

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We invited family and friends to join us in celebrating our words and our stories. At the celebration, each girl stood in front of our invited guests and shared a piece that they had written at the workshop. Girls shared pieces in which they honored their mothers for all they do for them, describing their pride in their cultura, and declaring who they were and who they were becoming.

**Thank You: Con Mi Madre, UT Austin Curriculum and Instruction, Language and Literacy Colleagues, Cinthia Salinas, Noah DeLissovy & Aracelia Hernandez, Karen French, Lucas Horton, Yvonne Taylor, Christina Murray, Omar Rodriguez, Mr. Salmerón, Vivian & George Flores, Roxanne Schroeder-Arce, Laura Gonzalez, Nathaly Batista-Morales, Cori Salmerón, Maya Ellison & Stephanie Flores. 

 

Dreaming Together/Soñando Juntos

“Nothing happens in the ‘real’ world unless it first happens in the images in our heads” ~Gloria Anzaldúa

At our last PUENTE meeting with our parent/caregiver partners from SEEDS, we started our time together engaged in an opening community reading and writing experience. Our opening reading and writing was focused on the dreams we hold close to our hearts. I selected the bilingual poem, “The Dream on My Wall,” by Jane Medina to open our discussion about dream(s) and dreaming.

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Teachers and parents sat alongside one another as the poem was read aloud in English and Spanish. After a brief discussion of the poem, teachers and parents had time to draw and write about their dream(s).

This opening reading and writing is an important part of our PUENTE meeting. It brings the community together to explore and examine our lives through reading and writing that stems from our lived experiences. As we read and write together we discuss our lives which leads to generative themes to explore in 1-1 partner time and in the next meeting during opening reading and writing. In addition, it is another opportunity for parents to practice English by orally sharing, drawing and writing about their lives and further developing their vocabulary based upon their own experiences.

As parents and teachers finished drawing and writing about their dreams, several people shared their dreams with the entire group.

Collectively we dream about:

  • A cleaner planet
  • Starting a Mexican restaurant serving traditional Mexican food
  • A clean DREAM Act
  • Our children to attend college
  • Living a healthy life with our families
  • Becoming teachers that honor students and families
  • Returning to our homes
  • Seeing family members that we have not seen for many years

As Gloria Anzaldúa reminds us, “Nothing happens in the ‘real’ world unless it first happens in the images in our heads.” I believe that telling our dreams to one another is a way that we may begin to breathe them into reality. Together we can begin to construct and (re)construct reality and imagine endless possibilities.

As teachers, we learn a little more about the parents that we are privileged to work alongside during our time together. These conversations teach us more about what matters most to families and how we can be better serve them in our future classrooms.

 

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.

Precious Christmas Memories

This time of year always makes me reminiscent of my childhood. As a young girl, the holidays were full of evenings spent with family, making multiple stops at different homes to enjoy delicious treats while visiting with cousins, aunts, uncles, Nana and Tata. There was always an abundance of food for everyone in the packed houses we visited and plenty of cousins to play with while the grown ups shared stories and jokes.

My favorite night of the holidays was always Christmas Eve. For as long as I can remember, Christmas Eve was spent at my Aunt’s house enjoying endless amounts of red tamales and bowls of steaming hot menudo topped off with delicious Christmas tree shaped sugar cookies. On the way home from my Aunt’s house, we would take a tour of the neighborhood to enjoy the twinkling light displays and revel at the streets lined with luminarias.

Arriving home with content bellies, my sisters and I would quickly change into our pajamas and set up our beds for the night. This night, in anticipation for Santa Claus’ yearly visit, we always slept together in one room. As soon as my Mom closed the bedroom door, we knew that we were tucked away for the night. We feared getting up and seeing Santa, as we had been warned that Santa needed time to work and would not return if he were spotted by one of us. This fear and the excitement of Santa’s visit made for a very long night.

Early the next morning, we were up! Running into the living room to see a room filled with gifts and an empty plate where we had placed cookies for Santa.

The morning was spent unwrapping gifts, listening to Christmas music and playing with our new toys.

I miss these days. Waking up early with my sisters and parents. Spending the morning in our pajamas. Playing with our toys. But, most of all the wonder of this time of year.

We continue to get together each Christmas, and on that morning, the wonder that I felt as a child returns my heart.

My parents are getting older, and each moment spent together as a family is cherished more than ever. We are making new memories, and celebrating each other in new ways, while reminding each other of all the good times spent together. And, this is the most precious gift that I hope to receive each year.

Final Days

Today marked the final day of class for my yearlong Interdisciplinary Seminar. This course spanned two semesters, meeting weekly to discuss theories of learning and literacy, paradigms, research design and conducting interdisciplinary research. Many of our discussions were anchored in the AZ Move on When Reading mandate that is being implemented this school year and the problematic nature of what it means to learning and literacy. It has truly been a year of rich learning and a space to grow in this new space.

The fact that this has been a year long class which I had with 11 other first year students and 3 wonderful professors—makes it hard to see the semester close–and our year together come to a close. We will enter our 2nd year, continue to follow our individual paths based on our interests and passions—and see less of each other. I do look forward to the day when we can work together again as scholars—making a positive impact in education.

I Am Thankful

I am thankful for critical conversations and shared laughs. For metaphors for scholarship (gangs of academia) to images to help us understand paradigms. I am thankful for the 13 smiling faces that greet me every Wednesday for class.

I am thankful for Amber, “The Task Master” love of Ke$ha.

For Kewman’s kindness and for Olivia’s celebrations that make us all feel special and loved.

 

I am thankful for Lori’s strength and resilience and for Josh’s thoughtful ways.

For Kelly’s style and computer support and Jim’s questions that move our group to different ways of looking at an issue.

 

I am thankful for Alice, the other part of the English Ed. cohort, sharing every moment with me.

For shared conversations with Julia and inside jokes with Maria.

I am thankful for Anna’s helpfulness and constant support.

 

I am thankful to my teachers and mentors, Betty and Jory, guiding us each week, stretching our thinking, and supporting us in this new space as doctoral students.

For your kindness, insights, and listening ears—I will forever be thankful.

 

I am thankful for this time that we spent together during the first year of our journey and for what the future holds as we continue on this path from student to scholar.

 

This is dedicated to my friends and colleagues in DCI 791.

 

 

 

Evolving Research Identity Memo

In my Intro. to Qualitative Research course, we were given the task of creating a research identity memo. This is to be a reflective piece about what informs my research goals, assumptions about my research, view of the world, and what knowledge I hope to produce through this inquiry. This is a very rough draft, evolving on a daily basis, as I continue to expand and extend my thinking in new ways.

Research Identity Memo

Before entering my doctoral studies, I taught for 8 years in schools across Phoenix and Glendale. These teaching experiences consisted of working with culturally and linguistically diverse students in 2nd-6th grade classrooms, with a majority of students being enrolled in self-contained Structured English Immersion (SEI) classrooms, then later, in English Language Development (ELD) classrooms. During my time in the classroom, the laws surrounding instruction of English Language Learners (ELLs) drastically changed mandating students be segregated into classrooms based on language proficiency level to receive a 4-hour block of prescriptive English language acquisition curriculum with the belief that students would reach full language proficiency within one academic school year.

Experiences working with students in both SEI and ELD settings, viewing first-hand the significant impact these mandates had on students, specifically their identity, motivation, and self-efficacy, was disheartening. This narrowing of curriculum, which was mandated by state policy, brought many unintended consequences to the learning space for ELLs. This included an increasingly more rigid view of what constitutes English language proficiency and the lenses through which reading and writing instruction was to be implemented, limiting the gaze of what counts as literacy.

My experiences led me to pursue a doctorate with the hopes of joining the larger conversation, already in progress, surrounding the instruction of ELLs, specifically in relation to providing them with a rich literacy curriculum that builds off their cultural and linguistic resources, allows them opportunities engage with text for authentic purpose, and find their voice through sharing their stories. With the research that I wish to conduct, I desire to illuminate the stories of my students and their families, both the struggles and successes, to inform practice and move the language and literacy conversation in new directions. However, my goal is not to impose my beliefs and values on the lives of students, families, and teachers, but to engage in critical inquiry work alongside them in their respective classrooms and community. It is important to me to stay grounded in the issues that classroom teachers are facing and the impact it is having on their daily instruction, specifically issues related to equity.

With this work, I am working at not bringing a “prescription” to the situation, but rather to better understand this dynamic and discuss how spaces can be created or are being created to support learners, without muting their voices. Through this I hope to uncover powerful teaching that is taking place and being successful in these conditions to possibly inform the practice of other teachers. Majority of my experiences are in SEI/ELD with one year teaching in the general education classroom, this gives me a working knowledge of the ELD mandates, but with a different view of non-ELD classes that could possibly cloud my research gaze.

The Language Police Strikes Again

The Language Police has struck again.

Haven’t had a run in with them in a while. Maybe it is due to the fact that I’ve let go of some of my past baggage surrounding my language narrative.

But, a conversation with an acquaintance reopened that wound.

A wound that I thought was healing.

A wound that I fear our children, in this crazy policy driven educational system, is causing pain, and possibly scarring of their identities.