My [redacted] Journey

A teacher's search for inner peace.


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The More Things Change…


January 15, 2015

Dear Readers,

I had a rude awakening today at school.  It brought me down to reality after my inflated ego was all abuzz from yesterday’s well-received interview.  As the saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

I am in the middle of a poetry unit with my students.  It is difficult, at best, to keep my little charges engaged.  Somehow, they really can’t get into why “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.”  So much for Shakespeare.

It is the last class of the day and this is my fourth go-around trying to convince my students that “thee” means “you” and “hath” means “has.”  They are just not into it.  It is about this time that I hear one of my Caucasian students mimicking a Spanish accent.  Jerry, not his real name, is not taking notes, is not paying attention, but is sorely in need of some; thus, the fake accent.

“Hey, Jose!  Hey Juan!  Whachoo doin?”  Mind you, we have no student by the names Jose and/or Juan in that class.  They are several Hispanic students who begin to disengage and put their heads down when Jerry starts up with his act.  This has happened before, dear Readers.  I’m teaching a lesson, Jerry needs attention, Jerry begins speaking loudly in a fake Spanish accent, I lose my students’ interest.

“Jerry, please stop!” I say between clenched teeth, partly because he is such a disruption and partly because I have had it with this kid’s bullying.  You see, whenever Jerry gets to feeling like he wants to try on his accent for size, he directs his comments to a particular Hispanic student, Tom, not his real name.  Tom sits right up front, so that I can see his body language as Jerry begins the show.  Tom sits up ramrod straight, wraps his arms around himself as if to barricade the verbal arrows from penetrating his soul.  It never works.

“C’mon Juan, or are you Jose todaaay?” Jerry draws out the last syllable of ‘today’, I suppose to make himself appear more authentic?  I don’t know.  But Tom is visibly unnerved.

Tom wraps his arms around his midsection even tighter and does the same thing he does every time Jerry verbally assaults him; he answers back.

“No, not Jose.. I’m Juan.  Whachoo want?”

“Stop it, both of you!” I say almost too loudly.  “Stop it, right now!  Jerry, I am asking you for the last time to stop with the fake accent!  It is offensive.”

To which Jerry replies, “I’m not offended, Tom isn’t offended, right Tom?”

To which Tom doesn’t reply.

I knew one day it would come to this.  Jerry was not backing down this time and neither was I.  We locked eyes over Tom’s head; he knew he was in the line of fire and that was the last place he wanted to be.  At this point, out of my peripheral vision, I noticed the students who usually roll their eyes and put their heads down during the “Tom and Jerry Show” have begun to take notice.  They are staring intently at the exchange.

“Calm down,” I tell myself.  This was my chance to show my students, who would otherwise ignore and/or engage Jerry in his racially biting behavior, that there is a civil and straightforward way to let someone know they are offending you.  Also, I could, perhaps show them how to verbally disengage a bully.

I failed miserably, dear Readers.

We played tit-for-tat, “It offends me,” I would calmly state, “So, don’t do it.”

To which Jerry would reply, “It’s not offensive.  It doesn’t offend me.”  There seemed to be no end, like getting stuck on the inside circle of a round-about in rush hour traffic in Abu Dhabi (look up ‘driving in the UAE’ on YouTube).

What Jerry said next has me questioning why I really give a shit!

“Miss, you’re Mexican, and if you can speak white, I can speak Mexican.”

~ Awkward Silence ~

Dear Readers, there are no words, absolutely no words.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, what happened next was simply the coup d’ tat.  With only a precious few minutes left of the school day, we all sat in silence.  Irony of ironies, the vice-principal, keeper of all things discipline, called to have Jerry come to the library to speak with her.  At least the last few minutes of class I was able to gather myself.  When the bell rang to end the day, I headed straight for my principal’s office.

After listening to me recount what had happened, my principal asked me to call Jerry’s mother and tell her of the “incident.”  However, she instructed me to tell Jerry’s mother that he was in trouble for willfully ignoring my directive to stop doing something, not that Jerry has a nasty habit of bullying his peers and making fun of an entire race of people with a phony accent as thick as my thighs!  Say what?  I have to think about this one.

One other downside of this whole, ugly “incident”.  After I dismissed my class, two of my Caucasian students approached me, separately and they both uttered the same thing,”Miss, I’m so sorry for what Jerry said to you.”  It broke my heart.  There is no reason for these two beautiful souls to apologize for what Jerry did, none.  However, I know why they did, and we, as a class, will discuss the “incident” tomorrow.

The upside, dear Readers, because I have to end on a positive note.  After my students retrieved their backpacks from their cubbies (yes!!! middle-schoolers still have cubbies), the Hispanic students began to gather around my desk, one-by-one.   Then, the other students began to approach and envelop my desk.  They fiddled with my tape dispenser and ruffled the papers on my desk and just sort of stood in a semi-circle around my desk.  They were clearly uncomfortable but defiant, it was as though I had my own force field. There they were, my students; not white or black or brown, but my students, showing me their support the only way they could.  The bell rang and they refused to move.  I do not release my students until they are all seated and my room is in order.  However, today, dear Readers, I let my students stand; I let my students  stand in their solidarity, our solidarity.  It was awe-inspiring.  Peace, ~v.

 


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What Are You?


January 4, 2014

Dear Readers,

I’m off and running on my new assignment for my Zero to Hero Challenge:  30 Days to a Better Blog.

Today’s assignment: write the post that was on your mind when you decided to start a blog.

Although I began writing my blog in earnest one year ago, I really have been writing it in  my head for some time now.  I have always thought I was somewhat of a decent writer and for as long as I can remember, I have wanted to submit one of my essays to Time or Newsweek and cross my fingers.

I even have my subject matter down.  It has to do with a question that I often get from people who do not really know me and are trying to figure out my ethnicity.  “What are you?”  Well, here is my response.

I was born in the 60s. During this time in the great state of Arizona (I say that with all sincerity), the government classified me “White.”  “White” is listed on my birth certificate, under “Father of Child” box 8, “Color or Race” and again under “Mother of Child” box 14, “Color or Race”.   Now, there is nothing wrong with being white. I like whites. Heck, some of my best friends are white (LOL). However, I happen to be Mexican. More specifically, Mexican-American. For those of you with sensitivities to labels, you can just stop reading right now, its gonna get ugly.

Hispanic, Latina, Chicana, you can call me whatever you’d like. I call myself Mexican-American. I am a hyphen. And I am quite proud of that fact.

“Miss, were you born in Mexico?”
“No.”
“Then you’re a Chicana.”
“Do you speak Spanish?”
“No.”
“Then you’re not a Chicana.”
“You look too white to be Mexican.”
“Really?!”
And my personal favorite, “But, you don’t act Mexican.”
No response necessary.

Statements like these used to bother me.  Not anymore, because people are idiots.  They don’t intend on being idiots, they just are (jk, but only a little bit).  How is someone else going to tell me what I am or am not?

If there is one thing I have learned about labels, it’s that I GET TO LABEL MYSELF.  I can be ‘Handle with care,’ or ‘No dogs allowed,’ if I want to.  Or how about ‘Men only,’ or ‘Smoking prohibited,’ or even ‘Under 5 feet not allowed on this ride.’  I can even be ‘Do not add bleach.’  Well, you get the picture.

So, I’m a hyphen, I’m Mexican-American.  It no longer bothers me when people ask me, “What are you?”  I just wish I were witty enough to come up with a pithy reply.  Any suggestions, dear Readers?  Peace, ~v.


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Crossed Wires on Cross Curriculum


We all just want to fit in.

We all just want to fit in.

November 23, 2013

Dear Readers,

I have spent the past two weeks teaching my students how to analyze two or more texts that address a similar topic.  The objective is to have students identify and explain how and why texts disagree on the same topic.  Since cross curricular lessons are now popular, I worked with the Social Studies teachers to determine the topic, and I went from there.  In Social Studies class these past two weeks, my students were learning about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.  So, that was the subject I chose.

Here is a brief history lesson for those of you dear Readers who need a refresher.  Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which permitted the military to exclude from the West Coast, persons of Japanese ancestry, in the name of national defense.  This led to the evacuation and incarceration of over 110,000 persons of Japanese descent, most of whom were U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents.

These U.S. citizens, or Americans, were forced to evacuate their homes and leave their jobs.  They were interned, or confined, in camps spread across several states.  It was from within one of these camps, located in Arizona, that I chose the literature for my lesson.  At least three of the confined teenagers, kept in touch with their public librarian.  I choose a letter from each of the three, two girls and one boy, to begin my lesson.

Although imprisoned, the two girls wrote about the food, the uncomfortable sleeping accommodations and going to school.  The teenaged boy wrote about the ineffective medical care, the barbed wire and the armed guards.

Here is where I will insert my disclaimer.  It is the same disclaimer I gave to my students.  I am an American and I love America.  I honestly believe in what America stands for and am proud of what we, as a nation, have accomplished.  That being said, I think one of the things that makes this such a great country is the fact that we, the people, have certain rights, one being the right to free speech.  I have the right to speak of America’s past mistakes; I want generations to come, to learn from them.

After a week’s worth of lessons and discussions in both Language Arts and Social Studies, my students collectively decided that holding Japanese-Americans in camps was wrong and they should have been allowed to go home.  Here was my students’ final assignment in this unit.  Each student was to write a persuasive letter to President Roosevelt asking him to release the Japanese-Americans and allow them to return home.  Here is where I began to learn a lesson of my own.

Several of my students wrote something along these lines:

Dear President Roosevelt,

Please let the Japanese people go home.  They do not need to be here.  They should go back to Japan.

All week long, I had put the emphasis on the fact that Japanese-Americans were uprooted from their homes and imprisoned, and the students had put the emphasis on the fact that Japanese-Americans were being interned.

Several of my students explained it to me the same way, “But Ms., you said they were Japanese.  They should go back to Japan.”

“I said they were Japanese-Americans.  Besides, some of them were born here,” I managed to say.  “And others became citizens, you know, American citizens.”

They were unmoved.  “They should still go home.  They should’ve stayed in Japan.”

I was saddened, dear Readers.  You see, I work with predominantly Hispanic students, first and second generation Americans, and I naively thought that they would sympathize with the Japanese-American immigrants, if for no other reason than they, themselves had experienced an immigrant’s journey.  However, I’ve since learned that the label of ‘immigrant’ has become such a stigma to my students, that once assimilated, they are reluctant to see themselves in the faces of any immigrant.  In fact, once assimilated, my students are even reluctant to help translate for my Spanish speaking language learners.  My students who have become enculturated, work very hard at distancing themselves from their newly arrived counterparts.

When I began writing this post dear Readers, I did not know where it would end up.  Now that I see where it has taken me, I am unwilling to put the genie back in the bottle.  Why are my students unwilling to help their peers, when they were in the exact same position not long before?  I believe this is a learned behavior, but learned from who, and why?  I don’t have any answers dear Readers, but I would sure love to hear some.  We are a nation of immigrants, both willing and unwilling.  We are what makes (made?) this country great.  Are we so short-sighted that we can’t see past our own migration?  our own journey?  our own story?  What gives, dear Readers?    Anyone?  Peace, ~v.