Nancy shares some of her favorite teaching moments when students from different cultures turn the tables and teach her about stories from their cultures. Second grader, Luis, tries to be patient with his teacher, but despairs of ever getting Nancy to pronounce “pantalones” correctly. Nancy learns just how challenging it is to communicate in another language. (more…)
Did you know that National Hispanic Heritage Month actually started as a one-week celebration? The observation started in 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded to 31 days under President Ronald Reagan in 1988.
Do you know why it starts in the middle of the month, September 15th, instead of on the first of the month as other ethnic celebrations do? That’s because Hispanic Heritage month includes the history, culture and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean plus Central and South America.
September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for several Latin American countries including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico celebrates their independence on September 16 and Chile on September18th.
Who calls himself or herself “Hispanic” or “Latino”? The U.S. Census Bureau defines the category as those of Spanish origin regardless of race. The 2010 Census identified 50.5 million people or 16% of the population as being of Hispanic or Latino origin. As you might guess, the top two places in the U.S. with the highest percentage of Latinos are Texas and California, but populations are rising throughout the U.S.
Whether you have many, few or no Hispanic children in your classrooms, observing National Hispanic Month is important for your students who are Latino as well as for those who will most certainly be studying, working and living alongside people of Spanish-origins.
Of course, we want to introduce students to the wider world. But teachers have unwittingly introduced other groups and cultures as if those groups were the exotic others.
For example, schools hold International Festivals that have the flavor of “look at these unusual foreign people.” When groups of people are seen as exotic or patronizingly precious that are no longer “real” people.
Plus, the people of the world are not only international. They are here. They are Americans, Americans with a wide array of viewpoints and desires. They are people to recognize, appreciate, respectfully disagree with, live with, love with, work with and study with on a day-to-day basis, not just once a year.
Without intending to, we can keep a group of people at arm’s length while, at the same time, giving ourselves the false feeling that we are being inclusive.
We want to remember that as recent as the 1950s, people from other parts of the world as well as African and Native Americans were displayed in the U.S. as if animals in a zoo. The displays were often part of a continuum that ranked groups from apes to real people i.e. Europeans. Without meaning to, our study of other cultures can have a tinge of the same feeling.
It takes more time, thought and true connections with people with whom we’ve had less experience to be able to honor the complexity and variety within other cultures as well as understand our own cultural backgrounds with their unique histories, oddities and perspectives.
With the growth of Hispanic population in America readily increasing, it is important to address the need for schools to avoid and debunk the myths surrounding the Hispanic community. School should be a safe place for students to go where self-esteem is enhanced and learning reaches its highest potential. As leaders in the educational realm, teachers must set the example in the classroom. What are the stereotypes that exist about the Hispanic community? How can teachers disprove these? Below are a select few myths with appropriate guidelines for teachers to follow.
Most Hispanics are immigrants. Untrue. Only about one-third of Hispanic population in America are immigrants – the remainder have all been born in America.*.Teachers should be aware that family is a huge factor when considering cultural heritage – much more so than being born in the actual country itself.
Most Hispanics do not value education. Also untrue, even though the alarmingly low rate of high school graduation in the Hispanic community shows otherwise..Teachers should be aware that many factors affect the decision of Hispanic youth who choose to drop out of school – the needs of the family are of great importance. Hispanic students may have to make the choice to help provide financial support for their impoverished family rather than finishing school. Very often survival comes first, and education falls to those who can afford it. Often a language barrier makes education very difficult. And finally, a lack of understanding from the mainstream culture makes education simply too hard altogether. It is not that educational value is unseen, rather, that the price for it is too high.*
Student capability is determined by whether they fit into the cultural mainstream. Wrong. Student capability is never decided by the mainstream of anything..Teachers should be aware that finding out about student backgrounds is a valuable tool. Teaching styles greatly impact student learning. Societal norms do not predict student success, and should not be relied upon to do so.
Family status and income are determining factors in determining student potential. Another myth. While these may affect individual student academic success to some degree, potential is determined by the student..Teachers should be aware that every student has the potential to succeed. Expect the same amount of effort from each student, and give the same amount of genuine encouragement and praise to each student. Demand the same level of excellence from each student, challenging them to always do their best work possible.
Academic success is measured by mastery of the English language. False. Being able to communicate in English does not signify an understanding or a lack of understanding of the academic material..Teachers should be aware that fluency of the English language does not constitute academic success. Knowing the language does not translate into mastery of the content of the academic subject areas. Focus on the understanding of the material, not the understanding of the language when gauging academic success.
For activities and ideas for the classroom or for youth or
America is in the midst of a big growth spurt – a wave of increases in the populations of minorities. The Hispanic communities all over the country are swelling in numbers, and are now the largest ethnic minority group in America – totaling 16% of the entire country’s population. Furthermore, it is projected that it will reach 30% of the population by the year 2050.*
How will this rapid and vast growth affect America’s schools and students? How do schools address the huge influx of Hispanic students in schools?
Textbooks and other student materials will need to adapt to include this change in population, like they have adapted in previous circumstances (gender inclusion, for example)
ESL, ELL, and bilingual programs and teachers will increase in schools as the population increases
Differentiation in lessons and activities will continue to be a necessity, even a requirement
Lessons involving awareness, acceptance, and tolerance will be mainstays
Respect for others and their system of values will become more and more relevant
Family support will be essential in schools, parents will need to really step up to back student learning
In sum, families and schools will need to seriously work together toward student academic achievement. It is no longer enough for only schools to accommodate the needs of its population. Communities will need to avail programs to facilitate adults in the learning of the English language, so that families can better partner with schools.
Our government needs to re-evaluate how funding reaches schools, and how students are tested. Schools cannot handle the massive increase of student needs without the assistance of community and government programs, and the support of families.
For ideas and activities for the classroom or for youth and
young adult groups in and around Hispanic Heritage Month
go to : www.RaceBridgesStudio.com
“We are a country of immigrants. Almost all of our citizens have roots in other countries. Unless you are a full-blooded Native American, either you or one of your ancestors journeyed to the United States. Maybe it was your parents. Maybe it was someone 300 years ago. But someone in your family, for whatever reason, was uprooted from home and culture, and traveled here, making the United States his or her new home” (Gretchen Morgan).
America is the great melting pot of culture and diversity. That is how our country started, and continues to become more and more diverse as time goes by. We must celebrate our many cultures and our many stories of the journey to America. Schools and teachers need to recognize that students come from a wide array of backgrounds. The more these backgrounds are embraced, the greater the learning will be.
Below are a few links to find stories of immigration. Share them with your students. Encourage them to write and share their own family story of immigration.
How you perceive our neighbor to the south can affect how you unconsciously treat your Mexican American students. What are your perceptions? Do you perceive Mexico as a third world country?
Let’s take a look at that phrase “third world”. The phrase was first used during the Cold War in the 1960s and 70s to designate who was aligned with the Un
ited States. Countries said to be aligned with the Soviet Union were given “second world” status and non-aligned countries were called “third world”. The terms didn’t make sense right from the beginning but even less so now that the Soviet Union no longer exists.
In popular vernacular, “third world” has become synonymous with “undeveloped”. But it may surprise you to learn that Mexico is rated as “recently developed” by many and “highly developed” by the Human Development Index.
Yes, some of your students’ families may come from towns that fit your image of neglected border towns with little sanitation facilities, let alone schools. However, others may just as well come from posh districts that rival the wealthiest U.S. neighborhoods and educational institutions. Assumptions about your Mexican American students’ backgrounds and, therefore, their academic abilities and skills can be dangerously misguided.
So, too, common misconceptions about Mexico as a lawless “wild west” may create biases toward your students. Yes, there is corruption in Mexico that Mexican citizens are very concerned about, but it may surprise you to learn that Mexico is ranked close to Brazil, Argentina and even Italy when it comes to corruption. Most of us need to update our images of Mexico to include the fact that it is now a democracy supported by a rising middle class, with a viable Supreme Court and a three-party legislature that is said to work more cooperatively than our own Congress on their ambitious global economic agenda.
Updating and contextualizing knowledge of our students’ home countries can help us examine unconscious biases and bring us closer to our true desire to treat all our students with the dignity and respect they deserve.
To keep up-to-date with present day Mexico, go to:
When teaching the rich history of ancient Mexico, Central and Latin America, it’s tempting to take shortcuts and assign an Indian nation to each country: Mexico is Aztec, Central America is Mayan and so forth. The truth is, just as today, various cultural groups intermingled, lived side by side and conducted long distance trade and exchanged ideas on art, writing, architecture plus mathematical and astronomical systems.
It is true that when the Spanish arrived in Mexico, they found themselves in an Empire known as “The Aztec”, but that would be like Latin Americans arriving in Spain and calling all of Europe “Hispania”. Before the Spanish conquest in the 1500s, “The Aztec” was a 100-year-old alliance between three groups: the Acolhuas, the Tepanecs, and the Mexica people of Tenochitlan (what today is modern day Mexico City). The Mexica conquered the other two city-states and, eventually, other civilizations across Mexico.
Those other groups include the Teotihuacanos and the Mayans who are responsible for the spectacular ancient Mexican pyramids and ruins. Dating back to 100 A.D. and before, the early and diverse Mexican Indians’ knowledge of the stars and other natural events paralleled or outstripped the knowledge of the scientists and astronomers of the same time in what we now call Europe.
It is wise to remember and present that our Latino students come from a variety of countries and cultures with distinct sets of traditions and beliefs resulting from the merger of pre-Columbian and post-Conquest skills, knowledge and civilizations.
To explore the ancient and classical civilizations of the Americas, go to:
Often, during our monthly celebrations of ethnic heritages, we will have students, parents or community members discuss their ethnic group and their arrival in the United States. This can be especially true during Hispanic Heritage Month. The assignment may have worthy intent, but there are several pitfalls to the typical “immigration” report or panel.
Here are a few to consider during Hispanic Heritage Month:
1. Keep in mind that some of your contributors’ ancestors may have been forced to come to the U.S. or were already here. Include those experiences by asking:
Were some in your family forced to come to America? How does your family deal with painful memories and events? How do you support each other and thrive in the face of adversity?
Are you descended from native groups who were originally here? What regions did your family/tribe live in? Were your ancestors forced to leave ancestral ground? How have your family and group survived in the face of such tragedies?.
2. Whenever possible, have more than one representative of a culture present so that students can see that people within cultures have unique experiences and opinions. Sometimes, in an attempt to be inclusive, we’ll introduce a culture and unknowingly create more stereotypes by asking questions such as “What do Mexicans think about..” as if any culture could be of one mind. Instead, ask question such as:
What languages do you speak and what languages are spoken in your family? Do you have relatives who are bilingual or don’t speak a language in common with you?
On what issues do people in your group most disagree? Are there different values within and between subgroups? For example, on what do younger and older members of your family agree and disagree?
Have you emphasized different aspects of your culture at different times of the year or different times of your life?.
3. For ethnic panels and festivals, please don’t present Spanish-speaking and other ethnicities as only “international”. This reinforces the notion that there are “real” Americans and “foreigners.” Unless you are purposefully showcasing other countries, remember that the Spanish-speaking cultures you are exploring are here and, therefore, are American. You can ask questions such as:
What has being “American” meant to you? What have you had to give up to be American? What have you gained?
Have you ever been to another country and experienced your Americanness? What was that like for you?
How has your (or your parents’) choice of neighborhood, religion, school and friends strengthened or weakened your cultural connections and your sense of being “American”?.
Over 15% of the total US population are from Hispanic peoples. That’s more than 45 million people. Some of these vibrant Latino cultures trace their roots to Mexico, Puerto Rico and Cuba … others trace their roots to Spain and Central or South America.
These lesson plans and original stories are for use in exploring and deepening the discussion with your students about Hispanic Heritage. All of these units highlight original personal stories from two professional bilingual storytellers. The original stories will help lead your students to reflect on their roots and explore differences and commonalities.
Written and told by Storyteller Olga Loya
Olga reaches back into her Mexican-American childhood as she searches for her place in the world.
Olga explores the various labels for her ethnic group: Mexican, American, Mexican American, Latina, Chicana and so on. In doing so, she finds out how she wants to define herself and her pride in her cultural life.
Thirty teenagers from twenty countries, one Jewish teacher, and one Cuban-Irish-American storyteller (story artist, Antonio Sacre) set out to publish a book of writing in one of the poorest and most challenging high schools in Los Angeles. Will fear and distrust stop the project before it begins, or will they stand together?
As a Cuban and Irish American child, Antonio deals with being “too ethnic” or “not ethnic enough”. By trial and error and with the support of his family, Antonio reclaims all of his ethnic heritage and his Spanish language.
There are teacher guides, audio downloads and printed texts as well as student activities for most of the above units. These videos and lessons are a few of hundreds of units and short videos for teachers and educators exploring a variety of diversity themes.
Listen to these Women Stories
in your classroom . . .
Bearing witness to the heroic
actions and words of women
Telling inspiring stories
that are little known
and rarely told . . .
Listen to these stories and use the lesson plans with your students
of moving stories of inclusion and exclusion, loss and hope, past
and present. Use these stories in your classroom to inspire and
challenge your students to reflect on their world-view and to broaden
Use these stories as discussion starters for a faculty in-service session
to prompt and animate discussion about race-relations and inclusion.
These lesson plans come with complete text as well as audio, teacher guides,
student activities and further resources on related themes. You may also find
corresponding videos on our sister site, RaceBridgesVideos.com.
These units are also suitable for young adult group discussion as
springboards on the subjects of race and racism.
Japanese American Storyteller Anne Shimojima tells her original story Hidden Memory: Incarceration: Knowing Your Family’s Story and Why it Matters. About her family in the United States, especially during the time of World War II when some of her family were sent to the Japanese-American incarceration camps. Explores in an engaging way xenephobia, racism and being “unseen” in society.Courage and resiliance in a story that is rarely told.
Latina Storyteller Olga Loya tells excerpts from her original story: Being Mexican American : Caught Between Two Worlds – Nepantla. Growing up Mexican American in Los Angeles. Caught between the Latino and Anglo cultures, she realizes that she might belong to an even wider family and community and that perhaps there is a way to live with them all. Warm and spirited.
Native American storyteller Gene Tagaban remembers Elizabeth Peratrovich, Tlingit woman, of Petersburg, Alaska. She attended Western Washington State University. When she returned with a new husband to live in Juno, no one would rent her a home because she was native. This was the limit to Elizabeth. She said: “No more signs. We need better housing, good jobs and good education for the people. And the right to sit wherever we wanted.” Gene Tagaban lovingly remembers the life of Elizabeth Peratrovich through the stories told to him by his own grandmother. The story remembers the shining day, after much struggle and bigotry of the passage of the Alaskan Anti-Discrimination Bill in1945, 20 years before Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus. This account is part of Gene Tagaban’s longer story of identity and belonging : Search Across the Races : I Am Indopino … Or How to Answer the Question : “Who Are You?”.
Native American storyteller Dovie Thomason tells her true story: The Spirit Survives: The American Indian Boarding School Experience: Then and Now. This story weaves together personal narrative and historical accounts about the Indian boarding schools to reveal how they were used to decimate native culture and how some Indians stood up to them. Shocking and Inspiring.
African American storyteller Linda Gorham tells two stories. One is I Am Somebody : Story Poems for Pride and Power. This an upbeat and moving celebration of Linda’s family tree and heritage. The lesson plan guides teachers to invite “pride poems” from their students. In her story Rosa Parks : One of Many Who Sat Down to Stand Up Linda personalizes the words and actions in a story of the famed Rosa Parks. The lesson plan explores the many other heroes of the civil rights movement who “sat down’ to stand up for justice. Self-worth, dignity and courage come alive.
Celebrating Women : Bridgebuilders and Storytellers
Ideas for bringing the universal subject of Women into your classroom.
RaceBridges honors Women’s History Month each year in the month of March. But gender equality is an important diversity issue that can be explored at any time. So we re-publish here our lesson plan for Women’s History Month in this Resource format. We remember that any time in the school year is a good time to explore the struggle for women’s equality and the ideals still not yet
fulfilled. We trust that these ideas, classroom activities and recommended links will be of help for you and your students in exploring this subject.
Antonio Sacre tells of his lifelong desire to learn about Cuba from his father and his father’s reluctance to discuss the country from which he and his family were exiled after the revolution in 1959. Sacre explores his desire to learn about his family’s history, his father’s reluctance to discuss Cuba, and the time his father finally shared some memories from his childhood.
This lesson plan “unpacks” the story Dreaming of Cuba: The Stories that Bind by Antonio Sacre. He is an internationally touring writer, storyteller, and solo performance artist based in Los Angeles. He is the son of a Cuban father and Irish-American mother and a Boston native.
Antonio Sacre tells of his lifelong desire to learn about Cuba from his father and his father’s reluctance to discuss the country from which he and his family were exiled after the revolution in 1959. Sacre explores his desire to learn about his family’s history, his father’s reluctance to discuss Cuba, and the time his father finally shared some memories from his childhood. This story and lesson plan explores themes of identity, loss, and family relationships.
* NOTE: There are differences between the transcript and the spoken version of this story; it is preferable to listen to the story, using the transcript as a guide while listening or as a way to remember story details while working in class.
Antonio Sacre, born in Boston to a Cuban father and Irish-American mother, is an internationally touring writer, storyteller, and solo performance artist based in Los Angeles. He earned a BA in English from Boston College and an MA in Theater Arts from Northwestern University. He has performed at the National Book Festival at the Library of Congress, the Kennedy Center, the National Storytelling Festival, and museums, schools, libraries, and festivals internationally.
In these warm and engaging story-excerpts professional Storyteller Olga Loya relates some of her life-story and her attempts to reconcile the two worlds and realities of ‘American’ and ‘Mexican American’. Audio-segments, story-text and classroom activities will engage students in exploring what it means be fluent in more than one culture at a time. The unit assists teachers to move beyond the Mexican-American experience to anyone who has been caught between two worlds and two identities. Use this unit to celebrate Hispanic Heritage month or to practice storytelling skills and to probe issues of difference and belonging.
Storyteller Olga Loya tells of her experience growing up Mexican American in Los Angeles, trying to choose between the Latino and Anglo cultures, and realizing that she might belong to even more than two cultures and that perhaps there was a way to live with all of them.
This is a perfect lesson plan to use with students while talking about immigration, issues of being bicultural, or about how to use personal stories to address an issue.
A great lesson especially for Language Arts and Social Studies classrooms!
(Need help to download the MP3 Story Excerpts? Click here for directions.)
About Olga Loya
Storyteller Olga Loya was captivated by the vivid stories her Mexican grandmother and father would tll. Absorbing all of their secrets and following the tendrils of memory that bind people and families, Olga fashioned and invented herself, out of her own substance and imagination, a stirring universe of creation. Growing up in a up in the barrio of East L.A. where family rituals and traditions were the center of her emotional life, the young Latina, performing improvisation as a girl, has mastered the vocabulary of artful storytelling. With her poetic eloquence Olga’s stories are an impassioned quest to keep alive not only the fabric of her family but the larger Latino culture, richly robed in folktales, ancient myths, and history.
Moving to Junior High school opens Angela’s eyes to a society and culture that she had been living in (Caracas, Venezuela), and yet one from which she was separate. Angela’s story tells a universal truth: we think we are the only ones telling ourselves “ We do not belong here.” That statement is what we have in common. (more…)
The differences were easy to see, Catholic/Jewish, Brown/White, Spanish-Speaking/English-Speaking, Mexican/American, rural/urban. When Carrie Sue and her fiancé decided to marry there were many who thought their relationship would not last long – including the representative from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico who was handling their Visa.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: No-Aguantara
What do you judge people on when you first meet them? Have you ever made a judgment about a person only to realize when you get to know them better that you were completely wrong about them? If so, did you discover anything about yourself?
Do you think that we learn things about ourselves when we meet people who are different from us? Why do you think that?
Many people, including the American Visa Clerk objected to Carrie Sue and Facundo’s relationship. Why do you think it mattered to the other people?
Why do you think many were surprised that their families did not disapprove of the relationship?
In Their Own Words: Drama with Young English Language Learners by Dan Kelin – a resource for anyone working with 2nd language learners
The Earth Mass by Joseph Pintauro and Alicia Bay Laurel (Carrie Sue and her husband used a poem from this collection in their wedding ceremony and still try to follow its advice.)
Living and Traveling Abroad
Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
My name is Carrie Sue Ayvar and just after I graduated high school, I went from Pittsburgh, PA to Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico. (No aguantará) It’ll never last! That’s what they said! (No aguantará) It’ll never last! They were like wisps of rumors, never said to us directly but rumors that wisped around and spoken always in concerned tones, mostly to our families and friends.
It was 1973. I was only 17 when I met Facundo but there could hardly have been a more romantic setting. It was a warm, sunny day that January morning and it was on a small island just off the west coast of southern Mexico. The air was filled with (breathing in fragrance) mango and coconut oil, salt sea breezes and pheromones.
I watched as a muscular, strong young man, probably about 20 years old, carried several scuba tanks up onto the beach. Oo! The salt water and the sweat made his coppery skin glisten and his long dark hair had streaks of red and gold in it from days in the sun. Oh ho… I had never seen a more beautiful, gorgeous human being in my entire life! Like an Aztec Adonis emerging from the waters! When I could finally catch my breath again, I remember thinking, “The guy’s gotta be a jerk! I mean, no one is that good looking and nice too!”
But (como dice el dicho) as the saying goes, (caras vemos el corazón no sabemos) we see the faces but we do not know the hearts. Now on the surface, Facundo and I had very little in common. He was a Spanish-speaking, Catholic, indigenous, brown-skinned Mexican from a very small fishing village and he lived on a beach while I was a fair-haired, green-eyed, English-speaking, Jewish, white American who lived in a three-story brick building in a very large city.
And our experiences growing up were completely different. I mean, while I watched Tarzan’s adventures on TV, he lived them slicing green hanging vines for cauldrons of water, climbing tall palm trees to gather coconuts, diving off cliffs into beautiful blue tropical waters. I mean, while I went ice skating, he was free diving. From my father, I learned how to make flower arrangements. From his father, he learned how to build dugout canoes.
Para cemos conocemos! But we did get to know each other. And we got to know each other’s stories and each other’s hearts. (E descubrimos) We discovered (las dos querer) that we both loved (el mar) the ocean and the feeling of weightlessness during those underwater dives. (El savor) the taste of salt on our tongues when we came up for air. (El sonido) The sound of the waves drumming against the sands. (E también descubrimos) We also discovered (los dos querer) that we both cherished (familia y mis les) family and friends (mas que) more than everything. (Nos conocíamos) we got to know each other (e nos enamoramos) and we fell in love.
Now it was amazing how many people were there to tell us, “No aguantará, it will never last!” From both sides of the border, there were so many people who disapproved. They would say things like, “Oh, you know he’s only using you to get a green card.” Or (Ay, esos gringos de como de es sabe) You know how those gringos are, man! (rico e consentido) They are rich and spoiled, (ya sabes) you know! Or “Ah, what a shame! She couldn’t find a nice Jewish doctor?”
But all of those things didn’t really phase us! Even when we finally announced our engagement and, to our surprise, we heard rumors of a pregnancy that we knew nothing about! But, as I said, all those doubts and criticisms didn’t really bother us. I mean, we were happy and, to the surprise of many, so were our families. I mean, Facundo had actually met my parents a year before I ever met him; they’re the ones who actually introduced us to each other there on the island. Jesus, his papa and his parents – (madre tomas su propia hija) they treated me like their very own daughter. Dona Christina, his mother, used to say ,”(Tenemos que cuidado de ella) We have to take good care of her. (Sus propios padres están tan lejos) Her own parents are so far away.”
So really, what did it matter to us what other people thought? I didn’t think it mattered at all… but sometimes it does. Since it was hard for my grandparents and other elderly relatives to travel to southern Mexico where we lived, we decided that we would have the wedding in my home town of Pittsburgh, PA.
Now after a 12-hour overnight bus trip, we finally arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. Under a smoggy, gray sky, we waited for hours and hours to finally speak to an American visa clerk. And when we finally did, instead of helping us, instead of telling us what kind of visas we were eligible for, this unfriendly, unhelpful, unhappy little bureaucrat of a man lied to us. Lied to us repeatedly and began to make things up. Let me ask you, do you know how hard it is to get a copy of a form that doesn’t actually exist? Oh, yeah, he knew that he controlled the information and the situation.
But much to his dismay, we did not give up and go home like he wanted us to. Ah, ah, every time we went back, he looked more put out, like, like he was sucking on sour lemons or smelled something foul in the air. I mean, he was, quite frankly, openly disapproving of us. He told us that we were too different and finally, he dismissed us with an arrogant look! “Just go back to your own kind! You are young, poor, powerless and you don’t even realize that I’m doing you a favor!”
(Sigh) Well, (pobres) We were poor; we had little money. (E jóvenes) We were young! Powerless? (Las caras vemos corazones no sabe) You see the faces but you do not know the hearts! His attitude only strengthened our determination – pulled us together! Facundo and I, we found our voices and our power! We did not give up; we went back to that embassy again and again until, at last, we found someone who would listen. Though I will admit, it did take months, a career ambassador, a 3-star general and a United States senator to finally resolve our case!
But we did get a visa and we did get married. Now maybe we were naïve, I don’t know. I know as it was pointed out to us again and again, we looked different and we sounded different. We had different religions and we came from very different cultures and experiences. And (nunca sabes) you never know; there are no guarantees in life anyways. But I do know that we just celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary and, yeah, we’re still happy! (Como dice el dicho) As the saying goes, “Look at the faces and see the hearts!”
Can a teenager make an impact in a world full of injustice? Jasmin looks back at the roots of her involvement in social justice issues when she joined the cause to free the young Mexican-American artist, Manuel Salazar, who sat on death row falsely accused of killing a police officer.
What forces in Jasmin’s life caused her to care about the young prisoner on Death Row named Manuel Salazar? Who played an important role in helping her to volunteer in the ways she did? Why did she choose Art and Theater as her vehicle for action?
The play Jasmin and her group created encouraged people to sign a petition to support Manuel’s Freedom. What technical advancements exist today that were not available in the 1990’s that could help in creating civic action and discourse?
This legal case had two clearly different narratives depending on whose perspective was being considered. Can you compare and contrast these different perspectives? How do we decide what’s “true”?
Education and Life Lessons
Family and Childhood
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
Hello, my name is Jasmin Cardenas.
“He shot a cop!”
“No, he didn’t. It says the gun was in the officer’s hands when it went off. Some forensics test shows that.”
“Then why did he run, Jazz?”
This was my friend Mari and me going back and forth about this young Mexican-American guy. His name was Manuel Salazar and it was 1993. He was on death row and we were sophomores in high school. We were trying to decide if we should tell his story at this young Latino leadership event. Mari wanted to do a merengue dance.
“Come on, Jazz! I think we have enough guys to do a bomb-diggety-sexy merengue!”
“I know, but this guy’s innocent and he’s on death row! We should tell his story. Besides, this would be totally different from anything everybody else is gonna do.”
Our friend and fellow club member, Ali, had met Manuel’s lawyer. She told Ali, that he had international support for his freedom. That there was people from all the world behind him. And that, and that he had been represented by a shady lawyer. This guy who had totally rigged his first trial.
“C’mon, you guys, we should do this. We could, we could tell his story and, and people would be amazed. He was just driving in a car with other Latino and black kids, minding his own business. The cops stopped him for no reason. And then they beat him. And, and now he’s on death row! I mean, we should interview the lawyer. Tell his story.”
“That’s such a downer, Jazz. Why don’t we tell the story of the Taino Indians and we could dance and get costumes! That’s awesome!”
“You guys, this could have been any one of us in the car with our friends.”
Just that summer before, my brother, Favian, and I had been driving down the street and I saw a friend of mine walking down the road. And I laid on the horn to get her attention. When we got through intersection, this car in front of us, a white Caddy, stopped, all crazy about it. And his older white guy, in slacks and a white shirt, came out and was yelling at us, raging mad. He was F this, and F that. You stupid Mexicans, (we’re actually Colombian), Favian started opening the window to explain. And the guy was having none of it. He punched my brother in the nose. Broke his nose. I couldn’t believe it. We, we, we put out a police report. And my parents took him to the Chicago Children’s Hospital and they did nothing. He got away with it.
“This could have been ANY one of US!” I told my girlfriends.
I got them to agree that at least, at least we’d go talk to the lawyer and learn a little more. So, we went to her office.
It was in the Pilsen neighborhood, in Chicago, 18th Street and, uh, Blue Island. There was a big sign, this banner that said, “For the defense of Manuel Salazar,” hanging outside. We got inside and the room was full of people working the phones, doing paperwork. The lawyer, Marlene Kamish, told us all about the case. She told us about how the official police report had stated that the car was suspicious because there were Negroes and Hispanics in the car together. How the, the, the, Manuel had a, a, a gun in his gym bag and, and he was nervous because it was unregistered but he had been target practicing that day. So, he ran from the car with the gym bag. And how the officer chased him. And when he realized he had nowhere to go, he threw the gym bag, with a gun still inside, over the fence so that the cop wouldn’t get the wrong idea. And turned around and surrendered. But then the cops started to beat him. Even as Manuel was saying, “I give, I give!”
And how Manuel had acted in self-defense. The autopsy report shows that there was gunpowder in the officer’s hands, proving that the gun was in his hands when it went off. It was starting to feel like a movie. My friends and I were sitting on the edge of our seats, listening silently. Then, Manuel ran after the gun went off. He ended up at his friend’s house. He was unrecognizable from the beating. They said he looked like Frankenstein. Then the police department, put a “shoot to kill” order out on his life. Manuel was just 18 years old and scared. He ran to Mexico. And in Mexico, he was sleeping one night, when these masked men came and kidnapped him. They dragged him back to Illinois and couldn’t, put him on trial. This violated an extradition treaty between the United States and Mexico. But still, he was put on trial. Meanwhile, he had no idea that his lawyer had been working for the same police department of the officer who had died.
That lawyer failed to represent him and bring in witnesses and even, he didn’t even show that critical evidence of the toxicologist report that showed that the officer had a high blood alcohol level, proving that he was drunk. Manuel was convicted and sentenced to death. And while on death row, he found out that that shady lawyer had been disbarred. No longer allowed to practice. Marlene said that the British parliament, Amnesty International, even the Pope, was behind the support to free Manuel Salazar.
She showed us paintings. He had started painting while in prison. He had been doing all of this self-taught. And he painted this beautiful piece called, “My Brother’s Keeper.” My friends and I all were teary eyed. We were convinced we would tell his story.
We decided to use the facts of his case and we created a play. That and his paintings and his poetry. And we used our bodies as, as characters like the police officers and, and, and the narrator, and, like, the prison bars. And we created a dream sequence where we would show how he ended up on death row. The final line in the play, the last line, was from his poetry his paintings. “Let us stop blinding ourselves to the suffering from others and take the time to care. For I ask you, to ask yourself; Acabo no soy yo el guardian de mi hermano?..Am I or am I not the keeper of my brother?”
The Latino youth leadership organization loved it. We got a standing ovation. Better yet, Marlene Kamish, the lawyer, loved it. She organized new performances for us and we went everywhere with his paintings. We toured public events, private events, Latino events, youth events. We even marched in the Mexican Independence Day Parade with Manuel’s mom.
I got more involved. I started volunteering for his case, making phone calls, stuffing fliers. I became pen pals with Manuel. And over the course of a year and a half, we toured his, his production, “Reflections: the story of Manuel Salazar,” everywhere his paintings went. And I even got to know him. I visited him in the Pontiac Correctional Center with Marlene. But as things go, senior year hit, and with school, homework, after school clubs, practice for basketball and soccer, and then college applications, I just kind of lost track with Marleen and with Manuel’s case.
But then, my junior year in college, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, a high school predominantly Mexican-American, on the southwest side of the city, in Pilsen, contacted my university. They were looking to add an afterschool drama program. And my professor said that I should take it on as a project. The kids were fantastic. We had so much fun together and when we were nearing the end of the afterschool program, they wanted to perform. So, I suggested “Reflections” and they loved what it was about. It got me thinking, what had happened to Manuel?
My mom helped me locate Marlene, the lawyer. She was so surprised to hear from me. She said that Manuel had gotten his second trial and he had won and he was, in fact, free. She gave me his phone number. I called him right away. His voice was so soft spoken. He was so calm. He was so happy to hear from me. He told me that he was still living with his mom in Joliet but that the police department was harassing him and his family. They were angry that he’d been released. They, uh, they were harassing so much, that he was thinking of moving out of state. He also told me that his paintings were, were being looked at by people from the Art Institute. I told him about the play. I invited him to come see the show he had never gotten to see. He didn’t hesitate. My insides were exploding!
The day of the performance, I sat in the audience – super anxious, feeling like a teenager again. But afterwards, Manuel’s eyes were so warm and inviting. He was telling me about how much it meant to him, all that we had done. I couldn’t believe it. He was sitting there in the seats of my university with a buttoned-up collar shirt and a big sweater, hiding his muscular body from working out in prison all those years. And yet, his presence was so quiet. “Gracias, Jasmin. I can’t believe you did all this. This is something else. Something else.”
I might not be the British Parliament and I might not be the Pope but I know that what we did mattered. And to Manuel, while he was standing behind prison bars, what we all did to support him made all the difference. So, yeah, I am my brother’s keeper.
Jasmin struggles with the decision of where to live: a culturally vibrant Mexican-American community that struggles with safety or a picturesque middle class neighborhood where her son might be the only brown boy on the block. How does this educated Latina seek out community? And how, as we grow older, do we stay true to our values of making a difference in the world? (more…)
The small Southern town where Carmen’s parents live is a-buzz with political acrimony. Carmen’s mother, Esther, a spunky octogenarian–– and Cuban refugee–– regards her right to vote a hard-won, American privilege. As she finishes casting her vote, she is more than happy to remind her husband, Carlos, of “their views” on local elections. Carlos’ reaction to his wife’s enthusiasm is a hysterical and poignant civics lesson for all who are lucky enough to be casting their vote at Rocky Springs Elementary School that day. (more…)
In 1964, Carmen’s father, a Cuban refugee, went to work at a steel manufacturing plant near Atlanta, Georgia. When, on the first day of work, he asked to take a bathroom break, he was faced with two choices: before him was a “white” bathroom . . . and a “colored” bathroom. Carmen’s father’s solution would foreshadow how this inventive man would ultimately teach his Cuban-American daughters that, in matters of conscience, we need not accept the only choices placed before us.
In 1964 ‘white only’ and ‘colored only’ signs designated Southern public restrooms, water fountains, etc., and these divisions were legal. When Papi confronts the signs, he doesn’t protest their legality, but chooses a creative response. When he says, “I did what any decent man would do,” what does he mean?
How do you think the factory workers viewed their new colleague before the incident and after the incident? Do you think he continued to ‘whiz’ outside?
How does the use of humor in this story help us look at a difficult social issue?
Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America by Juan Gonzalez
Education and Life Lessons
Family and Childhood
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
Hi, my name is Carmen Agra Deedy. The story I’m going to tell you is called, “My Father the Whiz.”
I grew up hearing stories everywhere I went. It was inevitable, really. I grew up a Cuban refugee in a small southern town. My family came to this country when I was three years old and the little town that embraced us was called, and is called, Decatur, Georgia. Now, back then you couldn’t go three steps without stumbling into a story. You see, turned out, Cubans and Southerners were not all that different. They worship their ancestors, they gathered around food and they were unrepentant, chronic talkers. And so, the stories that I learned told me more about the people than anything I was ever taught. One of my favorite stories ever is about my own father. Now by the time I was 16 or 17 years old, I thought I‘d heard every story my father had to tell. Oh, the hubris of the young. But one afternoon my mother called me to the kitchen and said, “Carmita, take this cafecito to the men outside. They’re playing Dominoes; they’re gonna be out there for the next five hundred years. And then come back inside ‘cause you gotta help me with the dishes.” Which insured I was staying out with the men. Well, I walked out, (screech), opened the screen door, and saw all these Cuban men in their crisp guayaberas, tightly gathered in a circle around an old folding table littered with domino tiles. They were not under a banyan tree or a mango tree but a Southern Magnolia. Life is just weird when you’re a refugee.
I started to walk towards them through the miasma of cigar smoke, when I heard my father begin a story. Like I said, I thought I knew every story my papá had ever told. But you see, stories are funny. Stories are like, well, sometimes, they are like a fine wine. You don’t uncork them until the person who’s going to drink, is going to be able to really savor it and know how good it is. My dad must have decided I was ready. But first he called out, “Do I smell coffee or would it be that I am so light-headed from thirst that I am hallucinating?” Now, the Irish may have saved civilization but I assure you the Cuban gave you irony and sarcasm. I plunge towards the men and then they all said, Niña, cómo estás?” And I kissed everyone, it is the way of my people. And as the coffee was passed around, my father continued his story, as though I was not there. I wasn’t going anywhere.
I leaned into the tree, and he said, “And so you know, we had only been here for a few weeks,” less than a month, it turned out before my father finally found work. His English was cursory. He had been an accountant in Cuba. Now he came here with little understanding of the language. He was so grateful to have found work. Well, the first job he found was at a steel manufacturing plant. He was so eager the first day of work that he showed up an hour early and so nervous he drank nearly an entire carafe of coffee before he walked in. Now he was coupled with a man who was supposed to teach him welding—basic welding. (Google, figure it out. It’s a verb.) As he was learning to weld, Big D, a big African-American man, and my father found a way of communicating. Using hand signals and a few words my father knew in English. My father knew, like I said, not only little English, he knew almost no Southern black English. Big D didn’t speak Spanish. And yet, they soldiered on…or soldered on. In any event, within a small space of time, an hour or two, my father said he was starting to get the hang of things, And then, BAM! Like a hammer on an anvil, his bladder just felt like it was gonna burst—all that Cuban coffee he had! Well, he tried to ask Big D…well…This is how he said it went. “Ah, por favor, uh, please, Mr. Big D….ay….ti, ti ti…Cómo se dice? Dónde está baño?”
“What’s that you say, Mr. Carlos?”
“Ay, ay, ay…El baño?…Ah…,” my father unscrewed his thermos, and then he tipped it upside down to show it was empty now. Big D seemed relieved, “Hold on, Mr. Carlos.” And then disappeared around the corner. When he came back, he brought his own large, green thermos, which he unscrewed, and he began to pour my father another cup. “No, no, no!” My father looked like he had just been offered a live rattlesnake. And Big D, thinking that it was he that had offended him, ‘Well, if you don’t want to drink from my cup…” “No, Señor, no, no, no!” My father also increasingly frustrated being thus misunderstood, said, “No, eh, Señor, por favor,…Cómo se dice?” And then he realized, he knew just what to do. He unzipped, an imaginary zipper, fly, and then he made the international symbol, um…for emptying the male bladder. And Big D started to laugh out loud. And then he stopped. And he cocked his head, sort of like the RCA Victor dog and mumbled something to himself. Which my father said to this day that he’s not sure of the words. But it sounded something like, “not my problem, not my problem.” And finally said to my father, pulling him by the shirt, pointing, “Right there.” And he pointed down a long row of men, machinists at work at their stations. At the very end of the corridor, there was what looked like a hallway or corridor. My father thanked Big D and he gunned it. He started, at a clip, down that line of men and as he passed them,..now remember this is the first Latin man in this all black and white factory, the year was 1964, the men started shutting down their machines. And it got quieter and quieter except for the footsteps of the men behind him. Now, my poor father had only been in this country for a short amount of time. He was learning the customs. He wasn’t sure. This thing was uniformly odd. Where he came from men took care of this sort of business by themselves without spectators. When he reached the hallway, however, the crowd began to swell. And it looked like they were everything from laborers to two supervisors, black men, white men. And then he found himself confronted with a conundrum. A puzzlement. At the end of the hallway were two doors. Some of you know where this story is going. One said white and one said colored. And though his own tragic and troubled country had had many problems, this was not one that my father was familiar with, not in this way and he didn’t know what to do. And at this point he heard in the back, someone begin to laugh. And a man called out, “Hey, Mr. New Man, you pick whichever one you want but when you pick one, you stick with it.” My father looked at the men, looked at the doors. And he caught sight of Big D’s face in the very back watching him curiously, studying him. Now this the point in the story where I interrupted. Remember the tree…me leaning against it. I couldn’t stay there anymore. “Papi, what did you do?! I mean, did you quit, did you…”
“Carmen, just a moment, when you have to go you have to go. But, you know, I had come from a country where I had learned sometimes you have to follow your conscience. You cannot go left, you cannot go right. You have to find your own way.”
“Pop what does that mean…”
“Uno momento!” Now the men had leaned forward too.
“Carlos, what you did you do?”
“Can I please finish my story?” And he said, “I did the only thing a decent man with a full bladder could do. I push my way through that crowd of men, I go outside and I whiz in the woods!”… Si!
Amber, Misty, and Autumn – three multi-ethnic sisters – offer a sneak peek into their thoughts about self-identification. These storytellers also share a medley of emotional experiences about how they have sometimes been viewed by others. From skin color to hair texture, from humor to poignant reflection, these dynamic young women personify Dr. Maria P. P. Root’s, Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage.
Hi! My name is Amber Saskill and these are my sisters.
This is Misty (Hi!) and this is Autumn Joy (Hi!) and we are affectionately called the Sass Lasses and we’re a multi-ethnic background. So our story today is called “Special Blends.” It’s a youthful perspective of multi-cultural, multi-ethnic heritage.
Now we’re a blend of Jewish, African-American and Native American heritage. And the interesting thing about our three blends is that at one point in time, they were all persecuted or oppressed. For example, there was the Jewish Holocaust. There was the captivity enslavement and enslavement of our African ancestors and then, too, our Native American people. They were massacred and their land was taken away from them. But the interesting thing about people who have been enslaved, persecuted and oppressed is that they become stronger, more resilient people and we’re products of that. And even though, personally, I’ve been able to relate always to my different… my different cultures, piece by piece, it was interesting how by watching two films that really helped me to see the plight of mixed people in other areas of the world.
For instance, in South Africa there was a film during apartheid. And apartheid was racial segregation that took place from 1948 to 1994 and that’s during my lifetime. It wasn’t my mom’s generation or my grandmother’s generation; that happened in my lifetime. And to know that people of mixture were persecuted and oppressed because of the way they looked, that really touched me. And in this one film in South Africa, it talked about a girl who looked mixed and she associated herself with that even though that her parents looked visibly white. And even though she associated herself as being mixed, she was outcast from society and disowned by her very own family. And that really touched me on a deep personal level! And, in addition to that, I watched a film that took place in Australia. And it was the true life story of… in the mid 1900’s how the Aborigines and Australians, how they mixed together and had children that, later on, were actually discriminately called half caste. And these half caste were corralled and put into re-education camps where they were tried to be bred out of existence by being sort of diluted so that there was never any evidence that they ever existed before. And that’s called, actually, “the stolen generation.” And to think about these people that were actually sought after because they were mixed, that touched me so deeply!
That is so scary! In an attempt to eliminate a visual reminder of such a union, you know. And on a different level, that’s kind of what happened to my mom and me. We were getting ready to perform for this great storytelling festival. And before we could even get started, the festival coordinators, they slapped this big old sensor bar right across two of our stories. My mom was going to perform a story; it was a really funny fiasco of what happened when she and my dad first got married. (OK, I love that story!) And I was going to perform a story called “My Two Grandmas,” which is really close to my heart. And it’s a story where I bring to life memories of my Grandmama Rose and her Afro-Choctaw background and my Gram Blossom with her Russian-Ukrainian-Polish-Moroccan-Jewish background. And it’s one that tells of how they are from two different worlds but at the end of the story, you see that they’re really dynamic women. And they taught us, their granddaughters, to be dynamic women ourselves. But they did ask us remove the story and those two stories. And so we did; we’re professionals. But we did write a formal letter of complaint and we received a written apology back. But at the end of the day when the sun had set, we had been asked to compromise. And that’s pretty much my life. I’m mixed. I am asked to compromise.
And, really, as surprising as it may seem, as mixed people, we have to compromise all the time. It actually makes me think of something that happened to me not too long ago. A couple of years ago, I went to the DMV to apply for my learner’s permit and I filled out all the paperwork and I turned it in. And the woman behind the desk curtly informed me that I had forgotten to choose a race. And I politely told her that there was no box that says multi-racial so there was no box that I thought was appropriate for me to check. And she impatiently told me that I should just pick one of my races. And it’s funny this… this question comes up so often as… as people with mixed heritages. The infamous question, “What are you?” ((Right!)
And my first inclination is to say, “Well, I’m a human. I’m a woman. I’m a teenager. I’m a musician. I’m a student. I’m a sister, a daughter and a friend.”
Now I know if I ever really responded like that, their response would probably be, “No, really! What are you?” But, really, this is a really difficult question to answer because what I am or rather who I am involves so much more. Who I am is not… cannot be defined by checking black or white or any other box. Who I am is a complex amalgamation of my cultural influences, my experiences, my family, my friends, my beliefs and my interests. Some of these things change all the time. So for me to choose one of those boxes would be not only labeling myself but forcing me to identify with only one of my ethnicities. And that’s something I refuse to do because I identify with all my ethnicities. (And really it’s so true! Why would you forsake mother or father?) (Exactly!)
Yeah, and on a different note, in any typical family, siblings might look different and have different likes and dislikes. And I think in our family, we’re the same way. My sisters and I, we have differences; we have similarities. And I think that my two sisters, actually, they kind of favor each other a little more and I feel like I look a little bit different. So I think that our experiences as mixed children are different as well, especially my experience. I think, depending on where I go, I’m described as different ways. Like in some cultures, I’m described as the red-toned one. In other cultures or countries I’ve been to, they describe me as la morena or the darker one. But still in other cultures or societies I go to, I’m described as the light-skinned one. So there you go! I’m red, I’m dark, I’m light but still depending on where I’m at, my experiences are different than those of my sister… my sisters. And too, I really feel that because I look a little different than them, I would shudder to think that if that caste system, that racial segregation still existed to this day, what would happen with us? Would we be segregated from one another?
That’s something to think about. You know and if we’re not being judged by our skin or eye color, then we’re being judged by our hair. (Yeah!) And as you can plainly see, we’re curly girls and we’re very proud of it. And what do they say? “You don’t talk politics, you don’t talk religion and you don’t talk hair texture. (Right?) And titles like good hair versus bad hair is just unfair. We believe that all hair types and textures are beautiful and to be celebrated. In fact, a singer India Arie… she sings a song.
Oh yeah! Is that the one that goes something like this? “I am not my hair. I am not this skin. I am the soul that lives within.”
(Very true words.) Yeah! I couldn’t agree more. And a friend of mine got married to a man of another race and so they had a bi-racial daughter. And she inspired me to write this kind of lighthearted book geared towards tween… tween girls. You don’t even have to be mixed, just have curly hair to appreciate it. And this is an excerpt from that book,
I got into a fight one day, a rough and tumble with my hair.
I hadn’t combed it in two weeks so all would stop and stare.
My comb jumped in and tried to help but the fight just wasn’t fair.
It wrestled, it teased, it lost some teeth, got lost up in that hair.
The more I pried, the more I cried, the bigger it would grow.
I could not deny, from each side, it had turned into a fro.
And then I passed the mirror and I sucked my lip back in.
An idea began to gather and I grabbed some bobby pins.
My hands twirled and tucked those curls and, much to my surprise,
They calmly let me shift them, shape them into a design.
No longer were they rebellious. No nothing of the kind.
It was I who needed to see; it was I who had been blind
To the great beauty these curls so majestically possess.
Yes, with African-Cherokee-Choctaw-Iroquois-Jewish, I’ve been blessed.
So from that day forward, I pledged a pledge that with our hair or eyes or skin,
Never again would I define my heritage to fit in
With other girls
Who have no curls.
No, I’ll never feel chagrined.
They say the eyes, color aside, are the window to the soul.
So, too, this hair, curled everywhere, is gorgeous, free and bold!
(Woo! Love that bold) (Me, too!)
Well, I’m sure that my sisters agree with me that although as people with mixed heritages, we face so many difficulties but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. We’ve been called names like Oreos, mutts. We’ve been even called mulatto, which is actually a Spanish term for a mixture between a donkey and a horse. So we’ve been called many names but thanks to our parents Rick and Sadarri Saskill and our grandparents, we truly have been able to see that each of us are a deliciously concocted, “special blend!”
Antonio explores the challenges and joys of trying to raise a bilingual child. As anxious new parents, Antonio and his wife ask, “Are two languages better than one?” and find humor along the way. (more…)
Alegria is Spanish for “happiness” and “joy.” Listen as Leeny Del Seamons sings of what happens when we respect everyone in spite of our differences. In this original song, Leeny reminds us that we are all connected and equal. Together, we are one voice working towards peace to build a better world.
Leeny shares stories of her colorful, beloved family. Meet her charming Cuban Dad and his zany wife, Lorraine. Hear what happened when three-year-old Leeny receives an unusual souvenir from Cuba. (more…)
At school Olga was taught to be American first and not to speak Spanish. If she did, she risked being punished. At the same time, Olga’s Japanese-American friends went to an after school program to learn the Japanese language and to study Japanese culture. Olga wondered why she didn’t have something like that and how she could straddle multiple worlds. (more…)
As a Cuban and Irish American child, Antonio deals with being “too ethnic” or “not ethnic enough”. By trial and error and with the support of his family, Antonio reclaims all of his ethnic heritage and his Spanish language.
Do you think Antonio is white or brown? What does he think he is?
What could Antonio have done when he was teased about speaking Spanish? Have you ever hidden parts of your cultural background to “fit in”?
Does each group who comes to this country eventually lose its culture? What is gained and what is lost from assimilation?
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent by Julia Alvarez
America Is Her Name by Luis J. Rodriquez
Family and Childhood
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Hi, my name is Antonio Sacre and this is an excerpt from a longer story called Looking for Papito. Spanish …When my father left Cuba he didn’t speak any English at all … and when he came to the United States he met a woman who didn’t speak any Spanish at all … and the two got married. And they had me. That meant I grew up speaking Spanish with my father and English with my mother.
Now I was born it was just me — and life was perfect and on my very first birthday my mom and dad gave me twin baby brothers. My mom was up to her ears. My dad said, “Three boys in one year that’s the man that I am you know!”
We were a handful for my parents of course, and so my dad did what very many other Cuban men would do in the same situation he called his mother. Spanish. My Cuban grandmother came to live with us. We were growing up in Delaware at that time. And so, in my house our first language — my two brothers and I — was Spanish. So, we
spoke Spanish with my dad, Spanish with my grandmother and of course we learnt English from my mom and we all learnt each other’s languages.
Now, it’s typical in Cuban families for the first-born male to have the nickname – Papito … and I was given that nickname by my grandmother Papito. It means little man … little boy. But in my family, it reminded her of my grandfather who died right after they came from Cuba and so it was honor to have his name. And when we got out of diapers my grandmother moved back to little Havana in Miami Florida.
Now my first day of kindergarten I was five years old. I was so excited to go to school to get out of the house with those two other boys and my mom was sad and my dad was happy — “my boy was going to school you know”.
I get to this school and I see all those kids and I am nervous and excited and I looked at them and I spoke in my first language I said … Spanish … And the kids looked at me and said — what? — Spanish … And my teacher … she was very sweet … and she said, “Honey nobody speaks Spanish here we only speak English”.
“Oh, that’s OK I speak English too.”
“Hi everyone, my name is Papito.” And one boy in the back said “Pa-Papido sounds like Dorido!” “No, no its Papito” “No, no its Dorido!”
Now he is just a five year old having fun with the nickname that he never heard before, but obviously I didn’t like it so much. I went home and spoke to my dad. Now if you don’t speak Spanish don’t worry I will translate what I said but this is what I said … Spanish … and my dad said … Spanish… I told my dad I didn’t want the Cuban nickname that my grandmother gave me I didn’t care it was part of the family I wanted to be called a more American sounding name I wanted to be called Tony. My dad said okay.
A couple of days after he dropped me off at school and he said “Adios Papit..aa, Tony adios” “OK Papa, Adios”
And one of those kids is in the playground … he was maybe third or fourth grader — he looked like a giant … he came up to me and he said, “What was that language you were speaking?” “Spanish.” “Sounds stupid.” “Are you stupid?”
I didn’t know what to say and I went home I did what I lot of other kids do from immigrant families I said … Spanish … I never want to speak Spanish again” … Spanish … “No from now on — only English.” And when my father spoke to me in Spanish I answered back to him in English. And after a while he spoke to me in Spanish. I pretended like I didn’t understand until he only spoke to me in English and little by little my first language was slipping away.
And when I turned eight my parents got divorced… there is a long story behind that part of … with their cultural background and part of the way it just the way it worked. And so, my dad moved out and I didn’t have anyone to speak Spanish with anymore.
But it didn’t matter to me everyone at school spoke English. Everything on TV was in English. Movies were in English. My grandmother was in Miami and maybe I’d see a couple of times a year maximum. And the older I got by the time I got into the high school it didn’t matter to me that I didn’t know any Spanish.
Now in my first day of history class…American history in high school … I will never forget the teacher was reading roll call. He said, “Antonio Bernardo Sacre who’s that?” “Ah…that’s me but…my name is Tony” “What kind of a name is this??” “Well its Cuban” and the whole class turned and looked at me and I said “I am not Cuban. I am American. I was born here. My father, he’s Cuban” he said, “Oh yeah…where is your mother from?” “Well she is an Irish American” what kind of a combination is that?” and the whole class laughed – he was just, you know being funny. It was okay.
Now, at lunch there was a kid who came up to me and said “You are a Cuban and Irish huh? I guess that it makes you a spic – mick – or maybe a “mick-spic”. And soon in my school that’s the nickname that I got even though I had long ago stopped speaking Spanish, even though I fell and looked as white looking as everyone in that high school, that’s what I became known as — I was the “other” in my high school.
Now, what was happening at the time was there is the movie “Scarface” had come out and there is the stereotype that all Cubans were drug dealers and bad and was just this odd thing was happening.
Lucky for me my grandmother wanted to see me this summer after my first year of high school. And my brother was there that whole summer and when I got in to her house (in Miami) and she saw me she threw her arms around me with a beautiful hug. I was so happy to see her and she started speaking and I couldn’t understand her.
And she said … Spanish … she’s screaming at me yelling at me and my brother said “What’s the matter? You can’t speak … you gotta talk Spanish with your grandmother.” The whole family is in a big consternation yelling at me and my grandmother said …Spanish … “You need to learn how to speak Spanish.” So every day she would sit me down and drill words into me tell me stories about my dad.
And every night … not every night… but every now and then my brother and I would go out to these big Cuban dance parties. He knew the salsa and dances. He could dance with all these girls I would be dancing by myself. Whenever we walked down the street the old Cuban men would say to my brother…. Spanish … “You speak Spanish perfect what’s the matter with your brother? He needs to learn Spanish you know!”
And soon in that little Havana neighborhood in my family I was called … “El gringo de la Familia‟ …the Gringo of the family…they were calling me names and my family — the gringo of the family. And so it was odd for me because I don’t fit in with my family. I don’t fit in my high school. I didn’t know what was going on you know and by the end of the summer.
I was jealous of my brother because his Spanish is perfect he looks more Cuban if there’s such a thing. I couldn’t understand my uncles when they are telling jokes with my grandmother, and I said in my halting Spanish “I don’t feel very Cuban in this family” and she said, “You are never gonna be fully Cuban or American” she said “You are Cuban American.” And she said you have to speak Spanish with me because I am too old to learn English and you have to speak English in this country.
And at that point I realized that it was worse to be called gringo in my family than to be called names in the school I didn’t really care about. And so I tried the best I could that summer to accept the gain as much of that language as I could. And sat with my grandmother while she told stories of the family she told me jokes — some silly, some a little racy, some beautiful little stories.
Some of the jokes became basis of the stories that I tell now all these years later. One is just a little joke — a “barking mouse”. There is a cat who chases a family of mice and the mother barks at the cat and the cat runs away and she says, “You see kids it pays to speak another language.”
And I think about my grandmother every time I think about that little silly beautiful message about the importance of speaking another language.
And I went back to my school proud to be the school’s only Cuban Irish American. There’s one of my friends who calls me – a “Leprachano”. And so now I embrace both parts of it. And I still am not fully Cuban in little Havana — and I am still not fully whatever American means or … whatever the words you would say… but I am somewhere in between the both. And I know now, in all my travels around the country, there are many, many other people just like me and we have lots to learn from both sides. And that is just the part I wanted to do.
While studying to become an actor, Sacre happened into storytelling through a class at Northwestern University. Because he found that he was often excluded from acting jobs because he was seen as either “too ethnic” or “not ethnic enough,” he took on storytelling performances to pay the bills. He started to understand the power of his bilingual storytelling and remembers an encounter with a grade school bully where learning the other boy’s story made all the difference. (more…)
Antonio recounts all the difficulties he faced to get a Visa to come to the United States from Brazil. Going the “legal” route is filled with red tape, bureaucratic inconsistencies and plenty of suspicion. That seemingly insurmountable document became his ticket to his current life as a professional storyteller in America.
Many stories resolve themselves in threes (morning – afternoon- evening). Some resolve in four (The four seasons, for example), yet others in twos (day and night). What hardships in your own life have unfolded in a three step set up? Any in four? How about two?
Our perception can move life incidents into negative or positive outcomes. How has a bad experience been a positive step in your life’s journey or vice-versa?
Have you experienced any form of racism that has brought you closer to who you are in a positive way? What sorts of prejudice do you have? How could you free yourself from them?
Antonio’s Tedx Talk, Transitions in Eloquence: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pzwtxk23Es
Education and Life Lessons
Living and Traveling Abroad
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Hi, my name in Antonio Rocha, and here is the story about dreams coming true. Just imagine you want something so badly and you have it on your hand and somebody takes it away from you and you just like . . . You know, um, like the sea that longs to see the desert, or the desert that longs to have rain, or the turtle who wants to know how to fly? Something that you really don’t think you can achieve, and all of a sudden, hey, maybe I have a possibility here, you know?
I was on a bus going to an American consulate with a free ticket to the United States, a letter of invitation to come to this country in 1988, that’s twenty-two years ago, to learn mime—a dream I had. I had the grant, I had the ticket, I had the letter of invitation, I had the note from the director of the organization. Go to the American consulate, and they will give you a visa. Bring your valid passport. Four hours by bus overnight to the next town, not the next town, followed by bus several towns through. I get there, and the man looks at the letter of invitation, he looks at my proposal, my grant. I show him the government ticket. It was a ticket: I could fly coach, I could fly first class. I was sure to get the visa, and he said, “Well, we need a form. You are missing a form. We need an I-20.” And I said, “I-20? What is an ‘I-20’? “It’s a form when people go to study. You need an I-20 in order for us to give you a student visa.” I said, “but I’m going to a private studio. This man is a master mime; it’s not a college.” “Well, you need an I20.”
So, I leave. I take the four-hour bus back to where I live and I call the company, the organization in Washington, DC and ask for an I-20, and the man said, “I can’t give you an I-20. You are not going to college, it’s a private studio we can’t just give you an I-20 like that! I’m going to send him a telex and explain what this organization is all about; maybe he is not understanding what this organization is all about.” I’m like, okay, great. So the telex is there, just go and call them and make sure everything is okay. So I get that cue I call the American consulate: “Yes, we got the telex.” So I said, “Can I come down, take the bus, come down for the visa?” “We got the telex.” I get on the bus overnight: four hours to get there at 4’o clock in the morning, got to wait, drink coffee, get on a cab, wait in the waiting room, queue up. “Okay, Antonio?” ”Yeah, so you got the telex?” “Yes. We didn’t ask for a telex, we asked for an I-20.” I said, “But, I thought . . .” “We asked for an I20.”
And there I saw my dreams take off, away from me, not towards me. I had a free ticket, I had a letter of invitation, and they wouldn’t give me the visa. They are asking me for something I could not produce. I was shaking. I left, I didn’t make a scene, I go to a pay phone, I call collect from the streets in Brazil to Washington, DC. “They still insist on an I-20. I don’t know what to do and I am already late for the trip. I was supposed to be already in Maine and I am very sorry but I . . . .” I was crying; I was completely out of it. He kept asking, “What? Do you know English?” because I was speaking in English, I knew how to speak in English. He was like,
“Where did you learn English? You have never been to United States before? You never left Brazil before?” “No, I have never.” He kept going around these questions. I took the four-hour bus back. I go home, and one of my sisters looks at me and says, “You know why he is doing that to you, don’t you? Color.” I don’t know. I don’t want to say he was prejudiced, but he wouldn’t give me the visa.
So a doctor is coming down, through the same organization, he is coming down, and they call me up and they say “We are sending an I-20.” I’m like, how are they doing this? But any way, but the doctor gets there. There was a torrential rain, water gets into his briefcase, he gives me the I-20, it’s smudged with water. One of my sisters decides to go to the consulate with me because she was afraid I would just collapse if they denied me the visa. An American professor was there at the same time and said “I will go with you.” And he takes the 4-hour overnight bus with me, a theater professor from the University of Maine, Minor is his name and he takes the bus with me. I am walking and I am shaking. I have lost weight by now because this thing is not happening overnight. Okay? I am looking at the form and I don’t see a signature on it. I’m like,
“They didn’t sign this, this is not going to work,” and Minor said, “Don’t worry about that, let’s walk in there.”
I walk in there, wait, everything all over again. I am praying and I am doing everything I can to funnel the energy to the right direction. They take my stuff in, they come back and what the man says exactly is, “This is not valid, there is no signature.” I am like, “They didn’t sign the I-20. Minor, they didn’t sign the I-20!” Minor was taking a nap- 4 hour overnight on a bus, so he is like snoozing. “Minor, there is no signature.” Minor stands up and takes a pen out of his pocket and signs the thing in front of the consulate secretary. The consulate secretary goes, “You have the power to do this?” and he rushes in and Minor says, “Yes, I do, I am here representing the organization.” They rush inside, “Well, the Consulate would like to have a word with you, Sir” they tell Minor. I stay outside with my sister. Minor is gone for a minute, two minutes, three minutes. I am shaking and I can even feel it now telling you the story. I am like, what is going to happen? He has signed a thing he has no power signing.
Ten minutes…the door opens, Minor comes out! I look at him like, “Huh? Did you get it!?!” He grabs my elbow, he is like, “Let’s leave right now.” My sister gets up, we start walking across the lawn towards the gate, and he hands me the passport and says, “Welcome to the United States.” I open it, and there is my visa, there is my visa!
“How did you do this?” He said, “Well, I told him what the organization was all about, I told him that such and such a politician would be very thankful for his help in assuring that people can go across borders in this organization without any issues and I told him that I would make sure that you would come back in three months.” Ha, ha, ha! It’s been 22 years! The I-20 he insisted on having, it was from a university that I actually enrolled myself in with a four-year scholarship. That was just the beginning. I have been in here in United States for 22 years telling stories. Thank you.
A director tells Antonio that he would produce his play if only he was Mexican. This makes Antonio reflect on the importance of listening to stories outside our own ethnic groups. Antonio travels to Mexico and learns Mexican folktales to share with the community. (more…)
Antonio’s father listened to classical music that transported him back to his beloved Cuba. Antonio thinks of listening to music in the future with his son and the memories and scenes the music will evoke.
Why do you think Antonio’s father rarely talked about his time in Cuba?
How did the music make it possible for Antonio’s father to share a little bit of his childhood memories?
What music moves you? What pictures does it create in your imagination?
The Vintage Guide to Classical Music by Jan Swafford
How to Listen to Great Music: A Guide to Its History, Culture and Heart by Robert Greenberg
Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy by Carlos Eire
Education and Life Lessons
Family and Childhood
My Dad used to have a state-of-the-art alarm clock, and I feel old describing it to you. It would play music AND wake you up, and it had an incredible feature called the sleep button. You could hit it, music would play, and 29 minutes later it would actually turn off! It was amazing! The problem was, you had to wait the whole 29 minutes to see it work its magic, but that wasn’t too bad, because you could watch the numbers change on the clock, and I mean actually change. Each minute of the hour and every hour itself was its own little plastic tab that actually flipped down or folded over the other number, an interior dial of time perpetually flipping forward, clicking, keeping perfect rhythm, lit by a little light, just bright enough to see the numbers themselves change.
It was endlessly fascinating to watch the numbers flip, time flipping forward, and wait for the sleep button to magically shut off the music.
I loved sitting in my parents’ room listening to the music that played on the only station my Dad listened to before bed, WJBR, Just Beautiful Radio. My Dad’s from Cuba and my Mom’s family is Irish, but they both loved classical music and this station played only classical music, 24 hours a day. My Dad would hit the magic sleep button, the music would start, and I would watch the little plastic tabs click off the time until it was time for bed, but hopefully, not before the sleep timer did its things. My Dad would often stand, transfixed, in front of the radio. I always thought he was looking at the numbers as well, but he would close his eyes, sway very slightly and say, “Mijo, can you hear that?” I strained toward the radio. “What?” I asked.
“That, right there, and there again? There, right on top of the piano, the violin?” I couldn’t hear anything. “And now, the clarinets, and the drums rolling in the back, like thunder over the hills? It reminds me of Cuba, right before a storm, can you hear that?”
I could never hear anything he heard, but I loved watching him go to the place where the thunder rolled over the hills. The only time he ever talked about Cuba was when he listened to classical music, otherwise it was just too painful to talk about being forced to leave and all the family had lost. Then, the sleep button would do its things, and he would scoop me up, and bring me to my room.
When I was about 10 years old, my Dad gave me that radio. He got a new one with a sleep button that could actually be programmed to any amount of time he wanted, from one minute to 59 minutes, and with numbers that actually glowed, floating like green fireflies, silently changing with no click at all to tell you that time still moved, whether you saw it or not.
I asked him what I could listen to, and he said whatever I wanted. Over the course of the next few months, I listened to every radio station my hometown carried. I listened to pop and country and late night baseball broadcasts from far away – 29 minutes every night – but none seemed as mysterious and as beautiful as the classical music station that transported my Dad back to Cuba.
I began to listen to it, and while I never heard drums rolling like thunder over the hills, I pretended like I could, hearing something that only adults could hear, and the complexity and the beauty of the music would make me forget about time falling down and I would fall asleep.
In my home town, WJBR doesn’t play classical music anymore, but where I live now, there is one station left that still does. Now that I am older, I can hear the drums underneath the violins, and the swelling music reminds me of egrets landing in shallow water.
I have a son now and, someday, when he is older, I will stand in front of the radio, or whatever new music playing device we’ll have then, and say, “Mijo, can you hear that? The piccolo over the strings? Like butterflies landing on flowers? No? Can you hear that? The piccolo over the strings? Like butterflies landing on flowers? Can you hear the strength of your grandparents and great grandparents coming from Cuba and Ireland to start a new life here in America? Can you hear that? Don’t worry. When you get older, you will.”
Occasionally, Antonio brings his friends and family to Catholic mass, not always with the results he hoped for. However, in Los Angeles, he goes to church with Mexican-American families where he finds people who are deeply into the ritual and their passion for their religion makes him proud. (more…)