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    On Cinco De Mayo

    I have several books I use regularly teaching that I connect to a celebration of Hispanic culture and I'm hope they are ones you'll check out, though they are probably old friends to those involved with teaching in primary school. They (just a very few of so many) fall under raising cultural awareness and understanding and really are fun to use:

    Calling the Doves/El canto de las palomas (Paperback)
    by Juan Felipe Herrera (Author), Elly Simmons (Illustrator),

    Family Pictures, 15th Anniversary Edition / Cuadros de Familia, Edición Quinceañera (Paperback)
    by Pat Mora (Afterword), Carmen Lomas Garza (Illustrator), Sandra Cisneros (Introduction),

    In My Family/En mi familia (Paperback)
    by Carmen Lomas Garza (Author),

    El piñatero/ The Piñata Maker (Paperback)
    by George Ancona (Author)

    Hairs/Pelitos (Paperback)
    by Sandra Cisneros (Author)

    Cesar Chavez: A Struggle for Justice / Cesar Chavez: La lucha por la justicia (Hard cover)
    by Richard Griswold del Castillo (Author)

    Frida (English Language Edition) (Hardcover)
    by Jo nah Winter (Author), Ana Juan (Illustrator)

    When I came to CA I made and saw my first pinatas, so I'm including the book that told me how, The Pinata Maker. But, really, it was Amalia Rodriguez my close friend, Cesar Chavez' niece and god-daughter, in Greenfield that actually taught me to make the paste and cook it with flour and water and how to put on the tissue. Making lion pinatas used to be a part of my teaching until the new and improved "all from a workbook" modernity hit with its expert scientifically based research, to get the fine scores in NCLB improved "ways". Thus narrowing and focusing me on the walls they dictate I put up with the stories of how one "might" do this pinata project, talking about it over doing appears the NCLB ways. How fortunate I, lost in my old school can be brought up to date by these enthusiastic bubblers of tomorrow. Can you tell a younger teacher on the weekend said one thing too many (and I quote, "While art is nice, where does it get them?") Actually that is incorrect statement on my part about reading about pinatas...in my year even references to our multiplicity of cultures are gone, but there is that Hut For Zig Bug from the exciting theme "All Together Now" or was it "Treasures"-- who could know?.....The books I chose to teach with when I was allowed to both use them and include them and choose them....helped me teach perspectives about what living in the communities was concurrently teaching me, all the fascinating ways we are just a little bit different. And just the same too.

    I loved the Children's Book Press out of San Francisco. Still the best for myths, tales from other cultural perspectives. The Latino tales have saved me.

    I actually spent the weekend doing something I wanted to share.

    I was asked, with Jack, to be a judge for the Ventura County Dept. of Ed. Migrant Regional Debate and Speech Competition at the Marriott in Ventura. Representative children ages 9 to 17 (4th to 12th) grade who are in Migrant programming in half the "regions" in CA came to participate. This program status includes usually children of parents who work in migratory food/labor industry positions in our state so that, in large measure, by the sweat of their brow our country has cheaper food, and I hate to get on my band wagon here but it's a fact Lou Dobbs often omits from his revelations. These are the children of very hard workers.
    By definition. Many born here, some arriving.
    Anyway these kids, 518 of them prepare speeches in English and in Spanish divisions by age levels and are in debate teams competitively presenting and then winning in the categories, advancing towards trophies and 1st, 2nd, 3rd places. It was impressive to meet the children in my particular selected area, which was judging the English high school debates teams. We were involved Friday from 6 to 10 PM and mostly all day Saturday until 10 or so PM.

    And we saw....outstanding academic abilities, excellent work on English, confident children, capable speakers, excellent behavior, humble children, excellent group support and shared pride and true joy for others. Additionally what I did not see...competitive behaviors to delight in another's defeat, caddiness, lack of intellectual high standards or any kind of behavior that was inappropriate or unrefined. Speakers at meals gave presentations to the children about future, keys to success, tips, lots of advice about the upcoming information age. Charles Weiss the County Superintendent gave a very good speech on the importance of education and gave 4 keys...tips. I'm trying to think of them. You may be able to tell by this I was a bit fatigued. He was good though.
    I sat with a group the first night, a lovely group of junior high girls, dressed very conservatively, nervous. We introduced ourselves to them. They were from Bakersfield coming on buses for a real adventure in the big hotel, and some went on the next day to win trophies. Which was exciting for me to watch. Go girls. At dinner one girl asked me this after our salads were placed. It was a pretty formal Marriott banquet. "Excuse me, will they bring us any other food?" Another told me that they had, "Never eaten in a restaurant." Another shared that she had ordered fast food a few times but had never had food like this, looking at our Caesar salad. And back to my first child, "We can't afford to eat like this and my parents are barely new here so we are kind of afraid of not doing this the way it should be done." And so very quietly I talked to them about which fork to use, courses, napkin rules, how to pass, rules around more formal dinners. They listened as if I ran a class and seeing them the next day, easier in 500 than you think, they told me that at breakfast they also had courses (I missed the 7AM food) . They were checking in to tell me about eggs on ham on this bread with sauce all over it, "Eggs Benedict?" I said. To that they laughed.

    In case you are wondering what I was doing...I was watching children who come from poverty, struggle, true homes that are making their way into a new world, new traditions, just as is the history of all our people...watching this group as explorers and discoverers. These are kids who live with families that had to SAVE money over months to buy the outfits they were wearing. They shared this info. with me through smiles, not of misfortune or of regrets or wants, but of the pride in this trip to a fancy hotel leaving family to make their way to this competition to show others what they can do. Every child EARNED that place at the table. ...I was watching them enter the world of larger America.

    I was, I think, the only Anglo--from another completely different cultural background--no less desiring a chance to make it here in this America in my family past... only one like me that I really saw, maybe one or two others. Can you imagine the honor to me to be included in such an event? Well it was actually one of the more important experiences of my life, seeing children now older who are showing me where our school children progress to from our schools. In 1st grade you see the beginning...and now I'm labeled failing. So my context for looking is knowing how devastating this label has been to me personally. If you will please go to this link--it matters--and read it, you will understand me better on this. Please.

    Although I may be accused of dwelling...this simple exchange about the dinner was demonstrative. I asked the kids if they had ever had chicken in lemon cream sauce and they said, "No way." Rather causing me to laugh aloud so I gave it the name Chicken Lemon Dijon Roulade or some such nonsense. But they all tried it, they all asked me how to do this properly. My husband leaning over to say to them in Spanish that I normally eat meat with my hands, which isn't far off the truth. What makes me raise it... is...the utter humility and sincerity of this child saying, "We are too poor to go to the nice restaurants. We just mostly are so dirty from the field my mom says her hands would not look nice enough." Yeah, sure I won't cry...but I did I think causing them some kind of wonder and friendship blooms for me at these times...I'm sitting in my chair thinking about these things.

    Another child more shy than you can know in very halting English said to me, "I am the first of my peoples to go to school and I am wanting to try my best to learn and become my best." Pressed further she shared a bit about how her family saved so she had nice clothes and a suitcase. If you have any doubt in your mind what I'm saying, what I'm saying is that these children do not take anything for granted because they and their family are earning everything in a time when this is very expensive to do. Everything is something they must learn to do and everything at least to my teary eyes seems very hard... After pulling myself together they asked about my life. It seems that these children understand how to comfort.

    All my girls the first night had NEVER seen the ocean, a block from us and weren't sure the chaperone's would allow it. I did ask them to take the girls and if I could have, I would have. A walk literally around the corner. Watching them meet the ocean would make my year.

    And so you see why teaching children who are largely Hispanic, immigrant children, Migrant children is an honor for me. Imagine introducing children to these things. It makes me see with new eyes, it brings to me the value of family, the striving for the future, the importance of sacrifice. It carries to me my past into today. I asked them about education levels in their families. Many said their parents had not had opportunity for school much past early grades, some not that. Asking if parents could read at my table two girls said very quietly, no, but we do read to our mom's. I had to look away awhile. I was crying again. You just have to understand that I'm aware of where they are starting from, how school separates them from the home, how they will go on into futures very different, how much the parents will need to let go and grow. I know that these children could tell this world EVERYTHING it needs to know about healing educational systems, if ASKED. And I know over rhetorical, political inflammatory "telling how it is" they can share thoughtfully how it feels. And their witnessing to this time in school I did get to hear. I was given the opportunity to listen.

    People come to our country for opportunity. I am dealing daily teaching with the young, their hopes and dreams, their products of the love, their desires. I am a teacher of tomorrows.

    This event rests on the shoulders of Joe Mendoza in the Ventura County Office of Education. What he does is amazing, how he does it more so. These children come into this with their teachers knowing exactly how to behave, what the standards are, how to prepare. In my seat judging, an uncomfortable role, believe me, I saw teams of children who prepared in teams to debate the issue of "English only" in schools. Can you imagine a more pertinent topic? They switch sides as they progress up the ranks, so must prepare and debate both sides. This was fascinating. They question each other's openings, then rebut and close with presentations that reflect on points raised. Imagine doing that, supporting your position with "research" in a 2nd language. I could not in high school in French, the language I took, do this. Actually in a debate in high school my style was fainting. Their arguments, history, comments at a higher level than ANY group of teachers or adults I have EVER heard talk on this topic. Much higher levels than the rhetoric on teacher blogs...They cited Krashen, West Ed, NEA, CA Dept of Ed. figures...they had STAR scores, historical positions on how minority education has worked, figures on Hispanic students in terms of drop out rates, program challenges in Bilingual Education, the Unz initiative and much more integrated into coherent and well-considered debate. And they spoke from the heart from their personal perspectives of language issues in education. One fiery child spoke to her feelings of "losing her sense of culture" her self. This to me is a frustration all of us know, as we sense we have lost the past and what our immigrant roots were. (Some like Lou Dobbs the never-ending loop of border fear, lost it completely thinking that closed borders might have not closed out his unique past family immigration, something that may not stand up so well to the thoughts of others in the years they came...another Lou of the past I'm sure thought his group over-running us. I'm willing to bet it all on that.) Many of the pro EO groups in the debates cite Theodore Roosevelt, when one sited Lou Dobbs, I laughed.

    It is frankly important to me to share with the wider world what I saw. What I heard. On topics near and dear to them, essential educational issues, they were prepared, informed and very aware of the levels of sophistication and understanding needed to even consider this topic. This was not impassioned appeal to emotion, though we know I personally like this. I asked them later at the banquet where they stood themselves on EO education. I was surprised by the variety of responses. One child told me that she felt that programs were so different (she has been educated in 6 schools), therefore she really thought places should be able to design to their own strengths because she said and I wrote this down, "If you don't believe, understand or know what you are doing in a program and they "make" you do it, you cannot really help a child in the same way someone can who has invented it or who has given it their deep and long life commitment can do it. In the end it matters, is important, to children to be taught by those who want to inspire their lives as much as it matters what set of things they use doing it."

    She had to say this for me a few times so I got it right. She is 15. Tell me we are doing a failing job. No, I think actually the failure is in bridging these children into colleges, a failure of knowing what matters most. It's not "scores" and punishments. It's future. I want to own that as a cause.

    Mr Mendoza in the last evening shared that Migrant children succeeding is a CA "challenge." His figures show only 6% will get to college and of that only 3% graduating.

    I would say about 55% of the children I've taught, perhaps higher, have been in Migrant status as children. Of those I count lawyers, Stanford grads, doctors in the pool of where they are now, but many I have not heard from, many I can't connect and many we don't know yet. Is it acceptable to me, figures like this? No, of course not. And I know how expensive colleges are, how difficult it would be to do what my daughter just did getting in, without parents to guide you. We knew "what to do" just in applying. In fact, I need to think about the bridges to future. It's made me think this weekend about my own life, how I need to talk right from the start to parents about practicalities. I realize that I wanted to live doing this job as i have gotten to do it, helping others to their futures who I really see as disadvantaged by our systems blindnesses. I listened to Lou Dobbs later last night ....he is fooling himself if he finds his rhetoric convincing. But you always worry about a person who is never wrong. And who insists others see his truth as the truth. Or who looks for better ways to think up deportation methods without seeing what that labor meant. But the issues are complex enough that I need to focus away from that.

    Just the same, on my last evening I sat with high schoolers. A boy who is an artist, versed in Diego Rivera, Kahlo, who I sent to look into Rodopho Morales, José Clemente Orozco, Oswaldo Guayasamin, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Rufino Tamayo and Francisco Toledo .

    This child won in two different categories of speech-tough competition. He told me he has no plans for college. This hurt. Several of the young women at the table shared that they are enrolling in their state colleges in Sacramento. I talked only a bit to this artist, telling him of my art degree and how this art perspective needs the training programs in universities. Well, at least I gained knowledge. Who knows? It can be done depending on the force of will. Vision.

    I asked him about his reading in the area of art, his access to materials. He is a painter. I asked about his visits to see galleries, in my mind remembering myself at his age. He has never seen the places America really has to offer (free in my days) though he has traveled to see Rivera's home in Mexico and understands deeply, I think, Kahlo's portrait work as statement on her inner world. He wants to be a recorder, a maker, a person commenting on his culture and our wider world. I am struck by how sad it is he is not yet enrolled in college. I think in no small measure we are not bridging for kids. I hope he contacts us.

    By some interesting cosmic kismet, I had dinner this week too with all the "Ventura County Star" student high schoolers (a newspaper sponsored event) that high schools chose to send to the Reagan library--their top academic students. My daughter among them. What did I see? A parking lot of BMW's, first, lots of Coach bags, lighter skin, one child of color in about 200 children...a very much smaller percentage of Hispanic students than is our county average, I saw parents that expected their children to be there...I saw......affluence. Not always. But I did see it. No child asked me about the salads, but of course I did see the same level of lovely dignity in the kids...I saw money disbursed.
    What I felt was a desire, a strong desire, to see all these children take on the problems of our world together. In community built to help them know each other. I saw young people full of capacity, kindness. Really what I saw and heard in both places amounts to more an indictment of my age group... but just the same focusing on what matters. I hope these children will not be kept apart, will find ways to form a democratic society, will examine the issues of education from all their multitude of perspectives, will listen to one another, respect one another, rise together to live side by side and address poverty as something that cannot allow suffering nor accumulation of wealth to destroy our nation in its pursuit of truth and happiness. I am actually more hopeful now than in awhile and that even in seeing the different realities because in those places I saw the future. I met them and they are something else.

    And all of this on Cinco De Mayo, a day to celebrate the diversity and importance of our Hispanic community and all it brought to America. And I appreciate my inclusion in this event with children. I'll certainly carry it with me.

    Hoping your Saturday was as fine,

    2007-05-07 07:21:50


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