“Your behavior influences others through a ripple effect. A ripple effect works because everyone influences everyone else”
– John Heider, The Tao of Leadership
Just because a class has finished does not mean one’s effort to learn should cease. Because of this, I must make it a goal to continue my education about diverse cultures. This is incredibly important to me because of the influence I will have on my future students. I must present them with window books so they have the opportunity to read about people who do not identify similarly to themselves. I have already begun this in my project #4, but one lesson plan composed of four books is not nearly enough! I have an advantage because I have plenty of time before I become a teacher; however, it is never too early to start planning. So, in order to continue my efforts…
My goal is to search for children’s literature books from and about diverse culture, which I will be able to incorporate in my classroom and curriculum when I become a teacher. I hope that by the time I have my own classroom (2019-2020) I will have 100 books from diverse cultures ready to utilize and present to my students.
First, continue to blog on “Seeking to be Boundless” and get more resources from those who comment or give insight.
Look to others for help- read other teacher’s blogs and literary blogs or look for Pinterest boards showcasing diverse books.
Next, go off of the novel for project #3 and find a children’s literature book that is from the same culture. See where this leads me.
And, pay attention to diverse book awards, ie. Corretta Scott Award, Rainbow Project Book List.
**A lot of these do not require a specific time frame, and they can be fulfilled throughout time and without pressure of completing. Essentially, my search is never complete!
I am doing this because this semester I had the opportunity to observe and teach in schools that were more diverse than the ones I attended. The students at the schools I attended were prominently white, middle class. The students at the schools I observed were majority latino/a and of varying socioeconomic status’. It was an eye-opening experience being able to compare a few schools and see how different the student demographics truly are. I now see how important it is to incorporate and teach diverse books. Every student should be able to see themselves in literature and learn about others from the books they read.
The most important thing that can come of this class is my understanding of those who are different than me. I must learn more, so I can hand my knowledge down to my future students. School is not only about math and science, but it is about how to become a citizen of the world. The only way to do this is to explore, create a ripple, and expand boundaries.
Hi, my name is Bailey. Here are some things you should know about me before we begin this ongoing conversation together:
I am an Integrated Educational Studies major, and I am double minoring in Language and Literacy, and Leadership Studies
I aspire to be a teacher after college and know my job will introduce me to a diverse group of students, so why not start to learn about diversity now?
From this experience, I expect to learn more about people. This is broad, but it is true. As a future educator, it is important for me to see the world from different perspectives. Hopefully, I will become a better-rounded person who can positively affect my future students. My goal is to be the cool elementary school teacher that everyone loves and wants to keep in contact with once they go to college. Maybe one student will want to become a teacher, just like me. I’m sure many of you have had this feeling at one point as well. Also, I know my writing isn’t always that great, so hopefully writing this blog will help.
What would I like to work on/ with?
Work and write in a blog format to reach a large audience of teachers.
Allow my personal voice to come through in my writing. This will help when I send emails to parents, teachers, or my principal.
Learn about diverse cultures that I may not have known much about before.
Discover how I am the same as those who I thought were different.
Learn to look at everything from a different perspective, because nothing is ever only black and white.
I find it important to know ones identity before we teach about someone else’s identity. How can we encourage others to be themselves when we may not even know who we truly are? In order for you know where I am coming from, you should also know who I am. So, I identify myself as:
Daughter, sister, and friend
There it is. This is me, my intentions, and my hopes for this blog.
“Often finding meaning is not about doing things differently; it is about seeing familiar things in new ways.”
– Rachel Naomi Remen
“How much longer do we have?” I asked my friend.
“About 15 minutes. It’s 9:35,” she replied.
I wanted to leave. I had woken up at 7:00 AM and drove 40 minutes to school, all for what? A required 50-minute observation at the Starbucks on campus. This week our subject: how the world is set-up based on ability. Every few weeks our teacher assigned us a different cultural group to observe: race, age, gender, and now ability. The sun was bright, and I could barely see my laptop screen because of the awful glare created by the reflection and shadows. I spent the previous 35 minutes making casual notes about how the campus, and society, is difficult for people with disabilities to function in because of the lack of stairs, tall buildings, and non-automated doors. To be honest, this was what we talked about in class, and I had yet to come up with anything new on the subject. After the observations, we had to write a two-page reflection about our findings, specifically how society is established for those with privilege. We were not expected to reach a specific conclusion, but to merely make observations about what we saw.
As I was about to call it quits, I saw a man in an electric wheelchair in the middle of the piazza on campus. He was coming down the concrete hill into the middle of the circle surrounded by the library, gym, and business building. In the center of the circle was a huge, freestanding fountain with rock-like seats extending outwards. The configuration of the fountain and seats made the piazza into a maze. I watched as the man slowly glided his chair in and out of the stone, just like someone would do if they were walking.
He passed my group as we were sitting on the Starbucks patio. He continued his way to the large, old-fashioned east coast looking buildings in the front of the school. The buildings were beautiful, cream colored and accented with a medium brown hue. In the direction he was headed there were four buildings encompassing a dark green lawn. Each building looked a twin of the next, perfectly in sync. In the front of each, there was a small staircase leading up to the doors of each building.
“How is he going to get into the buildings? He can’t use the stairs,” I thought to myself. “And only one has a wheelchair ramp in the front.”
Right at that moment, the man took a sharp right behind the buildings, camouflaged into the back of the architecture were wheelchair ramps. The man did not have the opportunity to see the buildings in the front; he had to go through the back, where no one saw him. He had to change his life according to his surroundings, something people with abled bodies don’t have to do.
“…Not only the architecture, but the entire physical and social organization of life tends to assume that we are either strong and healthy and able to do what the average young, non-disabled man can do or that we are completely unable to participate in public life” – Susan Wendell, The Rejected Body, The Social Construction of Disability, p. 59
Privilege, Power, and Difference (2006) by Allan G. Johnson was the first book that changed my perception of myself in relation to the world. I read the book in the same class that assigned the observations of different cultural groups. It was an education class called “Social Construction of Difference.” Before taking the class I was not aware of my privilege. I grew up in an affluent city with little diversity. Everyone looked like me, everyone acted like me, and everyone was like me. I did not understand my own privilege or even thought I was capable of having privilege, but Johnson explains “… privilege exists when one group has something of value that is denied to others simply because of the groups they belong to, rather than because of anything they’ve done or failed to do” (Johnson, 2006, p. 21).
I have privilege. I have privilege because of the color of my skin. I have privilege because of the place I grew up. I have privilege because of the way my body works. I have privilege because society adheres to my needs.
At first, I read the book with a skeptical eye. I did not want to see myself as the bad guy merely because of how I was born. I did not want to feel guilty because of something I could not change. It was all about me, me, me, until I saw the man in the wheelchair. Seeing the man in the wheelchair changed my perception of all diversity. It was the first moment I saw the contents of Johnson’s book come to life. He was right; the world is set up for people with privilege. The world is set up for people to be able to walk around a building and up a few steps, instead of taking the back route to find the wheelchair ramp.
Diversity is often viewed as unwanted or bad because it does not fit into the society that privilege has created. It is an endless cycle. In regards to ability, Johnson explains “… it is assumed that the limits on what they [people with disabilities] can do are caused solely by the conditions of their bodies and not also by the narrow assumptions made by nondisabled people when they design buildings and buses and the rest of their physical environment” (Johnson, 2006, p. 111). Everything made sense once I saw the man. I have privilege because society has unfairly benefited me at the expense of others. Reading Privilege, Power, and Difference (2006) allowed me to understand why I have privilege. It does not only relate to ability and disability but also race, age, gender, class status, socioeconomic status, sexuality, etc. I did not earn these things, I was given them by the lottery of life. I just so happened to win the jackpot. We as teachers need to understand our privilege and how it relates to students. If we are more aware, we will create a better classroom environment for every child we meet.
Before reading Johnson, I saw myself as the victim of unfair judgment. I thought “no one knows about my life, so why do they think I have privilege?” I was unaware of privilege, and I was unaware of the diverse cultures that were affected by the power structure created by society. There are stigmas attached to different people because of their outward appearances or their beliefs, and many people have to change their lives to live in this type of society. Although there have been gains to equalize the gap between privilege and oppression, much of society is still set up for those with privilege.
In 1999, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed. It is a labor law that protects against discrimination from disabilities. Although this law focuses on developmental disabilities, it is also pertinent to those with physical disabilities. According to the ADA website, the law “… prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, State and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation” (ada.gov).
“1 in 5 people has a disability.” In 2012, the United States Census Bureau released a report for the ADA’s 22nd anniversary. The report says that “about 56.7 million people — 19 percent of the population — had a disability in 2010” (census.gov). The definition of disability ranges under the ADA, and the disabilities range from severe to moderate. A staggering statistic from the report showed “roughly 30.6 million had difficulty walking or climbing stairs, or used a wheelchair, cane, crutches or walker” (census.gov). The man I saw was 1 of the 30.6 million people. Students in our classrooms can be a part of this group as well. The man was one of the people that had to change his life according to society’s standards. The ADA protects those with disabilities, but it does not always allow them to live a life without extra effort.
I learned something important from the man in the wheelchair and Johnson; we are all in this together. In the last chapter of Privilege, Power and Difference, Johnson says, “the simple fact is that we affect one another all the time without knowing it” (Johnson, 2006, p. 134). I may not have seen my privilege before because I was positively affected by it. However, now that I am literate in this subject it is my responsibility to check my privilege and realize that diverse cultures and peoples may not have the same opportunities as I do. Diversity is essential to a well-balanced society. I can learn from those who hold different viewpoints. If I begin to see these perspectives, I will begin to have empathy. Society has the ability to change if those who have privilege begin to look out for others. For example, build easier access wheelchair ramps, erase pay gaps, and let people be whoever they wish to be. In addition, teachers can erase privilege in their classrooms. If we don’t let privilege effect our classrooms, then our students will learn practices that they can take with them out into greater society. It will create a ripple effect that can benefit so many lives.
Johnson and the man in the wheelchair taught me all of this, and each and every day I see the effects of my privilege in society. I must speak with others regarding issues they face. I must use my voice positively to benefit people who may not hold the privilege society has bestowed upon me.
A few weeks ago I read a blog post by Linda Martin Alcoff titled “The Problem of Speaking for Others.” She is a professor, a teacher, just like us. She can relate to our need and aspiration to better represent diversity in our classrooms. Below is my reaction to her piece, some quotes I found interesting, and a few concepts I struggled with.
“In particular, the practice of privileged persons speaking for or on behalf of less privileged persons has actually resulted (in many cases) in increasing or reinforcing the oppression of the group spoken for.”- Linda Martín Alcoff
This is important for everyone to understand, including myself and other teachers. People live their day-to-day lives without seeing the effect they have on others or how they many are perceived by those around them.
Why is this true? Why is it that if someone of more privilege wants to help those in need it is sometimes flipped and used for the opposite effect? Are people always looking out for their own self-interest? I am still curious about these questions, but I do not think all of it is true. Good things happen every day, and it is a reminder that many people will look out for others despite their own interests. Take teaching for example. It is our job to stand up for those who may be oppressed. It is our job to create a welcoming and diverse community for our students.
“Sometimes, as Loyce Stewart has argued, we do need a ‘messenger’ to advocate for our needs.” – Linda Martín Alcoff
Messengers are the people who seek to do good with their privilege. Teachers are messengers. As a future educator, I need to be more aware and allow myself to be a messenger. Yes, there are many instances when people use their privilege to hurt those less fortunate than them. I would not say speaking for others is always a bad thing, but speaking with others creates a more cohesive experience. It does not put one person above another, but instead, creates the feeling of equality. For example, as a teacher we must speak with our students. Take advice from Paulo Freire and his idea of critical pedagogy. We are all students, and no one is higher than another. Teachers must use authority to help students.
Martín Alcoff quotes, “how narrowly should we draw the categories?” Categories are important, but they should not be the deciding factor of who can and cannot speak. Men should be able to speak for women and their rights. Someone who is white should be able to speak for African-Americans and their rights. Teacher should be able to speak for and with students. It takes a coalition of people, all different kinds of people, to make a difference. These people are messengers for others, and their words are important.
This matters to me because I have privilege. I was born into privilege and have been living my life with it. I need to realize to speak with people and use my privilege to help others. I would be lying if I said it isn’t difficult at times. However, I need to remember it is not just about me. It needs to be about everyone and I should work to ease the distance between privilege and oppression.
“I agree, then, that we should strive to create wherever possible the conditions for dialogue and the practice of speaking with and to rather than speaking for others.” – Linda Martín Alcoff
Words to consider:
The second reading I analyzed was..
“What We Read: The Literary Canon and The Curriculum after the Culture Wars” by David H. Richter. This was found in a larger book, “Falling into Theory: Conflicting Views on Reading Literature.” In this chapter, he gives teachers some advice.
“Schools not only train the young in the specific information and skills they need to operate in a utilitarian society under capitalism; they also reproduce the structure of that society by creating young heirs to take their places within the social hierarchy”– David H. Richter
I am going to be a teacher. I am going to educate the future and have an impact on the next generation. Because I hold such an important part in this upbringing and value making it is important for me to understand everything Richter is trying to tell us. Don’t teach books just because they are classic or part of the status quo of lesson plans, but think outside the box.
“The more one learns about literary history, the clearer it becomes that however fundamental these judgments were, they were not permanent at all; they were very much the judgments of a particular age.”- David H. Richter
Find books that represent everyone, books that are mirrors into the readers’ lives and windows into others’ lives.
“Apart from relatively few white male Christian heterosexuals of Western European descent, most American readers belong to at least one of the special-interest groups engaged in ‘identity politics’.”- David H. Richter
Unless a person fits into all of these categories, they will likely not be well represented by old books and the canon. Because of this, changes need to be made, “but the canon has not altered as much as one would expect given the rapid changes in society over the past half-century” (Richter, p. 125). It is our responsibility to be brave and change the canon, change the curriculum. We must look for books that represent a variety of different students written by a variety of different authors. It may be time to throw away the old, not because they are bad examples of literature, but because the lessons no longer pertain to the current generation. We cannot continue to live in the past. Everyone, every student, and every person deserves to see himself or herself in literature.
How can we, as teachers, explain diversity to even the youngest students?
I am a HUGE Disney fan. I will watch every Disney movie at least once, even the most unpopular and unknown. One of my new favorites is Finding Dory. This is partly because there is FINALLY a Disney character that shares my name, Bailey the Beluga whale. Every Disney movie comes with underlying messages and life lessons that teach the viewers to be kind and respectful. This is important for every audience member, regardless of their identity. Finding Dory is no different. Ellen DeGeneres, the voice of Dory, perfectly sums up the movie and the lesson Disney is trying to teach.
“…the other animals help Dory—animals that don’t even need her, animals that don’t even have anything in common with her. They help her even though they’re complete different colors, because that’s what you do when you see someone in need—you help them”. –Ellen DeGeneres
(Please note: this quote came from DeGeneres as she talked about a political topic. This blog post is not about the topic DeGeneres is talking about, I only found the quote fitting to describe the movie.)
This quote helped me form my working definition of the term diverse cultures. It is important for us to define diversity and diverse cultures so we can credibly and academically teach it to students.
To me, diverse cultures are people, individual people, who are different but still come together to form a unique group. These differences can be language, skin color, gender, politics, likes, dislikes, anything at all. However, the thing that makes diverse cultures so important, similar to the one in Finding Dory, is that everyone comes together, sees past the differences, and accepts others for who they are. Being with people who are different brings out the best in everyone. It allows us to become better-rounded people who are willing to see things from different perspectives. Don’t we want this environment for our students?
Aristotle says, “whatever creates or increases happiness or some part of happiness, we ought to do; whatever destroys or hampers happiness, or gives rise to its opposite, we ought not to do”. Diverse cultures allow us to grow as individuals and become better versions of ourselves, and become better teachers. Happiness is learning from others. Happiness is being comfortable with other’s differences because you are comfortable with yourself.
Looking back at the quote, Aristotle says, “…whatever destroys or hampers happiness, or gives rise to its opposite, we ought not to do.” This is power. Power destroys diverse cultures. Power pits people against each other. Power makes people feel the need to be better than others. Power breaks the happiness of growing together and forces people to grow apart. Power creates a single story. Power forces stereotypes.
Stereotypes do not show a whole person. They only show the parts that are different from those that hold the power. Everyone can be stereotyped in some way. Stereotypes tear us apart.
“Studies indicate that by preschool age, young children reveal stereotypes and negative behaviors towards those they perceive as different. These learned attitudes are fostered by the views of parents, caregivers, educators, and peers and by the social messages that reading materials convey about a particular culture.” – Jamie Campbell Naidoo, The Importance of Diversity in Library Programs and Material Collections for Children
A person’s identity can easily be determined by a stereotype and by their differences, even before they believe themselves to be different. However, diverse cultures thrive on differences. They help erase stereotypes. It is like the group in Finding Dory. Bailey the Beluga whale uses echolocation, Hank the septopus uses camouflage, and the otters use cuteness. The group is different in so many ways, but they find comfort in their differences and use them to help each other. This is what happens when people begin to look for the positives in our differences. Diverse cultures are not negative, but positive. Diverse cultures present opportunities to grow. Diverse cultures present opportunities to come together.
“Friends and friendship: for a friend is desirable in himself and also productive of many other good things.” – Aristotle
Throughout life, people encounter challenges or transformations that influence them to make a change. In some cases, people decide to leave their home countries and move to foreign places in hopes of reaching their desired outcomes. There are a variety of possible factors for this change, such as politics, family, better schooling, or the hope for a new beginning with better opportunities. Mass immigration to the United States has been prevalent throughout the past few years (pages 1-7 and 13 are most relevant to the interview topic). Because of this, it is important to understand some of the factors that may influence people to come to America.
Migrationpolicy.org presents more current statistics stating, “U.S. immigrant population stood at more than 43.3 million, or 13.5 percent, of the total U.S. population of 321.4 million in 2015… In 2015, 1.38 million foreign-born individuals moved to the United States, a 2 percent increase from 1.36 million in 2014.” However, what we need to understand is that these are not just adults. These statistics represent families, including children, that often attend our schools. It is important for us to understand their stories in order to better serve them as teachers. It is our responsibility to give every student equal education and provide them with strategies to succeed.
The situations that influence people to immigrate are realistic for anyone. That being said, the overarching question I am posing is: when do the benefits of leaving one’s country outweigh the costs?
Maria Rosa Russo came to America from Argentina in 1968. With her husband, Alberto, already in the new country, Maria Rosa took her two children, 3-years-old and one-year-old, to a country she had never been before. Knowing only Spanish language and Argentine culture, she was determined to give her children a good life. She believed America had better educational opportunities and people had the capacity to reach their goals as long as they worked hard. She appreciated this work ethic and wanted to present these opportunities to her children. In the end, she would have done anything for the future of her family.
“When I talk to the teacher I had a dictionary in my hand and a pen and pencil. I look and I write down what I wanted to tell her and then she write it down for me, and that is how I communicated. But I want always to be present for my children’s education because I tell the teacher ‘I don’t speak English’ but to help him but if he needs help we can get it from someone else because he didn’t speak any English at that time.”
I have known my boyfriends family for as long as I have known him. I met his Nona, Maria Rosa, one week into our relationship. Since then, she has been a grandma figure in my life. To her, I was part of her family from the moment I walked through the door in November 2011. Every time I see her she offers to make me food or invites me over to her house. I decided to take her up on her offer.
On Saturday, March 4, 2017, my boyfriend and I were greeted at the door to a one-story, two-bedroom home in Mission Viejo, California. A lingering hug and a kiss on the cheek were waiting for us from a short, black-haired latino woman. This was something I had gotten used to after the five years of knowing Nona. With her came the sweet smell of pastries and rose potpourri. Before I could get both feet through the door she was already asking me if I wanted Mate tea. However, she quickly remembered I didn’t like Mate tea and offered me water. Her husband had gotten up from the leather, reclinable couch to greet us. He, their son, and their grandson were watching a soccer game narrated in Spanish. Nona ran around to get everything that her guests needed; making sure we were all taken care of. She was always the hostess. This was the typical scene of every Saturday morning, a house alive with the hustle and bustle of people.
Me (Left) and Maria Rosa (Right)
The “grandma” picture, as she called it.
Argentina, Family, and the Move
“Like I say, you go as far as you are willing to work here.”
Bailey: Can you describe the day you left? Do you remember?
Nona (Maria Rosa): When I left Argentina? Yes. It was November… 12th. I went to Buenos Ares, the city, our capital of the county. And talked to the council, the American council. He give me the visa, and I have a medical report from them, and I was with my mom. From then November 13 I get in the plane with my two kids and arrive here in America on November 14th.
B: So it was a few day process?
N: Yes. It is because I wanted to do it all at once. I remember exactly the days and everything you know, I remember my mom just seeing me good-bye. That was hard. That was the harder part, but I choose my destiny, and my destiny is my kids. Kids first.When you are a mom, nothing else is better than just do what it best for your kids.
B: Was all of your stuff over in America already or did you have to take it on the plane with you?
N: No, no, no. I just get only clothes. We just leave the house empty over there just in case. But we sold the car, the furniture, everything. We sold everything because you cannot bring everything. You are limited in the plane and that’s it.
B: I did some research about Argentina and about the political stuff that was happening, did that effect your move…
N: No. No. Not at that time. No. No. Not at that, no. But it took us two years to make all the papers to be able just to come here.
B: Did that [the politics] reinforce your choice to move?
N: No, not really. At that point it wasn’t really bad. Sometimes the news makes things worse than what they really are.
B: Why did it take so long [to move]?
N: Well, because just to come legally and be part of the country that’s what it takes. Because what they did is they just research if you are communist or you know…
B: Was it easy to come into America during that time? You said it took you two years?
N: To make the papers, yes.
B: What was that process like?
N: Well, a lot of, they did a lot of investigation about if you don’t have any ties with communists, especially since my grandparents were from Europe so they investigated all of us and our work and everything. If you don’t have any illegal things over there, if you are not part of the military, or at that time there were some rebellions so if you were part of that. That’s what they just checked the most. Then we had to translate in English every paper that we did by a legal agency.
B: What was your, did you have one main reason that you wanted to come or was it just time to leave?
N: No, just the reason, just to see the opportunity this country [United States] have to offer and we realized that here you can go as far as you are willing to work for it.
B: And that was different than Argentina you thought?
N: Ya. Yes. We were more limited.
B: Did you have a goal when you came to America? Like you wanted to do something or accomplish something?
N: Yes. Of course. We wanted to have a better house because we owned a house over there and a little business and a car. But then here it was going to be much better. And of course learn another language and let our children explore it you know, in another culture, other peoples… Be able to educate our kids, pay for their college, have a home, a business, be free. That is what the main goal. Just to see them well educated. And we succeeded in that because we are well off and the children are well educated. And the grandkids, now with the grandkids. The 7 grandkids.
B: And you were willing to work.
N: Yes, yes. To reach our goal, and we did.
B: So you had a big picture in mind.
N: Yes, yes. Now we have a family again, but it was hard.
B: Was it hard making the decision to take yours kids away from Argentina?
N: Um, not really. Not really. Because, like I say, we just was looking for the better future for them. We just was checking Australia and other places just to go. And then we just see that this is the best, the best move and the best place just to be.
B: How did you feel leaving your friends and family?
N: Oh very sad. Sad. But, I never knew that it was going to be that hard. Just to leave the family because we were much attached to family and my mother living across the street, my mother in law, you know, and my cousin, my brothers, everybody there. I was just thinking about the kids. And we didn’t see any future for them over there as much as we just saw it in this country.…When I was leaving my mom told me “what about Christmas” because we always spend Christmas together, and I said “Oh mom, don’t just think about Christmas, of course I will be here for Christmas.” It was a month. You see when you are 20 you don’t see things and reality.
B: Remember in Christmas time you told me the story of your first Christmas in America, can you tell me that again?
N: Well, ya. It was very sad because I thought that I was going back home for Christmas, but that time, that was home to me. We didn’t have much at that point. Then I just had for a Christmas tree a branch. It was a branch that I just put in a can with some soil and then I put the branch in there, and it was the Christmas tree for the kids with 6 bulbs. 6 ornaments only, but at least they have a Christmas tree.But then we went to bed at 10:00. We always wait until 12 o’clock over there, in Argentina, the Christmas Eve and then we wait for Christmas day, but then we didn’t here. It was very, very hard. But it was worth it.
B: Did your kids miss your family from Argentina?
N: Well, Fabian was the only one because he was 3-years-old. Mariana was just a year and a half. But, Fabian used to cry to go to grandma’s house. He just keeps asking me “let’s go to grandma’s house.” I say “It’s raining.” “Well, Nona’s going to get a taxi.” And he is the one that just really missed it.
B: Did they ever come visit you here?
N: Some of them, but not often and not many of them. It is a lot of money to come here, it is expensive.
B: Did you ever want a job?
N: No, no, no. I wanted to stay with my kids. I didn’t want to leave my kids with anybody. I just babysit. Babysit at home and I did sewing, but at home. Always at home with the kids.
B: You guys just came.
N: Yes. He [Alberto, her husband] has a friend over here because he was working over there in John Deere, it’s an American company, and most them were just coming over here. And in all the facilities in that company it was American, so that’s why we see through that what we expect here. So he came first and one of the friends, when he arrived, that friend took him to his apartment, and then the next day he get the social security and just, I think it was a few days after that he started working. Because at that time the job that he was doing, it was needed in this country. At that time is when the people were able to just make the papers to come over here to the job. If the job is needed in the country then they can just come.
B: How long was that he was here without you?
N: Um, well it was supposed to be 30 days, but then the papers get more complicated and it took me 6 months.
B: Was that hard? Because you had to raise your kids by yourself when he was here?
N: Well, but over there I had my mom across the street, my mother in law next door, my brothers, my cousin. Everybody was around, so it wasn’t that bad, but something that we never expect to happen because we had never apart from each other since I was 15 years old.
B: Was it ever difficult to stay in the United States?
N: Yes and no because when we have friends, and then we buy a house three years after we just been here we buy a house in American neighborhood. I have never lived in a Spanish neighborhood because I want to learn the language and be part of the country. I told Alberto if not then I go home. Then we have all very nice neighbors, they knew I didn’t speak English well so they would come over and help me. The children were part of the neighborhood in age. We were the only one who had the pool. The swimming pool so everyone come to our home. Of course, that made it easier for me to live here.
B: That probably made the move easier.
N: Yes, of course. They come and ask me to go with them to take the childrens to school because we just have a walk about four blocks just for the children to go to school. Then it was nice because I didn’t understood what they were talking all the time, but it was nice because they pushed me to go out and go with the kids, really nice memories from that neighborhood. We were there for 21 years. Then our children graduate from the university. That is what I just, my big concern not to move again. Just settle there in that home.
B: Where was this? What city?
N: Buena Park… It was 20… I lived in that house so 26 years.
B: Did you ever doubt, like was there ever a really hard time where you though “I made the wrong decision”?
N: No. Not ever. No. No. No. No. Because we always work and have what we need, ok. Then we always use common sense. We budget our money and our way of living was very easy.
“Welcome every one of their friends, like make it family.”
B: How old were they [the kids] at that time [of the move]?
N: Um, Fabian, our son, was 3. Um, Mariana was a year and a half.
B: Did that affect your move even more? Now that you were going to have 2 kids you knew you had to go
N: No, we didn’t think in that. You know when you are 20-years-old you don’t think much
about that, you know. You look at the opportunity and you just use the resource the country offer and that’s what we decided to do the move.
B: Did they see their home then in America rather than Argentina?
N: Oh here, definitely.
B: So it would have been hard for you to take them away.
N: Yes. They speak the language and they love the family over there and really found out what family is really all about when we just spend that much time. But they had other opportunities and what they want for their life. There is no better place in the world where you can make a real living. Like I say, you go as far as you are willing to work here. Not in other places because the country limits you. No matter how much, how hard you work. Like in Argentina and other places the country limits you because you don’t have everything at your hands like here.
B: Did you try really hard to keep the Argentina culture in your family and around your house? How did you do that?
N: Well, speaking the language, open our home to their friends, and with the food. I keep all the food. Welcome every one of their friends, like make it family.
B: And that’s very like culture in Argentina.
N: Yes, yes. Just to get together and to have tea, what we call Mate, and just conversation, get around the table and talk.
B: Does the food keep you connected to Argentina?
N: Yes. I love to cook, but mostly my food. My kids love it, and their kids and now their girlfriend and boyfriends, the spouse.
B: I love it! Did you know English at that time [of the move]?
N: No. That was the worst part.
B: Really. What was the hardest, like do you remember a specific moment that was really difficult?
N: The hard thing is just going out or going to the store and not knowing what to buy because you don’t know anything. You don’t know what is on the shelf and then people talk to you and you don’t understand, you cannot communicate. That is hard. Then especially when we have a neighbor with two little kids like Fabian and Mariana, and Fabian come one day and says “Mom, this girl don’t understand what I say. I want to play with her and I talk and then she just looks at me.” And that was hard, that was very, very hard. Then he started kindergarten, and I have to talk to the teacher because I don’t want to just leave my kid and don’t speak English and stay at home. When I talk to the teacher I had a dictionary in my hand and a pen and pencil. I look and I write down what I wanted to tell her and then she write it down for me, and that is how I communicated. But I want always to be present for my children’s education because I tell the teacher “I don’t speak English” but to help him but if he needs help we can get it from someone else because he didn’t speak any English at that time. He went to the kindergarten with no English. He absorbed everything. He just learned fast.
B: Did he learn before you did?
N: More kinda the same, but he learned better and more than me. I learned through television because I never watched TV in Spanish or any Spanish radio, nothing. It was only English. That was very hard. It made me cry many times because you don’t know what they’re saying but I just said, “I have to learn English.” That is the way that I did it. Watching the show I Love Lucy. That is what I watched all the time with the kids… Speaking Spanish only at home. But then after their friends come over, no that’s alright.
B: Did you ever ask them to help you learn English or did you do it without?
N: No because they were so little then no way they can. They just repeat. The learning was repeating and for what they seen on TV or the kids around, but that’s it.
B: How do you feel about the kids now with their jobs and families?
N: Oh just so, I just feel blessed. I feel blessed every day.
B: Did you ever want to have more kids when you came to America?
N: Well before we were really plan our family of having 4 kids, 4 or 5, but then I wasn’t able to have more than 2… We was going to adopt over there in Argentina, but not here because we were very limit in our budget. We didn’t have enough just to adopt more kids and give them a good life.
B: Did you think it would ever end up this way or is it better than expected?
N: It is better than what I expected because when I thought when they get married they just will move, and then we plan just to back to Argentina four months of the year and sometime here. We planned to have houses in both places and go back and forth. Then my kids they both move, leave, marry and they just stay close to use. Then I start having the grandkids. I adore to have the grandkids over all the time. So I don’t have nothing to miss from over there. Just my mom and my dad, but I went just to see them when they were alive. But then what I had, I still have friends from my youngest year but then I realized that after a while the only thing we have in common is the past. Because the present we’re different. The future it doesn’t even the same for them and us because we just grow in different countries, different place, different mentality. But it is nice to go back home once in a while.…We succeeded in that because we can’t ask for more. They just clean, they were a good student, good kids, never getting into any trouble. They are clean kids. And the grandkids, 7 of them, they still the same. They are very much family oriented. They all like to come over here, like you today. Just like I say, I count my blessings every day.
“He is tesoro.”
B: You said your mom was a big part in the kid’s lives, did you want to be that part in your grandkids lives also?
N: Oh yes, yes, yes. And I did because I always have them with me. I remember getting the four of them and taking to the park, to the lake. Take them to different places. Then we have vacations, family vacations, to Argentina and going and then have family vacations all together. Different places in the world.
B: Did you want to make sure the grandkids went to Argentina? Have they all gone?
N: Yes. We went all together. The 13 of us we went all over there. Then we just rent a ranch. We just get all, most of the family, we have family all over Argentina, but most of them they make there and they were over there.
B: So you have a big family over there?
N: About 200 people.
B: What was it like when Thomas was born?
N: Just having heaven in my arms. Oh wow, it was just really, really good. Experience and feeling I cannot express but I adore that kid, oh my. Mariana has C section and she lived in Buena park and we live in Mission Viejo, so I had to get up at 4 o clock and go over there before her husband go to work and stay with her and Thomas. So I pamper him all the time.
B: Well now you have 7 more and then you will have 7 extra. So once everyone else is married you will double again.
N: Yes. That is what the kids they used to, all of them always with me, they were in the car and talking about this and that. Then they were talking, Thomas and Victoria, the oldest ones, were talking about how many we are already and he say “Well when we get married,” think, Thomas talking about money, and says “when we get married we are going to be 14. Then if we have 2 kids each we are going to be 28, 34, almost 40 people. Then my brother are going to be a famous baseball player,” for David and then Nicholas too, “then I will manage their money and I will buy a ranch where we all can get together once a year for the holidays. Then I will buy a house in the same neighborhood for each one of you. So we all are going to live in the same neighborhood.” Because they were little, only 4 before the other ones were born, and they always have those stories. Planning always just to be together because they always together in my home. I always want that they think as family they have to spend time together with our things I make some Argentinian churros or muellos and they all come over. Then they make those with me, and then they drink our tea.
B: Do you think they will all stay here when they grow up? What do you think all the grandkids will do?
N: I think they very much stay around. See, Thomas is married and he is already here. So he could be having another opportunity but he stay. I think most of them will stay around. Like they do now, they always come over here when they have the chance they come over here and visit Nona.
“Sometimes you guys since you are born here you don’t see how much you have or appreciate it. We do.”
B: When you were younger did you think you would stay in Argentina your whole life? Or did you want to move away?
N: I never thought of that. No. But I always liked in my English book, because we were always studying English over there, I always admired the houses here, the way, I always had that in my mind. But I never thought to just leave it. Especially, after I had the kids and the family there, but then when you are 20-years-old you dream a lot.
B: Did you ever think you would go back to Argentina?
N: We did and 10 years after because we come here reaching out for 10 years. Just make the move, a better life, get the children educated then more economically. Then 10 years after we just back over there for visiting we spent 3 month travel all over the country where we just found better opportunity for the kids and we didn’t see it so we just back here, back home because we have a home and everything, the business back here, we left it for 3 month but then we just make a decision, the 4 of us, with the kids. Fabian was 16, almost 16, and Mariana 14. So the 4 of us made the decision just to stay here forever. It was a good decision… No, just like what I say I feel blessed for what I have, happy with our decision 50 something years ago to come over here because we get more than what we expect, honestly. We work more, I work more than I expect. Anyhow we just reach our goals.
B: Well unless you have anything else to say…
N: No, just the only thing that I want to say is I am glad. I am glad that I came here and see all the opportunities. Sometimes you guys since you are born here you don’t see how much you have or appreciate it. We do.
My name is Bailey Blair. I am a future educator, and similar to yourselves, care about the students whom the Common Core State Standards impact. I appreciate your desire to create a common set of standards for every classroom across the country. This benefits the students when they reach their college or career. Experiencing similar classroom curriculum helps the students gain cultural capital, and gives them the basic tools for success in society. The standards are broad, which allow for teacher interpretation; however, many choose to teach books they used when they were in school. There is no denying these books are outstanding pieces of literature; however, they no longer relate to the demographics or needs of the current students.
A few years ago I graduated high school, and I have since continued my education at a private institution in southern California. In one of my first college courses, my professor asked if we were ever exposed to diverse texts in school. The only books I remembered were The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. I thought this was all I needed to know, but I was wrong. I read a Shakespeare play every year in high school, but none of them taught me the rich messages of culture and diversity as found in the other novels. Yes, many books have underlying messages about acceptance or diversity; however, many of these books speak for diverse people and do not speak with them. In one semester at my university, I had learned more about my identity, privilege, and diversity than I had in my previous 12 years of schooling.
The Common Core State Standards are an invaluable resource to teachers and students, but the books associated with it are one noted and all consist of the same characters: white, heterosexual men. In high school, I read over 20 books from American or English authors, but only a few books from authors who identified differently. Having white privilege allows me to see myself in the novels, but what about my diverse classmates who are different ethnicities, sexualities, or identities? They rarely had the opportunity to see themselves in the novels we read. I did not pay much attention to the thought that someone could be different from me. The books chosen as classics or appropriate for literature classes are not a sufficient representation of the students. Reading relies on the reader’s connection to the content. Diverse students are only ever taught with window books. They see the lives of the privileged majority, but do not see themselves. Students who relate to the books and the characters are given the impression their identities are more important than their peers. They are never given the opportunity to grow because of the lack of window books that teach them diverse perspectives. Even if diverse characters are represented, they are not portrayed fairly. Typically, they are secondary characters, and, depending on ethnicity, some are even portrayed as less-than-human.
We live in a time of flourishing diversity, but the books taught in schools still remain the same. The canon does not change because of the belief that this is how we have always done things. The standards allow for flexibility, specifically the ones focusing on craft and structure. These can be used with any books, so why are the same books repeatedly chosen? For example, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.9 says, “Demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature, including how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics.” This is a way to incorporate diverse texts with the classic texts. For example, novels such as The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald or To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee can be paired with texts from diverse authors who talk about similar situations or take place in the same time period. This practice allows the students to form diverse perspectives and encourages the teaching of both mirror and window books.
Currently, society is fashioned of different identities that were not prominent 1,000, 100, or even 50 years ago. It is time for school curriculum to match the quickly changing society that students live in. Not only will students better understand themselves, but they will also gain a better understanding of those around them. With understanding comes compassion. This world should not be determined by the writing of Shakespeare or Dickens, but authors who represent different people with equally as impactful messages. Schools are a reflection of our society, and it is our job as educators to produce equality in and out of the classroom.
When the term diversity comes to mind, there are often groups that are on the forefront of popular cultural narratives. Groups and topics range in race, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, etc.; however, every time I hear the word diversity I think of people who identify as African Americans, Latinos, or LGBTQA+. This isn’t a fraction of the amount of diversity found in our classrooms, or throughout the world. Because of this, I decided to expand my understanding of a diverse culture that I do not know much about. In addition, I wanted to find another book that high school teachers may find valuable to give to students.
In a world of social media and ever-changing news, what comes of the groups who don’t get as much spotlight? The groups that don’t have majors or minors in colleges dedicated to them. The cultures that never get represented in our classroom literature. Are they less important? There are Asian Studies, African American Studies, Latin American Studies, and Women’s Studies. Is this comprehensive enough because these are the tokenized and poster groups for diverse cultures? Is it enough to only teach literature that represents these groups. It is important for us to expand our understanding of the term diversity, and we must begin to educate ourselves about others who aren’t part of the popular diverse groups (ironically). We need to educate ourselves, so we can better educate students.
I did not learn much about India or Indian culture in my own schooling. The only time I learned about India was in economics class in relation to the concept of outsourcing. This topic is unimportant to Samskara: A Rite for a Dead Man since it takes place in the early 20th century, but outsourcing gives background to our current relationship with India. There are both positives and negatives associated with outsourcing, and many people have different opinions on this practice.
“The main reason is money. In the United States, a typical chip designer earns about $7,000 per month; in India, she earns about $1,000.” – Pink, 2006, p. 38
“One out of ten jobs in the U.S. computer, software, and information technology company will move overseas in the next two years. One in four IT jobs will be offshored by 2010.” – Pink, 2006, p. 39
So, if we have such an intricate and important relationship with India, and have Indian students in our classes, isn’t it essential to understand the culture? What are the common beliefs, practices, and characteristics of India? This book will allow me to gain a better insight of something I do not know much about. Although I am not going into a technology based career, I know many people who are and I know many of my future students will as well. This will affect them in their future jobs. We rely on India and India relies on the United States. Our relationship is give-and-take. Because of this, we must form a positive and understanding relationship. One way to do this is to read literature about the culture. I chose Samskara: A Rite for a Dead Man because I did not know much about Indian culture and wanted to learn more. I wanted to have a more comprehensive understanding of people who are from India because they have an immense impact on my life.
I also want to learn more about Indian culture for my future students. When I become an elementary school teacher I want to teach my students about different cultures. I feel this is one of the most important aspects of a comprehensive education. To do this, I must learn about Indian culture, and reading Samskara: A Rite for a Dead Man is the first step. In no way is one piece of literature an all-encompassing picture of Indian culture, but it is a start. All knowledge has always begun with a small grain of curiosity for the unknown.
This post is for teachers who are curious about diverse, non-western cultures and want to incorporate them more into their classrooms. My hope from this is that we can discover new books from each other. This book is not only about Indian culture, but also ties in themes about how to treat people with respect. With the dividing tension in the United States, it is prevalent now, more than ever, to learn to appreciate others for their differences, understand people’s reasoning for their actions, and create a more open environment for discussion. School is about learning, but it is also about teaching students how to be comprehensive and inclusive citizens.
“The more you know about another person’s story, the less possible it is to see that person as your enemy,” – Parker Palmer, The Healing Heart of Democracy
Why is it that we oftentimes forget this integral part to human experience? We decide to let our differences separate us, rather than our likeliness to bring us together?
One way to connect with people of different identities, cultures, ethnicities, and races is through literature. This is why we read: to learn, to grow, to discover, to connect. We read novels, and sometimes children’s literature, to allow ourselves the opportunities to see situations from multiple perspectives and try to see ourselves in the struggles and happiness of the characters in them. I read to do this. I read the Indian novel, Samskara: A Rite for a Dead Man by U.R. Anantha Murthy (1978) to form a better understanding of a culture I do not know much about.
“Once you allow yourself to identify with the people in a story, then you might begin to see yourself in that story even if on the surface it’s far removed from your situation. This is what I try to tell my students: this is one great thing that literature can do – it can make us identify with situations and people far away” – Chinua Achebe
Throughout history, there has always been a competition to become bigger, better, and stronger. Examples of this can be seen during the colonization of America or Africa. Although these situations come with different background and issues, they both have a common theme: one group of people, sometimes blatantly, disregarding another culture as they “make things better” by forcefully integrating their lifestyle into the lives of others. These stories can be told through literature. Today, a prevalent aspect of literature critique is postcolonial criticism. It is essential to see events and issues from a multiplicity of perspectives. It is not appropriate to allow one group to write history according to their perspective and disregard the reality of others.
One of the most famous stories of colonization is about Christopher Columbus. There is even a children’s song that glorifies his travels, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” Oftentimes, Columbus’ story is told incorrectly, and many of the harsh details are erased to make it more child-friendly. Little do people know that Columbus was in search for India, not America. India was known to have precious riches that the European countries sought to capitalize on. Since then, European countries (including Portugal, England, and France) have had a hand in India. We must erase these falsities from our classrooms.
During the time of colonial expansion, India already had religious influences in the form of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam; however, similar to other stories of colonization, much of the native culture was lost due to the assimilation of the colonizers beliefs.
Samskara: A Rite for a Dead Man takes place in a small Indian village, Durvasapura, during the turn of the 1900’s. During this time, the British Trading Company colonized India, and it would be another 50 years before India declared itself free from colonizer’s rule in 1942. In Samskara: A Rite for a Dead Man, the village held tight to its Hindu roots and brahmin practices. However, the villagers’ lifestyle unraveled due to the death of Naranappa. Naranappa was a brahmin who broke many of the rules. From a western perspective, these hold no relevance; however, from the eyes of a culture that practices these traditions, Naranappa went against everything the brahmins held sacred.
“…Naranappa had contacts with a low caste… and he drank too… besides drinking, he ate animal flesh… Naranappa abandoned his lawful wife after tying the wedding-string around her neck… he comes to the river in full view of all the brahmins and takes the holy stone that we’ve worshipped for generations and throws it in the water and spits after it!”
Despite his unruly behavior, Naranappa remained a brahmin.
“‘even if he gave up brahminism, brahminism cannot leave Naranappa’”
His brahminhood gave him a position of leadership in the village. Because of this, his death rites had to be conducted in a traditional, brahmin way. Only a brahmin could dispose of Naranappa’s dead body, and no one in the village could eat until the rites were complete. Without guidance as to what to do, the village turned to the pristine, unwavering image of brahmin traditions: Praneshacharya. However, at times even the strongest held values cannot stand the weight and influence of the colonizer’s lifestyle. In a moment of weakness, everything the brahmins stood for was lost at the hands of Naranappa’s prostitute wife, Chandri.
“No one could escape falling for that woman Chandri.”
“Touching full breasts he had never touched, Praneshacharya felt faint. As in a dream, he pressed them. As the strength in his legs was ebbing, Chandri sat the Acharya down, holding him close. The Acharya’s hunger, so far unconscious, suddenly raged, and he cried out like a child in distress, ‘Amma!’ Chandri leaned him against her breasts, took the plantains out of her lap, peeled them and fed them to him”
Soon, without his values to guide him, Praneshacharya was thrust into the world of western ways.
“ ‘Come, let’s go there. I’m sure it’s a cock-fight.’ Praneshacharya’s heart missed a beat. Yet he walked with Putta, troubled by a sense of fate. Standing at a little distance away from the group, he looked on. The smell of cheap toddy made him gag a little. The people sat on their heels watching two roosters snapping at each other with knives tied to their legs, leaping at each other, flapping their wings. People squatted on their toes all around the fighting roosters, mouths gaping. Praneshacharya had never seen such sharp concentration, such sharp cruel looks. All their five vital breaths seemed to converge in the eyes of those squatting people. And then, the two roosters: a swirl of wings, four wings, four knives. Kokk, kokk, kokk, kokk. All around them, forty, fifty eyes. Red-combed roosters, flashing knives. The sun, flash, flash. Flicker. Glint. Spark as from Flintstone. Ah, what a skill. One of them struck, struck, and struck. Swooped and sat on top of the other. Praneshacharyawas in a panic. He had abruptly dropped into a demonic world. He sat down, in utter fear: if in that nether-world where he decided to live with Chandri, if in that depth of darkness, in that cave, if the cruel engagement glinting in the eyes of these entranced creatures is just a part of that world, a brahmin like him will wilt.”
“It became clear that he didn’t have the skills to line in this world of sharp and cruel feelings. One part of lust is tenderness, the other part a demonic will.”
Slowly, the village unraveled to western ways of living and tradition became lost in the decaying stench of Naranappa’s dead body.
The tensions between traditional and new ways of living are evident throughout history. From Native Americans and American colonization to Africans and British colonization, many cultures have had some role in colonization. Lorenzo Quinn illustrates this tension in an underlying way in his sculpture “Tension.” The sculpture depicts two hands pulling on a fraying string, about to break in two. This is a representation of Praneshacharya. He is the string being pulled by his traditional, brahmin practices and the influential ways of Chandri and western culture. In the end, he is on his last, thin strand ready to break from the tension of two cultures pulling him in separate directions.
“Unless I shed brahminhood altogether I cannot stand aside, liberated from all this. If I shed it, I’ll fall into the tigerish world of cock-fights, I’ll burn like a worm. How shall I escape this state of neither-here-nor-there, this ghostliness?”
As Chinua Achebe explains, literature is a way to build bridges between one culture and another. Without literature, much of our navigation of the world would be incomplete and lost without a path to follow. Literature allows open minds to learn more about those whom may appear to be different, but in reality, have more in common than originally thought to have. However, take heed and do not fall trap to the tokenization of one novel or the danger of a single story.
“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
How do we prevent this? Read. Read everything. Read about other cultures, customs, and traditions. Pick up a book and say, “hmm, I have never thought about this type of lifestyle before,” and let your mind wander. Then, show students the books so they can learn too. Another book that engages the reader in the topic of the effect colonizers have on the colonized are Things Fall Apartby Chinua Achebe. To read more about Indian culture, read The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami. Finally, if one wishes to learn more about how actions can positively affect those around them, read The Healing Heart of Democracy by Parker Palmer. Although this book focuses on America’s democratic principles, the lessons are relevant to interactions with all humans.