Arizona teachers are gearing up for the 2015 Free Minds, Free People national conference to be held in Oakland, CA convened by the Education for Liberation Network, in July.
According to the organization’s website: “Free Minds, Free People is a national conference convened by the Education for Liberation Network that brings together teachers, high school and college students, researchers, parents and community-based activists/educators from across the country to build a movement to develop and promote education as a tool for liberation.”
Among other offerings, this week organizers are highlighting the “Borders and Walls: From the U.S./Mexico Border to Palestine” workshop. The workshop will be presented by Ziad Abbas, program manager at the Middle East Children’s Alliance and Jody Sokolower, managing editor at Rethinking Schools.
The workshop description reads:
How can we use stories to help students see that Palestine connects to their own lives? How can we weave it into current curriculum? In this interactive workshop, highlighting the voices of Palestinian youth, we model lessons and share student-friendly resources that explore connections between the US/Mexico border and Palestine, including: police violence, impact on children and youth, checkpoints, prisons, US/Israeli ties, environment (e.g.,water), and resistance.
In 2014, using the very charter school system they claim to despise, Arizona’s radical teachers presented at the conference in Chicago. Dr. Anita Fernandez, co-founder of La Tierra Community School in Prescott updated participants on the ongoing battle to preserve Chican@ Studies.”
Fernández was joined by Ernesto Todd Mireles for the New Tactics From Tucson: Xican@ Institute for Teaching and Organizing workshop. According to the organization’s website, Fernández and Mireles will update attendees on Prescott College’s “Freedom College” classes and the Xican@ Institute for Teaching and Organizing (XITO), “which applies an activist-oriented pedagogy steeped in a Xican@ epistemology. Facilitators will engage participants in experiential samples from XITO workshops, and participants will leave with a firm understanding of the stakes regarding Ethnic Studies nationally, some options for organizing in their own communities, and resources for use in their own classrooms.”
Radical Professional Development was the highlight of the 2013-2014 conference. From the website:
Rad PD will bring together educators from around the country in dialogue and skill-building. Workshops and speakers will focus on teacher activism, implementing education for liberation in the classroom, actively resisting the neo-liberal agenda for our public schools, and organizing with students and communities.
Rad PD 2013 will highlight recent educational justice movements, lifting up the voices of teachers and students who participated in these struggles in order to learn from the actions and philosophies of educators engaged in teacher activism. Teachers and youth that led the way in the struggle to save Mexican American Studies in Tucson, those that organized their community to support the teachers’ strike in Chicago, and other significant national movements will be featured.
There is an additional $25 fee to participate in Rad PD. That fee includes a free copy of the 2013-2014 edition of Planning to Change the World: A Lesson Plan Book for Social Justice Teachers, co published by the Education for Liberation Network and the New York Collective of Radical Educators.
Fernandez is encouraging educators to sign-up for the “powerful professional development experience” offered at the XITO’s Summer Institute. According to former TUSD teacher, Sean Arce, the XITO Program for the 2nd Annual Summer Inst, “In Lak’Ech: Teaching Justice and Decolonial Pedagogy will be held June 26th to June 28th, 2015 Tucson, AZtlan.”.
Dr. Fernández is currently the Director of Prescott College, Tucson, and faculty in the Education Program of the Resident Degree Program as well as in the Masters of Arts Program in Social Justice and Human Rights. Fernández is the co-founder and Director of the Xican@ Institute for Teaching Organizing as well as La Tierra Community School, which is a K-8 “Expeditionary Learning” school.
According to her biography: Fernández’s areas of “teaching and research include social justice education, critical multicultural education and teacher education. As a former high school English teacher in Tucson, she is devoted to preparing activist teachers who are both compassionate and critical and put their students’ lives at the center of their curriculum. Dr. Fernández is locally and nationally involved in community and professional organizations that focus on Latina/o rights, social justice activism, critical pedagogy and transformative teacher education. Her publications include works in Multicultural Education, Journal of Praxis in Multicultural Education, Journal of Association of Mexican American Educators and Rethinking Schools.”
Mireles is currently a Ph.D., candidate (ABD) in Michigan State University’s Department of American Studies. According to his biography, his work emphasizes “Chicano Studies where he is working to develop his ideas of Xicano resistance literature, national theories around low intensity organizing models, while studying and focusing on anti colonialist theory, indigenous liberation and the methodologies and rhetoric of mobilization and organization for radical movements within the Americas; with an emphasis on the Chicano Movement from 1848 until the present.”
Mireles, a faculty member at Prescott College, has presented at conferences both in the United States and Mexico. He currently teaches writing to first year students. According to his biography,” His main commitment is working with undergraduate students in the classroom to help them develop a disciplined principled approach of non-hierarchical anti-authoritarian pedagogy to achieve their desired goals both in and out of the classroom.”
In his dissertation, Insurgent Aztlán: Xicano/A Resistance Writing, Mireles bases his work on the writings of Franz Fanon, Amilicar Cabral, and Mao Tse-Tung.
Mireles writes that through the “discussion of these anti-colonial works I will investigate Guillermo Bonfil-Batalla’s concept of permanent confrontation, Amilicar Cabral’s concept of the return to history, and the importance of literature to the political and cultural development of a national identity. These three concepts are vital to any discussion of how anti-colonial insurgencies are organized, the development of social movements within the structure of national liberation struggles, and the role literature plays in cultural transformation. I examine Xicano/a literature as it relates to the above concepts by situating the emergence of resistance literature within the anti colonial writings of African theorists Frantz Fanon and Amilicar Cabral. By examining Xicano/a organic intellectuals alongside current trends in Xicano/a pop culture production, this dissertation places those writers within a Xicano/a indigenous nationalist paradigm that foregrounds the creation of a Xicano/a national consciousness that is integral to the development of a national liberation movement.”
I draw heavily from Franz Fanon’s work, The Wretched of the Earth.
It is vital to understand that the experiences with revolution that Fanon writes about are not rhetorical. He was writing about and encouraging armed resistance to colonialism that leads to national liberation and the overthrow of the colonial system. This cannot be ignored. In the case of Fanon’s Algeria, the cultural, the physical, and the political could not be separated; the same is true of Xicano/as in the twenty-first century. Within the national liberation movement, the border is not a site of rhetoric creation as much as it is the boundary of history. This is what makes it problematic to think of the political and cultural as two separate ideas. That they have been treated as separate is, in and of itself, an example of how Western thought has served to separate and classify arbitrarily two actions of human society—the political and cultural. With the understanding of politics and culture as the same thing, we see the national liberation movement as the framework for struggle, the foundational vehicle that not only challenges European hegemony but also challenges it with a political and cultural alternative that can provide a foundational violence great enough to return to history.
Since the public voice within the United States context is the exercise of sovereignty, the work of the organic intellectuals we have examined provides, with its strong nationalistic rhetoric, the closest example of pubic speech by Xicano/as. Their insistence on the function and form of the national liberation movement brings to life an idea that continues to emerge. We see this step toward the future most developed within the Tucson Unified School District Mexican American Studies Program. Its success can only be examined within the context of the Xicano/a public voice, because what does a Xicano/a public life look like? What functions do we imagine are the roles of the Xicano/a nation at this date?
Second, I incorrectly believed it was possible to say one type of cultural or political production was more rooted in national resistance ideology than another. I was grievously mistaken about this. I now think that since 1848 politico-cultural production by Xicano/as has been leading to a Xicano/a national liberation movement. The Xicano/a movement is an anti-colonial movement against settler colonialism. If you write about Xicanos or Xicanas, then you are writing about the Xicano/a nation. And the more Xicano/a-centric writing that takes place, the more likely it is that Xicanos and Xicanas as a politico-cultural group will follow the path of Fanon, Cabral, Mao, and Guevara. Is it inevitable? No, but the longer Xicano/as argue with each other and the system of settler colonialism about what it means to be Xicano or Xicana, the more probable it is that this protracted struggle will blossom into a real struggle for national independence—the return to history.
Below are three points I believe are vital to understanding the nature of Xicano/a resistance. First, I now believe that all Xicano/a literature is resistance literature. In other words, whatever the intentions of their authors, all of these written productions fall somewhere on the timeline of development presented by Fanon and all of these works serve some purpose within the long arc of the national liberation movement. Second, I think that Xicano/a culture is revolutionary culture. It is anti-colonial and pro-Xicano/a nation. This may seem like an outrageous claim, but I think it speaks to the depth and complexity of what it means to be Xicano or Xicana in the United States today. Third, I conclude that community level intellectuals (organic intellectuals) provide the hard evidence of the depth and commitment of the Xicano/a community to national liberation. My fourth conclusion is that there is no one-way to resist oppression. Fanon writes that “each generation must out of relative obscurity discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” It is from the same type of obscurity that each nation must emerge. The pathway to national liberation has many twists and turns and Xicano/as have a right and duty to explore as many of these as possible on their return to history. Leave no stone unturned when it comes to national liberation.
It is important for all parties to understand that this dissertation is in no way a call to violence of any type. It is an in depth study of the responses to the violence initiated in the fall of 1492 when Cristobal Colon renamed the island of Guanahani—San Salvador. This violence has continued for the past five hundred years dehumanizing, murdering, and seeking to destroy in perpetuity indigenous people in the Americas. Xicano/a writing is resistance and this is resistance literature.
The role of the intellectual in creating nation, culture, and resistance is important; as Fanon writes, “a nation which is born of the people’s concerted action and which embodies the real aspirations of the people while changing the state cannot exist save in the expression of exceptionally rich forms of culture.”
This is the core concept: nation and culture go hand in hand. If you are involved in the creation of Xicano/a culture, you are integral to the creation of the Xicano/a nation. These are dynamic processes that move the Xicano/a people toward their goal of liberation.
Aztlán? Who believes in that Xicano/a hippie stuff anymore? I will tell you who—Samuel P. Huntington, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Tom Horne, John Huppenthal, ICE agents, and the people who run Homeland Security, to name a few.
Given the inherently oppositional nature of these competing paradigms, Xicano/as as Meso- American people need to decide what they want. Is it really “Occupied America,” as Professor Acuña has stated? Is there really “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” as put forward by Paulo Freire? Because if the answer is YES and if it really is YES—then that is a fundamental challenge to the right of rule by the descendants of Western Europeans on this continent. Even trying to express these ideas as part of a multi-cultural project that seeks greater inclusion through understanding poses a danger for the United States that lies in the unreconciled treatment and history of indigenous people.
The way Xicano/as think of organizing their communities for political struggle, the way it has been taught and explained, must be reexamined and rethought; the question that must be on the minds of Xicano/as as they enter into this next phase of struggle centers on desires for a nation. There are some things I agree with Lou Dobbs, Bill O’Reilly and Samuel Huntington about. Xicano/a Studies does smack of rebellion. Occupied America makes people want to fight. There is a tone of disavowal in the title alone that makes it dangerous.
University presidents’ statements to Xicano/a students trying to better their programs that “Xicano/a Studies does not belong to [Xicano/as]; it belongs to the university” are further proof of the deep contradictions of inclusion that continue to work against Xicanas and Xicanos by blocking the idea of ownership in their studies programs. And, as long as Xicano/as refuse to accept that nation and culture go hand in hand, this lack of ownership will never facilitate a return to history.
The spaces of identity talked about above that Xicano/as have moved through to this point cannot provide room for a full critique of the Xicano/a colonial situation because they are a product of its formation. Just as race is a construct, culture is a construct. Culture, though, presents alternatives, especially when we understand that to some extent Xicano/as are responsible for upholding the hegemony of settler colonialism they find themselves laboring under. It is this system of oppression that Xicano/as confront through resistance writing and insurgency. If colonialism is a three-legged stool, one leg of which is Xicano/a acquiescence—think how quickly it becomes unbalanced when that support is withdrawn.
It is not Mexicans who are dreaming of Aztlán, it is Xicano/as born, raised, baked brown, and fired rock-hard in this oven of “colorblind racial neutrality” who are dreaming of a new and better world. The real issue here is who controls the minds and hearts of the people. Who gets to tell their story, how do they get to tell it, and how does that story inform future struggles? My question is this, and I feel it is an important one: once laws banning ethnic studies start passing all over the country as the affirmative action propositions have—then what? Are Xicanos and Xicanas living in the United States as serious as their opponents about developing the will of the people to resist?
I conclude with the words of Xicano poet Marc Pinate who, in his 1995 poem “The Truth” (a.k.a. “Fuck you Pig!”) writes, in part,
. . . THE TRUTH, Yo’ man The Truth
is that their time as king shit is almost over.
They know it, I know it, shit we all know it.
Yeah that’s why Mr. Racistmuthafuckin’ Pig
always be reaching
for his phallic-gun
every time he seez me,
makes him feel good, makes him feel strong
reminds him of the good old days
when you could just shoot us
and no one gave a damn. . . .
The Free Minds, Free People will take place in Oakland, CA, July 9 – 12, 2015. For registration information, click here.