Category Archives: Latina/os in Midwest

A Quince for My Boys: Celebrating 15 Latina Style

photo of two boys in formal dress facing audience at banquet

The Mighty Ones. Photo by John Landry, Take5ive Photography. CC BY-NC-ND.

By Sonia BasSheva Mañjon

Growing up Latina and Catholic in a large Dominican family, in Compton, California, meant, for me, that ritual was a daily occurrence and a requirement. Attending mass on Sundays and Holy Days, Baptism, Confirmation, First Holy Communion, Quinceañera, and ultimately my Wedding, were all monumental occasions. My abuela would make the extravagant white dress, the extended family gathered for mass at the church, my abuelo would dig the hole in the backyard for the lechón asado that would accompany the feast prepared by the women at my grandparents house. And finally the pachanga complete with dancing merengue with my abuela to make sure I was authentic Dominicana. I always felt my grandmother and mother went overboard with these celebrations. At times it was embarrassing because my African American friends did not share any of these particular ritual celebrations, and often did not understand what was going on and why it was so important. But deep down inside, I expected and appreciated the “Queen for a Day” celebrations. Continue reading

Reading Engagement: Teaching US Latino/a Literature with a Community-Based Learning Approach

coloral mural on wall with name of center Casa de Amistad

Photo by Marisel Moreno CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0

By Marisel Moreno

 

I have been teaching US Latino/a literature with a Community-Based Learning (CBL) approach for the last five years. I can honestly say that after 10 consecutive semesters, 4 different courses, and more than 5,000 hours of student service hours, I can hardly imagine teaching US Latino/a literature without the CBL pedagogy. It has been that transformative; not only for me, but for my students and our community partner, La Casa de Amistad. I thought I should take a few minutes to reflect on the power of CBL to transform students’ attitudes toward literature, especially minority literatures. I decided to write this reflection to hopefully convince those considering adopting this pedagogy that it is absolutely worth it.

A few details about CBL that people should know about: there is no standard definition of the concept or standard model that can be applied to all cases. This can be both intimidating and liberating at once. I know that in my case, when I first learned about CBL about six years ago, I felt I had discovered the “missing link” to my US Latino/a literature courses. My initial excitement soon gave way to anxiety when, after scheduling the first meeting with my future community partner, I realized that I was on my own. At that point, almost nothing had been published on the application of the CBL pedagogy in upper level US Latino/a literature courses. It seemed to me that most of the scholarship was geared toward the Spanish-language curriculum. Although I wasn’t sure exactly where I was going—or where my courses were heading—I decided to take the plunge because deep inside, I was convinced that CBL would add a depth of understanding and engagement that literature alone would probably not provide for my mostly white middle/upper class students. I also found solid common ground between La Casa de Amistad’s mission and my own pedagogical goal of teaching tolerance, acceptance, and civic engagement through literature.

La Casa de Amistad is a community organization founded in 1973 in South Bend, IN, that offers a range of services to the local Latino/a community. It’s mission, according to their website, is to “empower the Latino/Hispanic community within Michiana by providing educational, cultural and advocacy services in a welcoming, bilingual environment” (website). Among the services that La Casa provides are: the bilingual pre-school program “Yo Puedo Leer,” after-school programs “Crece Conmigo” (K-6th) and “Adelante América” (7th-12th), citizenship classes, computer classes, ENL adult classes, and a food pantry, among others. For five years, my students have been tutors and mentors with “Crece Conmigo” and “Adelante América,” since these are the two programs that mostly depend on a solid number of volunteers. These programs run from Monday-Thursday for two hours each, and my students sign up to work with either Crece or Adelante once a week for a two-hour session. La Casa’s commitment to promoting literacy and academic support to its students is one of the main reasons why I found its mission to connect with the goals of my courses.

Without a specific model to follow—there are too many out there—I came to a few preliminary conclusions. First, I wanted all my students to volunteer at the same organization instead of providing a few options, as some professors do. I saw this as a way to create common ground for my students, give them an experience that they could share as a class. Second, I wanted their volunteering to extend throughout the semester in order to meet the needs of our partner. In other words, rather than telling them to complete a set amount of hours, it was made clear that they were expected to work at La Casa at least 2 hours per week for the entire semester. Third, and perhaps the hardest thing, I told myself that not everything needed to work out perfectly every time. I convinced myself that I could let go of the need to control all aspects of teaching. It was hard at first, but eventually I learned to “go with the flow” and adjust to the unexpected changes and challenges that working with a small non-profit organization brings with it. In fact, I found it absolutely vital to remind my students of this last point, especially when it became obvious at different points that some were “uncomfortable” with the element of unpredictability (changes in staff, closings due to weather, transportation issues, etc.) that is part of any CBL partnership.

After five years I can confidently say that joining forces with La Casa de Amistad has proven mutually beneficial from the beginning; every semester my students became the backbone of La Casa’s after-school tutoring programs (they provided consistency as they were less likely to miss a day of tutoring), but more importantly, the relationships they cultivated with the children opened their eyes to the issues affecting US Latino communities. Immigration, racism, sexism, transnationalism, prejudice, education gap, undocumented immigrant and migrant farm worker—these are just some of the terms and concepts that my students were exposed to in the classroom but were able to understand in greater depth thanks to their time at La Casa. Those personal bonds they established with the children (and sometimes with their families) allowed my students to become more emotionally invested in the material we were covering in class; they wanted to learn more, and they wanted to read more. Of course, there have been exceptions, but overall, most students comment on this particular point in their final course evaluations—how getting to know the kids at La Casa have made them better people and opened their eyes to the injustices that ethnic and racial minorities face in this country. We can’t underestimate the importance of this type of statement, especially when it comes from white middle/upper class students who didn’t have significant contact with US Latinos/as prior to taking my course. This may sound paradoxical, but as a professor, there’s nothing more encouraging than hearing my students’ absolute disillusionment after realizing the histories and literatures they were not taught in school. I say “encouraging” because this usually translates into motivation, not just to learn more by filling those silences in their educations, but also to act and become more engaged in their communities and fighting for the rights of those who are left at the margins of society (In fact, for academic institutions seeking to reduce the town/gown divide, CBL courses offer a socially responsible solution). There’s also hardly anything more rewarding than witnessing your students’ individual transformations as they come to learn more about themselves and gain the gift of perspective through the combination of literature and CBL. I commonly hear my students reflect on how the CBL experience has taught them about their own limits (patience, ability to work with children, their personal racial/ethnic biases and prejudices, etc.) and has opened their eyes to their own privilege (economic, social, racial, citizenship status, etc.). Above all, many make it clear in their journals and final course reflections that the CBL component has allowed them to connect with the local Latino community in ways that they would not have otherwise; and that connection in turn has enhanced their appreciation and understanding of the literature discussed in class.

I could go on and on about the personal and academic benefits I have seen when applying a CBL approach to US Latino/a literature courses, but space is limited. I do want to confess that it hasn’t always been easy; there have been plenty of moments of doubt throughout the years. Some of the challenges my students and I have faced include: conflicts organizing the volunteering schedule in order to balance their presence at La Casa; transportation issues since public transportation is not really an option in that area; unexpected site closings due to weather or maintenance, etc. For non/pre-tenured faculty especially (as I was most of the years I taught these courses), teaching CBL can be very time-consuming and therefore not encouraged by the administration. However, when I read my students’ final course reflections every semester, where they’re expected to reflect on the course as a whole (including the literature and CBL components), I usually witness the power of literature and CBL to transform lives. Many of my students state a commitment to keep learning about US Latinos/as, to help set the record straight among friends and family who display prejudices toward this population, and to serve this population in the future as lawyers, doctors, and teachers.

It is precisely because of how transformative it has been for me to teach US Latino/a literature with a CBL component, and because I can see the incredible potential we have before us, that I want to encourage (especially) faculty teaching minority literatures to consider adding CBL to their courses. When you read students’ class journal reflections where they say that “if more people could study this literature and get to know kids like those at La Casa, there would be more peace and understanding in this world,” you know that this is something worth sharing. CBL can be implemented in all disciplines, but I think those of us in literature have an advantage. We can use the stories, poems, and novels we teach to open our students’ eyes. But we can also provide them the opportunity to break out of their comfort zone and become, if only temporarily, part of the community they’re learning about. US cities and towns are replete with community centers and non-profit organizations serving US Latinos, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, the undocumented, and many other groups whose stories we teach. Let’s make those stories come alive by keeping it real—in and outside the classroom.

MARISEL MORENO, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Latino/a Literature in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at the University of Notre Dame. Her first book, Family Matters: Puerto Rican Women Authors on the Island and the Mainland, was published in 2012. She has published articles on US Latino/a authors in Latino Studies, CENTRO, MELUS, Hispanic Review, and Afro-Hispanic Review, among other academic journals. In 2011 she received the Indiana Governor’s Award for Service-Learning.

Reports from “Imagining Latina/o Studies: Past, Present, and Future”

“Imagining Latina/o Studies”: Perspectives on the First International Latina/o Studies Initiative Conference

It’s not everyday that new professional and academic organizations are formed. That’s why the decision to join together in a new association, made by over 500 scholars gathered in Chicago for the “Imagining Latina/o Studies: Past, Present, and Future” Conference on July 17, 2014, was a historic moment. As the Program Committee, composed of leading scholars in multiple fields from all regions of the country, stated in the program:

With this conference we hope to spotlight the dynamic work being carried out in a range of disciplines with a particular focus on the interdisciplinary impulse that shapes and motivates work produced under the banner of Latina/o Studies. We recognize the decades-long history and crucial work of national-origin studies, such as Chicana/o Studies and Puerto Rican Studies, from which many of us have emerged; and we further ask how might we conceptualize the field so that it reflects the complex histories, social formations, and cultural production of Latinas/os even while seeking to imagine a larger sense of belonging that might transcend nationalisms?

Fourteen sessions, with eight to ten panels in each session, took place over the three days of this gathering, providing a wealth of rigorous and creative scholarship as well as insights on pedagogy in this interdisciplinary field. The growing establishment of Latina/o Studies Departments in colleges and universities across the country was evident at the gathering, as well as valuable regional networks of Latina/o Studies scholars in many parts of the country. Another indication of the significance of this professional gathering was the participation of eleven academic presses and four academic journals in the book exhibit. Eighteen (18) of the forty-one (41) ads in the program booklet were from Latina/o Studies Departments, programs, journals and presses based in the Midwest, representing a significant new trend in the field. Conference organizers allowed all participants to join in the work of creating a new association by scheduling business meetings over the lunch period. Participants either picked up something to go or took advantage of a limited number of conference free lunches and joined in the business discussions, voting to form a new association, discussing possible names for the new group, deciding on an initial leadership and governance structure, and establishing a Coordinating Committee to guide the next steps. The new Coordinating Committee includes: Elena Machado, Carmen Lamas, Deb Vargas, Raúl Coronado, and Isabel Porras. Along with Frances Aparicio and Lourdes Torres, who will not continue on the Coordinating Committee, this group worked together to organize the events.  Included here are some of the comments and observations of those who participated in the conference. The colorful notes/doodles on conference sessions of Brian Herrera, in Theater at Princeton University – used with his permission — also provide additional commentary here.

From Adriana Estill, English, Carleton College, Minnesota

On Thursday morning, July 17, 2014, I was one of “those people” — the members of the audience in a conference session that get thanked because they came out so early. (In this case at 8:00 a.m.) But on that Thursday morning, “those people” were out in droves. The excitement was palpable at the session “Latina/o Representation in Mass Media and Popular Culture,” not only because the papers were riveting and engaging, but because we knew — I knew — that this was a historic moment. The energy at the Palmer Hotel in Chicago was unflagging, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. Even our business meetings occupied a crowded Empire ballroom. Things that I deeply appreciated about the inaugural conference of a new Latina/o Studies Association:

  • feeling like I was “at home,” that people could understand the basic motivation for my work and that, maybe more importantly, they saw me;
  • hearing exciting new ideas insistently framed in relation to past Latin@, Chican@ and Puertorriqueñ@ scholarship. There was no amnesia here;
  • the sense of empowerment. Here, in this space (unlike at my home institution), it felt like our ideas, our curricula, our Latina/o Studies initiatives, and our scholarship could, should, and can matter. Part of this feeling stemmed from hearing about the amazing work that colleagues are doing, but part came from feeling heard in a number of different arenas.

Things that I hope we’ll work on in this new organization:

  • I saw the photo of our amazing conference organizers recently. Out of 10 (?) people, only one was cisgender male. I’d like to make sure that service to our association doesn’t fall primarily on cisgender female shoulders, given historical imbalances in that arena.
  • In that vein, a number of sessions that I attended that had “feminism” or “Latina” as one of the organizing rationale drew mainly cisgender women. Two thoughts: men involved in Latin@ studies should care about these issues; are we thinking deeply about masculinities?

Last but not least, a number of scholars used twitter at this conference, mainly to help get out the word on the sessions they attended. It was exciting to watch the ideas circulate not just in the rooms they were uttered, but out in “the open,” ready to be engaged by wider publics. And Iván Chaar López has archived our #LSCHI2014 in order to preserve those conversations for the archives.

From Luz Baez, M.A., Studies of the Americas, CUNY/City College of New York

First, I congratulate the Conference organizers for coordinating, what was in my estimation, a very successful event. Each panelist was distinguished and presented research in their field of study passionately and eloquently. It was enlightening to hear about the research each is conducting in their field.  There were several that resonated loudly and peak further interest in the subject matter, specifically how the construct of race has evolved and developed in a different space as Latina/os migrate to the South specifically Alabama, Mississippi and Florida; how inequality in media representation distorts the Latino/a image, and creates identity confusion and economic disparities; and, finally, the impact that the Treyvon Martin and George Zimmerman case had on the Latino/a community.  The benefits I received from attending the conference are countless and will further assist me in the development of my research.  Thanks again to the Organizers.  I look forward to the next Latino/a Studies Conference.

From Diana Rivera, Librarian and Archivist, Michigan State University

I attended the Latino Studies Conference in Chicago from July 17 to July 19, 2014.  It was the launching of the Latina/o Studies Association; an idea discussed throughout the previous year at national-origin studies conferences (whose focus are Latin American Studies, Puerto Rican Studies and Chicana and Chicano Studies) and the American Studies Association, the Modern Language Association, the Organization of American Historians and the Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage conferences.  The new organization will meet biennially and discuss the shifting landscape of Latina/os (including Chicana/os) in the humanities, social sciences and professional schools. My presentation, in a roundtable/workshop on Mujeres Talk, discussed Chicana and Latina blogs generally, and the work I have done as an associate editor of Mujeres Talk, which is a unique format with a two-editor review of submitted and solicited posts.  Ohio State University Libraries is the hosting institution for the blog. Sessions I attended included:

  • Latina/o Representation in Mass Media and Popular Culture
  • Roundtable on Latina/o History in the American Midwest
  • Roundtable on Libraries, Institutional Pressures and Cultural Politics
  • Latin@ in the Upper Midwest and Canada
  • Printing Latinidad: The Power of Paper in Latina/o Art
  • Roundtable – La Bloga Contributors in Person: Talk about Blogging, Writing, Publishing
  • Theorizing an Alternative Ethos of Preservation: Land, Space and Place in Latina/o Literature and Culture
  • Roundtable – Archive as Social Practice, Contestation, Queer Gesture, and Chisme

Librarians from Stanford University, UC San Diego and I moved a motion forward to have librarians as part of the executive leadership structure of the new organization to educate, improve and establish a continued library/archives use among the new faculty entering the ranks of academia. It was a conversation that was well received.

To reach the Coordinating Committee for a new Latina/o Studies Association use the Contact Form on their website, or look up “Latina/o Studies Initiative” on Facebook. 

Collecting Memory: Chicana/o and Latina/o Lives Outside the Southwest

Documents from El Calendario Hispano de Michigan, from the Papers of Juana & Jesse Gonzales Held by Michigan State University Library

Documents from El Calendario Hispano de Michigan, from The Papers of Juana & Jesse Gonzales Held by Michigan State University Library

By Diana Rivera

Dr. Christine Marin’s (ASU) January essay here on Mujeres Talk brought attention to the work she and other Chicana/o and Latina/o archivists and librarians performed in building collections that document the history of our communities in the Southwestern US (21 January 2014). It brought to mind the fact that Mexican and Puerto Rican communities have also, for the past 100 years, been in areas beyond the Southwest and East Coast, including the Great Plains, the Pacific Northwest and in particular, the Great Lakes region. Their stories, their lives and sometimes their contributions have been documented through independent, government and academic narratives, reports, demographics, statistics and historical studies. Scholars such as Paul Schuster Taylor, Norman D. Humphrey and George T. Edson have written on Mexican migration and immigration to region while Lawrence R. Chenault, Clarence Senior and Abram J. Jaffe surveyed and recorded Puerto Rican migration early on. This work charted our migration routes, our living conditions and early settled-out communities. They also studied our labor and dependability patterns and sometimes touched on culture, tradition and history. None of these types of studies relied on the kept materials, keepsakes or oral histories of the Mexican and Puerto Rican communities. Instead, these reports and statistics provided a sanitized narrative of our growing presence in the early years.

Even though it should not fall only to Chicana/o or Latina/o librarians or archivists to build a Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies (CLS) collection, more often than not, it does. Regrettably, the number of Chicana/o and Latina/o graduates from Library & Information Science Degree Programs are not keeping up with a growing Latina/o  population in the US. Dr. Marin’s essay prompts the question: What is being done to preserve and conserve the history of Chicana/o and Latina/o communities not only in, but also OUTSIDE of the Southwest?

Internationally known Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies (CLS) librarians Dr. Christine Marin, Margo Gutierrez (UT-Austin), Lilly Castillo-Speed (UC Berkeley), Dr. Richard Chabran, Dr. Maria Teresa Marquez (UNM) and Nelida Perez (CUNY) laid the groundwork for me and my peers at libraries across the country to emulate. My predecessors, and some contemporaries, in libraries and archives who have built excellent collections have established a model that I have followed to develop and to build collections that document Chicana/o, Puerto Rican and Latina/o stories in the Great Lakes Region. These materials are now available for scholarly research, including government reports and academic work.

In a January comment on Dr. Marin’s essay here on Mujeres Talk, I noted that one of my first areas of responsibility as a new librarian was working with a small collection of maps stuck in the back of the Art Library at the Michigan State University Libraries (MSUL). As one of maybe two librarians of color there, I felt an affinity for this format, which seemed so out of place in a collection composed primarily of monographs. I was asked to take on Mexican Studies (mostly because I was of Mexican heritage) but went “rogue” by buying more titles on Chicana/o Studies than what was established in our collection development policy. In 1995, Chicana/o and Latina/o student protests on campus led to the university creation of a space honoring Cesar E. Chavez. The Cesar E. Chavez Collection is a multi-format and multidisciplinary collection on the life of Chavez, as well as the Mexican American and Puerto Rican presence and experience in the US.  With the assistance of Chicana/o and Puerto Rican students, we developed a healthy CLS collection unselfishly guided by Margo Gutierrez, the Mexican American and Latino Studies librarian and bibliographer at the UT Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection.

Our “multi-format” collection was initially a small collection of ephemeral vertical file material like flyers, brochures and newsclippings. It served a minimal role in the writing and teaching that students and faculty were doing on local and regional subjects in Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies. Instead, researchers were finding the histories, accounts and statistics in texts or in manuscript archives back in Texas, the rest of the Southwest and Mexico. There was little collected at MSUL that provided researchers with regionally unique or unpublished materials by organizations or individuals about local activities, including correspondences, speeches, pamphlets, agendas or meeting minutes. It was an apparent need and challenge to start archiving our history in  Michigan and the Great Lakes region. Although our language, culture and traditions pulled our hearts back to the Southwest, Mexico and Puerto Rico, our families, our memories and our stories began within the Great Lakes, Northeast or Great Plains regions. Now that we have more than a 100 year presence in these regions, it becomes more than important, actually critical to start gathering the histories and experiences of early Latina/o  communities in “el norte,” histories beyond the popularly understood geographic boundaries of “Aztlan” and Borinquen.

Collections of note that have included Chicana/o and Latina/o voices and materials are relatively new. These include the holdings of the University of Iowa Libraries Iowa’s Women’s Archives with the Mujeres Latinas project that includes the papers of 15 families dating from 1923, over 80 oral histories of Latinas/os, organizational records dating back to the 1960’s and other related collections; the University of Michigan Bentley Collection with a growing number of personal manuscript collections (6) and organizations (3); Hope College  (in Holland MI) with an early collection (1970s) of oral histories (many transcribed) and the MSUL  Jose F. Treviño Chicano/Latino Activism Collection with 18 manuscript collections (processed) with content dating to the 1940s. Our small vertical file at MSUL developed into the manuscript collections of donated papers of Mexican American community members in Michigan.  These collections now include photography, political buttons and other ephemera.

Although the manuscript collections donated by Michigan families are nowhere near the volume of those collections found in the Southwest (or now the Northeast at the CUNY-Hunter College Collection), they have provided a starting point for researchers focusing on Latina/os in the Great Lakes region to learn about the presence of Chicana/o and Latina/o  communities dating back to the early part of the 20th century.

Collections that encompass the range of eras, locations and subject matters that will provide a one-stop source for researchers inquiring about Latina/os in Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana or Wisconsin are hard to come by. However, we as librarians and archivists are at a pivotal point in time when the student activists, community leaders and closet archivists of the 1960’s no longer need or want their collections of papers, documents, newspaper clippings, pamphlets, scrapbooks, garage-printed-mimeograph machine of the ’60s chapbooks and publications, flyers, bumper stickers, buttons, posters and bandanas or t-shirts.  Some potential donors are not ready to entrust materials to an institution to which they have no history, affinity or connection.  Some are fearful that their long and carefully collected materials will be seen as unimportant or tossed. Others do not see their materials as important enough to donate or do not remember what is in their own collection that may unify or supplement the papers found in the collections of others.   And then some do not know how to approach an institution about archiving their materials or are confused about their ownership and access rights.

For academic or family archivists seeking a location to deposit or donate their teaching and research materials, or family papers consider these simple rules:

  1. Donate: Libraries and archives accept materials given to an institution. Once donated, materials become the property (except for the intellectual property rights / copyrights, which may be negotiated) of the institution.  A signed Gift Deed is important with the  conditions of ownership transfer and possible tax deduction opportunities clearly listed.
  2. Access and Restricted Access: Who can view materials, what they can view and when they can view them depends on the condition of the material, the institutions’ policies regarding use and duplication, the library speed in processing materials for public use, as well as any restrictions donors create on sealing sensitive materials for their and others’ protections for a specified number of years.
  3. Copyright: May be legally transferred to heirs or others.
  4. Inventory: The organization and inventory of donated materials is critically useful. It provides staff a useful guide to work from, limiting the number of hours required to process and make the manuscript collection available.
  5. Storage Expectations: The institution should re-house materials into acid-free, preservation quality boxes, folders, preservation sleeves (for fragile or aged material) and apply  appropriate curation methods.
  6. Monetary Donations: These are not a condition of having ones’ papers accepted by an archive. However, because many libraries and institutions are non-profit organizations, they might welcome any donation —  if one has the means — to be applied to the processing of donated materials.
  7. Find an Information Specialist: If you do not know of or can’t find an institution in your community to best help preserve and document our history, please do not throw it away. Please. Reach out to an information specialist (librarian, archivist or even a professor) for guidance, or even a  Mujeres Talk editor, for help on where to place potential material donations.

Diana Rivera is the Chicana/o Latina/o Studies Subject Specialist and Head of the Cesar E. Chavez Collection at the Michigan State University Libraries.