I am going to blog about some of my reflections of texts that I am reading, starting with Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom by Lisa Delpit, but I want to ponder about my literacies, discourses, and cultures first.
I currently live in Milwaukee. I came here because I was offered a job at an alternative school for students who are at-risk of not graduating from high school. Sadly, it closed last year.
I grew up in a small town an hour and a half north of here. My dad is an Irish/Slovakian white man, but he looks and acts more like a full-blooded Irishman. He married my mom and brought her back to Wisco. Because of his job placement, we ended up in this small town, but I know he would have not wanted to live in a city if his life depended on it. In fact, he’s not too keen on me living here now.
Now retired, my dad worked as a prison guard for the state. He came across this employment after being in the Peace Corps for four years; he had graduated from UW-Madison with a degree in Business Management. However, the recession in the 80′s forced him to find a job wherever he could, and he thought the Dept of Corrections would be a quick climb up to management. Not quite, as we found out.
As mentioned previously, dad is a UW grad like me, but he is an incredibly smart man. He, and many of his siblings, are likely MENSA candidates. Though my brothers and I grew up working-class, it was fostered in an environment with parents who loved to read, and our dad pushed us on our schooling every day.
My mom has quite a different background. She is from the Dominican Republic (where my dad was in the Peace Corps; oh yes, he met her there!) and struggled to finish high school. Not because of her intelligence, but schools kept closing, and she had to hitch-hike every day just to get to one. She has some post-secondary education, a secretary’s school of some sort, I think, and did some work at a tech school before they screwed her transcripts up. She, and my dad, are both fluent, in English and Spanish, written and spoken. In fact, mom and I were learning English at the same time! Sadly, I am not bilingual.
Why all this background? In this small town, I grew up in a very white area. My mom and I, I like to joke, were the darkest people living there for a long time, as my brothers are on the lighter side of the skin spectrum. Even though I am mixed, I think I grew up thinking that I was a darker white kid with a different family, some who lived in another country and I got to visit them there! In fact, I was hurt and confused when some kids called me a n*****. This was one of the first bubbles of consciousness that I didn’t quite “fit” fully in this world. Even my paternal family wasn’t like that, as many of my cousins are also mixed as well.
I understand the literacies and discourses of formal English, and the hegemony of the majority culture. I can navigate pretty well, but, sometimes, not well enough. There is a missing piece that I struggle with.
“One foot on sea/the other on shore…”
In college, I was lucky enough to earn a scholarship based on merit. It is also part of the university’s recognition that admission and retention of students of color is low. It was there that I became more aware of myself as a woman of color, and that I embraced the fact that I am black, and the descendant of slaves. I also welcomed the culture and history that came with it–music, laughter, stories, and language. I am Latina, or, more to the point, BLatina.
So, when I came to Milwaukee, I thought, “This was my in!” Here are students who are in poverty ( I grew up pretty poor myself.) and who struggle with racism on a daily basis. And with quite a few of the students, I did connect with them on this basis. For some, I didn’t connect based on that. It seems like they think I am just a poseur who doesn’t know what it’s like to be “Black in America.” Do I? Yes, and no. There is a lot I do understand, and a lot that I do not. But my naivete has struggled to see what I see now.
There have been many cases where I have encountered personal racism. I have also butted heads quite a few times with institutional racism. I have managed, in some ways to work around the latter, but not very successfully. My students encounter it every day. Worse, I need to examine my teaching and see how I have not given the students tools to understand and work around the institutional racism.
So here I stand, one foot in sea and the other on shore. Because of the changing tides, I might have both in one, or both in the other, but that time is fleeting. I did, however, find a cultural tie to bring me to a place of constancy, which will be the subject of my next post.
A ship, if you will, to take me out to sea, and to bring me back to shore.