The Milwaukee Public Library (MPL) has developed a unique initiative under the leadership of Victoria Sanchez, Education Specialist at MPL: the Teacher in the Library program. This community-minded program brings certified teachers in nine neighborhood libraries “to assist students in grades 1 through 8 and their parents with homework help, academic support and encouragement.” This mission statement reflects an educative program that invites in the conversation “those with the most to gain or lose by its outcome” (Delpit 6), ie the parents, especially of children from disenfranchised communities. The program makes it clearly explicit on its flyer:
“Teachers will help parents
- learn ways to help their children at home with school assignments
- by answering questions they have regarding their child's homework”
Lisa Delpit in her book Other People’s Children (2006) emphasizes the necessity for educational programs to include parents, particularly of children of color, and to “value and make use […] of the language and the culture children bring from home” (Delpit, xxvi). The language at home is often time not the Standard English promoted at school, it can be a different English or for many, another language. The mission statement of Teacher in the Library acknowledges this diversity and features on multilingual flyers available to parents in each library, in English, Spanish and Hmong. A bilingual Spanish/English teacher is also available at one of the locations.
Like in the program MANOS that Steven Alvarez describes in Brokering Tareas (2017), Teacher in the Library is an afterschool program, where teachers help students and their parents with student homework. Nicole Taylor is a teacher at Villard Square Library. According to Taylor, the majority of the students at Villard Square are black and live in nearby neighborhoods. Four of her regular students are from African immigrant families. These four students are her “regulars” who come every day, the others are mainly “drop-ins.” On an average day, she will help between 4 and 13 students.
In an interview, Taylor first emphasized the necessity of establishing trust with parents and children, and of creating a safe place. She explained how she slowly established trust with parents through simple greetings, small conversations, and invitations to join the children’s table to watch and participate. It took about one month before parents finally directly came to her with questions regarding their children’s homework. These questions often time dealt with math literacy: students are learning math through the Common Core Standards, which looks different from how their parents learned it, in terms of wording but also strategies.
The role of the teacher in the library is then to bridge this gap and empower parents vis-à-vis their children’s education. It echoes what Steven Alvarez observed at MANOS with language literacy, where the mentors’ “involvement also helped to disrupt asymmetrical linguistic inequalities among minoritized parents and their emergent bilingual children” (Alvarez 5). Similarly to MANOS, Teacher in the Library offers a safe space outside of a school system that promotes standard literacies and undervalues home literacies—whether they are math or language literacies.
The four “regulars” who come to Villard Square Library are students from immigrant families. Taylor observed that their time at the library is felt like a social and emotional relief as they feel free to share and express their own culture and language. She sees her role as “building bridges” between the four students and their parents, and between the four students and the other students.
Like at MANOS, Taylor helps parents and students with literacy homework. If the parents of the four students seem to be at ease with English, they are however eager for advice on how to better help their children with English literacy—especially reading. As Alvarez underlines in Brokering Tareas, the pressure of school achievement is often higher in immigrant population, where parents’ sacrifices “are to be redeemed and validated in the future through their children’s academic merits in U.S. schools” (Alvarez xxiii). Programs like MANOS and Teacher in the Library can help alleviate this pressure.
Teacher in the Library also helps bridge cultural differences by initiating and/or negotiating discussions and interactions between students. Taylor gives the example of a discussion between two students, one who is Muslim from Guinea, and another student who is Christian from Milwaukee. Both students are 3rd graders and Taylor helped them find the similarities between their lived experience with their different faiths. As Lisa Delpit underlines, a better education for students of disenfranchised communities (and really, of all communities) lie “in some basic understandings of who we are and how we are connected and disconnected from one another” (Delpit, xxv).
The Teacher in the Library program offers this “third space” evocated by Kris D. Guttiérez in Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies (2017) “in which equitable learning, dignity, and educational rights are understood from a social interactional perspective.” (Guttiérez 253). It is an inspirational program that gives an insight on how “culturally sustaining” education can be developed outside of school.
While this course as a whole has been enriching and insightful, one of the points we’ve continually made that I’ve enjoyed the most is allowing students to be the experts—on their cultures, on their abilities, and in the classroom. So often, when we are discussing changes that need to be made within education—and society at large—we leave youth out of the equation.
If you grew up in southeastern Wisconsin you probably are well aware that Milwaukee is still one of the most segregated cities in the country. The deeply embedded racial divides that exist in this city feed into racial disparities across many lines, including poverty and incarceration rates. This long standing issue impacts people across Milwaukee in significant ways.
After reading Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness by Krista Ratcliffe, I was reminded that one important step in changing racial boundaries is to have meaningful conversations about them. Through strategies such as rhetorical listening, we, as Milwaukeeans, can work on being involved with and open to hearing about the experiences and beliefs of those who may exist in racial, ideological, or other social identifications different from our own. After all, “imagination alone is not enough when attempting to understand a person from a different tradition” (Ratcliffe 62) or background.
This is where Project Milwaukee comes in. The NPR-supported podcast was developed in 2007 in order to focus on “issues vital to Southeastern Wisconsin,” but a slew of recent episodes focus on issues of race and segregation within Milwaukee and surrounding areas. And, like Ratcliffe, Project Milwaukee aims to unpack the stories of others rather than continuing to allow a dysfunctional silence to exist. Through highlighting the repercussions of segregation and bringing in the experiences of Milwaukee-area residents, Project Milwaukee creates a dialogue that addresses uncomfortable material, offers a safe space for people to address privilege and inequity, and, by broaching topics often not talked about, encourages Milwaukeeans to continue exploring injustice in our city.
One organization that Project Milwaukee has brought to the forefront is Ex Fabula, a group that, according to their website, “celebrate[s] the power of true and personal stories to connect individuals through universal experiences.” In the Project Milwaukee episode from March 17, 2017, people brought together through Ex Fabula share their stories of uncomfortable racial encounters. Participants discuss everything from bizarre comments about music to dealing with police profiling in wealthy neighborhoods. Through story-telling, people are able to use language as a tool to change what may otherwise be unsettling, yet unaddressed social situations. On the segment, one woman was able to explain to primarily white listeners that her story “reminded me how exhausting it is to operate and navigate in white spaces.”
Although stories like hers can be jarring for those “from dominant cultures [who] often possess the unearned privilege to choose to learn about nondominant home places” (Ratcliffe 63) and cultures, they are stories that should be heard. Although many people feel awkward bringing up the subject of race, it’s important that those, particularly those who live with privilege, choose to learn about people who live their lives in nondominant spaces. Ex Fabula offers a place that is safe not only for the story tellers, but for those who hope to “learn by listening” (Ratcliffe 36) and become part of a larger conversation about inequity, privilege, and “the-past-that-is-always-present” (Ratcliffe 98). By providing spaces for people to come together and begin dialogues, programs like Project Milwaukee and Ex Fabula are changing how people address the social divides that currently exist in the city. Through an emphasis on listening to a person’s experiences both related to and independent of their identities, Milwaukee-area residents can begin to explore both the diversity and connectedness that exists through the city.
If you round the corner of 35th and National on Milwaukee’s south side, you’ll see a small church. The red brick, intricate stained glass, and stately tower that seems to come out of the middle ages stands out among the corner stores and tightly-woven homes. Attached to, but separate from, the church is El Puente High School.
El Puente has been in existence for 20 years now. The school provides a small, safe educational setting that values the whole student. In January, El Puente will be sending about 20 students to take courses at the local technical college, MATC. Each student will take their traditional high school classes in the morning before heading off to MATC in the afternoons. If you talk to the students who are participating in the program for the first time, you’ll notice that they are approaching the start of classes with ambivalence. They are excited, but nervous about stepping through the doors of a college classroom for the first time.
The program, according to El Puente staff, began in an effort “to encourage Latino students to graduate on time by both closing the achievement gap and increasing post-secondary education enrollment and completion,” and has garnered support from the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the Ford Motor Company Fund, earning the high school a Ford Driving Dreams grant.
Many students who participate in the Ford Driving Dreams program are multilingual, first-generation college students who have concerns about the challenges of navigating a college-level English course for the first time. For some students, they are unsure of the academic workload, but for others, becoming fluent in the language of academia is a distinct challenge that complicates their interactions inside and outside of the school building. Not only will the language of academia be different from the multilingual world of El Puente and many student homes, but being able to efficiently use this additional dialect adds another dimension to responsibly and efficiently translanguaging between home and school.
Finding a pathway for students to experience the college classroom became a focus for El Puente due to the gap in graduation rates between Hispanic and other youth in Wisconsin. Education data from the Department of Public Instruction indicates that, in 2017, 81% of Hispanic students in Wisconsin graduated high school within four years, while the average rate across all races was 89.2%. The data shows that Hispanic youth are still graduating at lower rates than the average Wisconsin student. Even though the dropout rates are decreasing and college enrollment is increasing for Wisconsin’s Hispanic students, they are still falling behind their counterparts.
El Puente’s dual-enrollment program has been running for a few years now, and it provides students with an opportunity to experience college, tuition-free, and with the support of not only family and friends, but also their high school teachers. El Puente is more than just the bridge in name. It is a place where translanguaging can happen freely, and the multiple tiers of support for students exist to help them create bridges within the multifaceted world of language. This program provides a space with “models for collaboration and positive views of bilingualism despite monolingualized English writing constraints” (Alvarez 4-5), which helps students enhance their ability to effectively translanguage within multiple spheres, in this case, home, high school, and college.
For students to be language brokers of “generational expectations, motivations, and languages, communicating in different contexts in their communities” (Alvarez xvi) when they, themselves, are discovering the hidden rules and expectations of college, is demanding. By participating in a dual-enrollment program, these students are provided with additional support at the high school, where teachers can help students navigate the expectations of college, linguistically and otherwise. Teachers can also act as a language (and educational system) broker by helping parents stay up-to-date on their child’s progress, as well as what needs to happen for the student to be successful.
Although the idea of attending college classes while in high school is often greeted with some uncertainty from students, almost every student finds success when given a space to explore the complex language negotiations they may face, as well as the support needed to manage the additional linguistic demands of the academic world.
According to one junior I spoke with, who will be taking an MATC English course in the spring, “I’ll be entering MATC and earning college credits for a head start in life, to get some experience and to be able to support my family when I finally become an adult and have a good paying job. I want to be successful in life and make my family, teachers, and close friends proud.” Many students feel this way, and providing them guidance as they build upon their linguistic and educational repertoire and find ways to fine-tune their “translanguaging strategies with different audiences” (Alvarez 66) is a key step in helping students see college as an accessible place.
On Sept. 17, 2018, Whitefish Bay School District co-sponsored an event with PACE3 titled “Talking About Race: Understanding Our Own Racial and Cultural Identity” presented by Erin Winkler, an associate professor of Africology and Urban Studies at UWM. Winkler’s thesis focuses on how parents in a post-racial society tend to think they should avoid talking to young children about race. However, Winkler argues, it is detrimental to not talk about race with them because they “form racial impressions from environmental cues around them” and - far from being color-blind - form biases based on patterns in their observations. Winkler points out this tendency is not wrong or immoral, but that parents have a responsibility to talk to their children about where these patterns come from and explain systemic inequality that privilege Whites and disfavor Peoples of Color. Significantly, Winkler points out, “Get rid of the guilt. It’s not your fault that you weren’t taught in schools about how systemic structures of racism have created many inequalities. But it is your responsibility now to learn about it, to practice talking to adults about it, and to do something about it. Then you can learn to teach children about it in age-appropriate ways.”
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the event, but Winkler’s research resonates with me academically and personally. I live in Whitefish Bay – or White Folks Bay, as it commonly goes: a bubble of suburban class and race privilege. I cringe a bit every time I say it. And I often immediately add, regardless of whom I am talking to, “We used to live in Riverwest (Milwaukee is one of the most segregated cities in the U.S. but Riverwest is a small diverse community on the Eastside) for 8 years, but after terrifying instances of crime including arson, shooting, and a sword-wielding neighbor, we needed to move to a safer neighborhood”. So here my kids are – growing up in White Folks Bay, and, yes, they are safe but also learning that the world is white, or more like colorless, and comfortable. My husband and I do often talk to our children about race and class, but still…. there is an element of guilt. So learning about tools for how to talk to children about race, and knowing the event was sold out and that many others in the Whitefish Bay community have a desire to learn this too gives me comfort.
A researcher whose work helps me frame Winkler’s ideas and my own thoughts is Krista Ratcliffe who in her book, Rhetorical Listening sets up the premise that many White people, feeling race is impolite or uncomfortable to discuss, inadvertently become blind to their unearned White privilege and power, and buy into the myth about colorblindness whereby they forget and reinforce the pernicious cycle of systemic racism.
Ratcliffe urges White people to become conscious of current racial dynamics, and similar to Winkler, to foster “a logic of accountability [that] interrupt[s] our excuses of not being personally accountable at present for existing control situations that originated in the past... This logic invites us to consider how all of us are, at present, culturally implicated in effects of the past… and, thus, accountable for what we do about our situations now, even if we are not responsible for the origins” (32). For a White woman, teacher, doctoral student, and parent, the focus is moved from my guilt to my responsibility: what I can do to disrupt the perpetuation of discourses, polices, and practices that appear color-blind but are steeped in systemic structures of oppression?
Digging a bit deeper into Ratcliffe’s theory of rhetorical listening and its exigency, one might say children in their observations of patterns unconsciously overhear their environment, but that they can be helped to conscious rhetorical listening – an open-minded way of tuning in to one’s environment –through conversations. A central concept in Ratcliffe’s theory, which evokes Winkler’s argument, is “non-identification” between people who identify differently culturally and racially. With non-identification, rhetorical listeners can position themselves on “the margin between” [self and Other] and reflect on the existence of gaps while being aware of “the partiality of our visions” (73) that causes biases and stereotypes (which in my children’s case is the outcome of living in a bubble), but also to see the “agency to engage cross-cultural rhetorical exchanges across both commonalities and differences” (73). Such exchanges can be ethical and conscious choices to “interrupt unethical discourses [which include White supremacist as well as color-blind discourses] and unethical cultural structures and practices” (75) which include the racist systemic structure Winkler is also talking about. In fact, I think although Winkler talks about young children and Ratcliffe outlines pedagogical implications for rhetorical listening in college students, they enact similar strategies aiming at a situated literacy of accountability. This is the kind of literacy I most wish to nurture in my Whitefolks Bay children. -GPF
Two words come to mind upon stepping into the SEA Literacy Center on the second floor of the Neighborhood House of Milwaukee: organized chaos. The SEA in SEA Literacy Center stands for Southeast Asian and twice a week this space, complete with vibrant nature-scape themed walls, is transformed into a community of Burmese refugees primarily between the ages of 6 and 22 and Milwaukee area volunteers of all ages working together in powerful ways.
According to its website, SEA Literacy originated from Milwaukee landlord Bob Heffernan’s recognition that his refugee tenants were “largely isolated from the larger Milwaukee community” and the refugee children often struggled academically in their new schools and with English language learning in general. In 2011, SEA Literacy was born with a mission to bridge the gaps Heffernan recognized. Dedicated to more than simply tutoring students on the fundamentals of language learning, SEA seeks to foster connections between members of the Burmese refugee community and between the refugee community and the greater Milwaukee community. Its mission is as follows:
SEA Literacy uplifts the lives of Southeast Asian refugees in greater Milwaukee by empowering them to become engaged members of this diverse, dynamic community. Our goal is to foster social and educational development, thus creating community leaders and inspiring future generations. We are also committed to providing the people of Milwaukee and the surrounding suburbs the opportunity to reach out to their neighbors and strengthen the harmony in our city!
Much of the philosophy and mission of SEA Literacy relates to Django Paris and H. Samy Alim’s text Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies: Teaching and Learning for Justice in a Changing World. Paris and Alim argue that “culturally sustaining pedagogy seeks to perpetuate and foster--to sustain--linguistic, literate, and cultural pluralism as part of schooling for positive social transformation” (16). Clearly, pedagogies that promote cultural pluralism and foster positive social transformation go well beyond the transference of a particular set of concrete skills like reading and writing. They include strategies and ways of learning and being that can heal and strengthen often divided communities and that can encourage leaders who might otherwise never speak or be heard.
SEA also reflects Steven Alvarez’s work with MANOS or the Mexican American Network of Scholars. Alvarez advocates for a more individualized approach to literacy and reveals ways to “broker the immigrant bargain and build collaborative networks” for the benefit of those often penalized by the traditional, monolinguistic school systems (15, 19). SEA, not unlike MANOS, offers an environment and context that emphasizes collaboration and a cultural exchange that does not assert the dominance or superiority of one culture over another. In effect, programs such as these can enfranchise the often disenfranchised (144).
According to Lisa Delpit in Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom, The collaborative environment of the literacy center also disrupts or contrasts the “culture of power” so often enacted in traditional learning spaces (24). Silvia, a high school senior who has volunteered at SEA for three years, commented, “the kids don’t really need another teacher. They often feel upset or frustrated by school. I’m there to guide them through activities and homework and have fun with them. If we work for an hour or an hour and a half, we then set aside some time to play.” She also remarked on the privilege of learning from them. “The girls are often eager to share stories about their culture,” Silvia remarked, adding, “I think SEA offers a safe environment to receive help and fit in. I have learned so much from working with them.” This mutual, honest exchange between mentor and mentee is one of many ways nontraditional education centers differ from the more hierarchical traditional school systems. Indeed, if “we do not really see through our eyes or hear through our ears, but through our beliefs” as author Lisa Delpit suggests, then this type of communication across cultures is particularly vital for a population that is especially vulnerable (46).
Personally, I am heartened when I talk with young people who are engaged in this work and when I learn about the efforts of fellow Milwaukeeans and our refugee guests. Much of this work and the spirit of this work is overshadowed by hurtful rhetoric about the character and motives of those who flee danger and seek safety away from their homes. With so little wisdom coming from the office of the president or even from my own generation, I find hope in our youth, from where ever they may hail.
Interested in bearing witness to and being a part of the transformative work that happens here every Tuesday evening from 6 pm to 8 pm and Saturday morning from 9 am to noon? Visit sealmke.org for more information!
On the evening of October 25th, Roxane Gay came to UWM to give a talk focusing on her primary interests, her experiences in academia and the entertainment industry, and her writings. She addressed such matters as her social media presence, trauma, politics, feminism, and body shaming. The talk was well attended by both UWM affiliates and the Milwaukee community.
One of the first matters Gay addressed is her advocation for the self-identifier “victim” because it acknowledges the effects of ongoing trauma better than, say, “survivor,” which led her, humorously, to momentarily reflect on her love for the long-running TV show of that name.
Gay then went on to discuss the notion of holding onto rage, a practice which she advocates, because “it’s healthy,” and that she does not “believe in forgiveness.” This statement led me to think about the rhetorical concepts of identification, dis-identification, and non-identification as Kenneth Burke and Krista Ratcliffe write about them. These notions pertain to how we situate others in relation to our notions of self and, as such, have implications for our openness, or lack thereof, to others’ ideas, arguments, and positions. If taken as a rhetorical maxim for responding to mistreatment, Gay’s contention that she does not “believe in forgiveness” would fall most squarely in the dis-identification camp: i.e. if one has wronged me, then I can no longer identify with that person.
While my reading of Gay’s stance on forgiveness might at first seem dismissive, I actually mean to express appreciation for the way in which her positionality on trauma complicates the rhetorical identification terms mentioned. While Ratcliffe does acknowledge the hurdle presented by our unconscious moves toward identification and dis-identification with others, she has less to say on how the notion of “being wronged” might further complicate attempts at non-identification. How does one foster a stance of non-identification on matters pertaining to sources of their own trauma? Furthermore, how does one work toward non-identification when the speaker is the perpetuator of that trauma?
Additionally useful and thought-provoking was Gay’s acknowledgement of the difficulty and personal choice involved in sharing one’s trauma and expressed some ambivalence about the #MeToo movement as it led to a sort of expectation of women to speak about their personal traumas. As much of what we have discussed in English 812 this semester has involved pedagogies that ask or invite students to speak of their own experiences, I wondered if Gay’s point may have implications for these practices, for what we ask students to share in the name of education, inclusivity, and diversity. For instance, should we as educators feel compelled to even ask students to share their personal stories if that is going to set up the expectation to do so, no matter how much we insist that the sharing is ultimately their choice?
Of surprisingly particular interest for our course, Gay mentioned her dissertation, which she wrote while completing her doctorate in Rhetoric and Technical Communication at Michigan Technical University. The dissertation focuses on how student writers are labeled as “bad writers,” the effects this practice has, why this is not a useful practice, and ways to work against this practice. She emphasized that one of the crucial points she makes to her own students at Purdue University (where she has been on the faculty for the last four and a half years and will continue to work until the end of the current school year) is that the ways they choose to write are “valid,” and that she attempts to meet them where they are in terms of knowledge and skills. While Gay emphasized this point with a verbal bold face, I was stunned by its precise overlap with so many of the writers we have encountered in English 812 and with my own deeply held convictions about how to talk about and how to treat student writers.
In regards to another part of her academic work post-graduate school, Gay expressed irritation at the persistent expectation of her to serve as the “black queer woman” on faculty committees in order to fulfill diversity needs. Though I suspect that someone with Roxane Gay’s prestige may be asked to be a part of campus organizations and committees for reasons other than diversity, her point is well taken as I had witnessed similar practices among the faculty and administration at the California community colleges at which I’ve previously worked – certain individuals are asked to contribute their time and energy again and again to various committees and on-campus causes, often causing them irritation and exhaustion.
Roxane Gay’s talk and her work serve as perfect examples of the potential for academic crossovers, that is people and topics that are traditionally housed in the academy shifting their gaze to the culture at large and having profound impacts on a larger, more diverse, popular audience.
"Many Hands Make Light Work"
Continuing our discussion of Rhetoric and Composition Theory on November 15th, we read Brokering Tareas: Mexican Immigrant Families Translanguaging Homework Literacies by Steven Alvarez. Brokering Tareas details the research Alvarez gathered through an ethnographic study of a grassroots educational mentoring program called MANOS, or the Mexican American Network of Students, which serves the Mexican community surrounding Foraker Street in New York City.
Through his own engagement as a MANOS mentor, Alvarez both witnesses and experiences the struggles faced by Mexican immigrants as they strive for superación, or the desire to proactively better one's life circumstances, in the United States through an intergenerational, multicultural, and community-driven brokering of language, literacy, education, family, and identity (Alvarez, xvi). Alvarez specifically emphasizes translanguaging within bilingual communities as a socially structured literacy practice, which illustrates how these groups “use literacy between and across language systems” (xix) in order to actively and collaboratively broker meaning as part of the immigrant bargain.
After our initial gushing about how much we enjoyed this book, especially the emotion Alvarez portrayed through his detailed descriptions and close relationships with the members of this community, we dove into a conversation about “safe spaces” as represented in this work. MANOS is distinctly labeled as a safe space for both the students and parents in the community, a setting where emergent bilinguals in this community can be comfortable, expressive, and authentic.
MANOS provided this community with a social context outside of the pressures for assimilation in language and culture, outside of the gaze of the public school system, and outside of institutionalized oppression (33-34). Through his participatory viewpoint, Alvarez proves the success of these programs relies on their ability to take place outside of an institutional setting (xxv). Language is linked to culture, context, and identity (50), a safe space is needed to work on learning language, and so a feeling of safety is crucial to the parents and students in this community learning English.
Creating a safe space is responsible for allowing translanguaging to occur. Alvarez observes translanguaging as the key strategy used for meaning making and brokering literacy by emergent bilinguals at MANOS, as centered around the standardized English of homework (xviii). Translanguaging events may be understood as “spontaneous moments when different kinds of literacies are used and participants socially interact across languages in the production of texts and performances that are both critical and creative" (xviii). The MANOS program utilized translanguaging in order to help the families involved in the program, and the entire Mexican immigrant community, negotiate the immigrant bargain, or the intergenerational narrative fueling the motivation, literacy acquirement, and educational goals of immigrant families,and move toward their goal of superación (xvi, xxvii).
Brokering language (or homework) is a position of power granted to the children of immigrants, but with this power comes challenges and great responsibility. Children are tasked with taking on the role of broker in their families, translating for their parents in various contexts, an important function that affects the power dynamics between child and parent (41). Brokering goes beyond just translating to interpreting situations and rhetorical contexts to create meaning between languages (65).
Alvarez describes multiple examples of brokering language observed at MANOS, especially between parents and mentors, which illustrate the advanced literacy skills required by bilingual children serving as brokers. These examples prove that bilingualism is far from a deficit for these students, rather, it is a metalinguistic skill that allows them to utilize the rhetorical power of language (57-61). While this position of power is neither good nor bad, it is a complicated role for children and families to negotiate. These students are required to “simultaneously broker generational expectations, motivations, and languages, communicating in different contexts in their communities," (xvi) and we questioned how this might affect the perception and development of their identities.
As always, we wondered how we might implement translanguaging in our classroom practices. We thought that both monolingual and bilingual students would benefit from translanguaging activities, in allowing students to embrace all aspects of their identity, culture, community, and language, and to see its value. As Alvarez points out, "the MANOS community lent bilingual helping hands" (xiv) and these hands helped shape the children's "sense of moral, social, and personal responsibility" (xiv) providing them the skills to succeed. We ended our discussion of Brokering Tareas by considering why we often feel personally responsible as teachers for helping students master these skills that are gained over a lifetime. This study demonstrates the way many hands really do make light work, as a lesson in the power and significance of community to support education, literacy, self-discovery, family responsibilities, and personal goals.
For further reading on implementing translanguaging practices in the classroom, check out Community Literacies en Confianza: Learning from Bilingual After-School Programs by Steven Alvarez.
Steven Alvarez offered to answer questions we had about Brokering Tareas over Twitter. To see more from this conversation, check out #uwm812 on Twitter or click here.
This semester we’ve been reading and discussing opportunities for writers to engage in codemeshing and multivocal play within academic spaces. Some of the walls we always bump into are those of assessment and of precedent – should we encourage students to write in forms that utilize multiple languages and modal varieties when we know there are tests and standards that will not allow these forms?
One suggested solution has been to gradually replace those in power with writers who are aware of the privileges and boundaries that a future of Standard English creates, who will not only encourage but celebrate meshing languages and modes. So how do we build an affinity for those voices in curriculums predicated on assessment? The answer may be outside the academic system, in alternative writing and publishing communities like those of zines.
In his essay “The Place of World Englishes in Composition: Pluralization Continued,” A. Suresh Canagarajah describes “contact zone textualities” (601) as texts that mesh not only multiple languages, but also multiple modes of communication. He cites Walter Mignolo’s definition of “grapho-centric” texts that are only words, with no visual components, and describes how this division of image and text in Western communities enables biases against codemeshing multiple languages (600). Zines are a vibrant engagement with “contact zone textualities,” embracing a meshing of languages, images, and even physical forms.
“Zine” is short for “magazine,” and is an independently-produced piece of writing. There are no editors, copyeditors, or gateways. Zinesters write personal stories (perzines), fiction, reviews of books and bands, lists of things they like, catalogues of dog poop they pass by on the sidewalk – the scope is endless. While most zines are independent projects and are shared via snail mail, zine festivals are opportunities for zinesters to share their work and meet people from the community.
The Milwaukee Zine Festival celebrated its 10th year in April 2018. Held at the downtown public library, this free event featured over 60 zinesters sharing their work. I was lucky to snag a table to share some of the zines I’ve made over the years, and had a great time hanging out with other zine makers and buying/trading zines to take home to add to my collection.
The Milwaukee Zine Fest also had workshops on producing zines and screenprinting. Bay View Printing Company let attendees use a letterpresss to print their own zine fest poster to take home, the Milwaukee Public Library’s rare books librarian, Maria Burke, taught a workshop on bookbinding techniques, and Max Yela, head of UWM’s Special Collections led a workshop on methods for folding zines to create mini-books.
In explaining why zines are an important genre for writing, the Milwaukee Zine Festival’s website highlights both openness to content and accessibility of production, and argues: “Zines thus provide a safe, independent platform of expression for underrepresented and marginalized voices: people of color, young people, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ(+) community, persecuted religious groups, and people with limited economic resources” (“What Is a Zine?”).
Rebecca Lorimer Leonard, in her essay “Multilingual Writing as Rhetorical Attunement,” calls for a new way of viewing writing. She urges us to consider how “the conditions that foster rhetorical attunement are those in which multiplicity is a norm and difference is inevitable” (240). At the Milwaukee Zine Fest, year after year, multiplicity is the norm and differences are celebrated – stories detailing raccoon encounters are tabled next to artwork celebrating body size and tattoos, Professors and Punks blend in together, zinesters walk from table to table sharing candy and buttons. If I could bring the writing administrators of the future to only one place, I would take them here, to show them how writing in multiple languages and forms can flourish.
The next Milwaukee Zine Fest is April 6, 2019. Check out their Facebook event page for more information and to get involved!
<3 Jenni Moody
As this semester comes to an end, I find myself asking a couple of questions:
The Neighborhood House of Milwaukee was established in 1945 as a community center for neighborhood families in West Milwaukee.
It has grown in mission and vision over the years, and now provides services to a diverse population through the main center, as well as the Nature Center, International Learning Center, and Safe Place at Story School. These centers offer programs for youth from early childhood until 19 years of age including childcare, after school homework help and recreation, sports, and leadership activities.
The International Learning Center (ILC) focuses on providing literacy services for families, many of which are first- or second-generation immigrants. They hold classes on literacy, language, and citizenship for youth as well as for adults. They are dedicated to guide immigrants and refugees through the transition of being self-sufficient in Milwaukee.
For the community members of the ILC, “sufficiency means gaining the language, life and social skills needed to attain citizenship, participate in the Milwaukee community, access community resources, and support the healthy social and academic development of their children" (ILC page). While the ILC celebrates and supports immigrants, they also seem to recognize and understand the idea of citizenship as belonging in America.
The ILC is dedicated to giving its members courses in math and computer skills as well as job readiness, so that members can not only earn education but also earn a living. The center also hosts an on-site preschool as well as childcare during these adult classes.
This is only one of the Neighborhood House locations, but this one location embodies much of what we’ve discussed this semester, including the complexities of brokering languages and the immigrant bargain (Alvarez, Brokering Tareas), the complicated feeling of citizenship as belonging (Young, Minor Re/Visions) and the value of knowledge from community sites of learning (Paris & Alim, Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies).
The ILC is striving to do much of what we’ve studied in this course. It provides opportunities for both kids and adults to forward their education and economic status, while not diminishing their home cultures, languages, and literacies. Their website shows past celebratory events for immigrants, refugees, and all members of Neighborhood House to deepen feelings of community.
This community space is one of belonging, acceptance, and learning. It is a great place for students – many of whom are local community members – to get involved and be a part of creating literacies, language practices, and knowledge outside of the classroom.
Students might choose Neighborhood House for their academic service learning option for certain classes they are involved in. However, any UWM student can apply to be a volunteer in various capacities, depending on their skills, qualifications, and interests:
By volunteering at Neighborhood House, students could actively learn from and contribute to their local community. Engaging in a community is about building respectful relationships, co-creating knowledge, and sharing life together. There is much to be gained from - and shared with - our local communities surrounding UWM.
~ DK ~