Belaying the Mantle of the Expert

Class has ended and a Latina student has stayed behind again to ensure she understands the details of her part in the Collaborative Midterm Presentations taking place next week. We do this after almost every class, reviewing in Spanish what was presented in English so she can own the material. Today, for the first time, I heard another classmate respond to her in their mother tongue after the groups had disbanded. Progress. Our classroom is safe enough for more and more of us to be ourselves. She is wondering how she will present her themes of literature using an Octavio Paz poem, Between Going and Staying. The themes she has been focusing on while reading are displacement, the importance of family, and integration. She leaves relieved at the thought of presenting a portion of her material in Spanish.

In a Migrant Literature course it makes sense if one of your goals is perspective-taking. It makes sense if establishing an emotional connection with the material offers a valuable efficiency. It makes sense if flipping majority and minority ‘authorities’ for a few minutes will teach more in those moments than a lifetime of telling. It makes sense if you want the Course Objectives to walk off the page and into our lives the way the medium is the message.

As we walk down the hall discussing everything from Mitt Romney’s connections to Mexico and teachers who embarrass students whose first language is not English, she says she doesn’t think discrimination will ever end. Ending discrimination was the response to the day’s freewriting topic that received the most frequent and energetic response. I’m certain that the student who posed the question, If you could change anything about immigration history, what would you change, didn’t think he was skating on a volcano.

I was humbled and encouraged by the reasons students gave for the things they would change. Needing to reserve enough time for teams to organize, I simply summarized the comments gathered during discussion by asking for the assumptions behind the statements made to water a seed for their work together.


Dear Lucille

After a long weekend I begin the teaching week heavier than usual. Even my glasses feel tight. So I turn to your latest volume for inspiration before facing class and open to photograph. Your poems, memories of your classes, are among my favorite things.


keep them turning    turning

black blurs against the window

of the world

for they are beautiful

and there is trouble coming

round and round and round

You dedicated this poem to your grandsons, spinning in their joy. What do I have to do for some of that joyous spinning to rub off on me today? I arrive on campus late, yet find a parking space close to the building that houses the office they have told me is mine yet will not allow me to arrange my books or desk in ways that suit me.

The trouble you mention is closer now. where, oh where, is the saving thing?

On my way in and up, I pass a license plate holder proclaiming “only great moms get promoted to nana.” We know otherwise. Yesterday was my birthday. Unlike you, I did not write myself a poem. I made a list yet did none of the things on it. I did not go swimming. I did not read. I have not yet learned the art of celebration. Perhaps that will be this year’s lesson.

The NCLR sent a text this morning asking us to complete the following:

Our economy won’t work without me because…

I responded reflexively something about teaching generations but the trouble is that the dysfunctional economy IS working for someone and the psychological wardrobe of Horatio Alger is paraded as sufficient and possible for everyone else. That’s why this myth has not been revealed, dismantled or replaced. Too many people will settle for changing places with the oppressor.

Though I miss you sorely, I am glad you got out when you did.