Latinx Performance & Culturally Responsive Pedagogy
Jadele McPherson ~ The Humanities Alliance
March 14th, 2019
Teaching brings me great joy. Seeing young people’s minds tick, the spark in their ideas upon discovering a new point of view, or intervention, are among the daily joys of teaching. Yet as a graduate student I find myself drained after seminars, where I find academic conversations to be exhausting exercises that routinely silence black women’s voices, scholarship and contributions to the social sciences and humanities. These contradictions between the ways we are trained and the ways in which we engage producing new forms of knowledge as scholars is indeed exhausting. One has to read the arguments that have been made on a wide range of topics within one’s field, which are also constantly expanding in a fast paced, highly advanced technological world.
In terms of diversity and inclusion, many universities are lacking, and at the doctoral levels low-income minority students are not among the majority of graduate students. Queer p.o.c. voices, activists and artists are also marginalized in the academy. As teachers coming form these backgrounds we often approach the classroom as field where we confront these contradictions and silences–which is so badly needed.
Critical pedagogy recognizes that students of color come in with a critique of our fields that require dismantling theoretically. In the best circumstances we are given opportunities where we can create both curricular and theoretical interventions through teaching. Being culturally responsive means we must grapple with the underlying assumptions of Western humanities disciplines. As the U.S. diversifies in terms of race, ethnicity, immigrant diasporas and language, culturally responsive pedagogy is becoming even more urgent.
Thus far we have examples in textbooks or supplementary topical conversations about race, class, sexuality and identity politics. Relegating p.o.c. identity and politics to these moments in and of itself is a neo-liberal performance. The problem becomes that it does not cause us to rigorously interrogate the assumptions of our fields. It does not make the aim of pedagogy to train diverse scholars, with diverse ideologies and religious frameworks, which greatly impact Humanities and social science epistemologies. These embodied experiences are what Diana Taylor has referred to as embodied archives.
Black feminist anthropologists and social scientists were pioneers in researching and teaching embodied archives through African Diaspora research. Zora Neale Hurston, Pearl Primus, Anna Julia Cooper and Katherine Dunham were deeply committed to these epistemological questions. Part of their methodological response was training young women of color, in essence through teaching, through applied pedagogy which Kanene Ayo Holder calls “teaching to the whole student”.
They also emphasize the role of the visual and performing arts in African Diaspora research. We can use these guiding lights to forge a new way of integrating interdisciplinary approaches to culturally responsive pedagogies. In our Critical Thinking course this semester, students will not just learn the basic principles of the Greco-Roman tradition of philosophy, but to interrogate it, question it. By integrating literary Caribbean and Latin American writers and artists, we have epistemologies that trouble some of the underlying assumptions that go unchecked at the high school and university levels. This is particularly true in institutions with little ratio of queer and faculty of color, while the majority of the classrooms are non-white students. This issue of diversity and inclusion impacts teaching greatly.
By troubling Western philosophy’s assumptions, students will also develop a much need method of cultural analysis that actively considers race, gender, sexuality and class. We can continually develop a language to talk about these topics with one another. In an 80% Latinx class, by focusing on Latin America and the Caribbean, we further acknowledge the embodied archives that students enter the discipline with. As Trouillot urged so eloquently in Silencing the Past (1995), we consider power in the production of the archive with our current moments.
Latinx performance, artistry and its politics are crucial for culturally responsive education in bilingual environments. The U.S. racial binary politics tends to marginalize Latinx students in terms of language and framework for race-class-ethnicity analysis in cultural studies. What we see is a very nuanced point of view emerge, in combination with creating a safer community in which students can express themselves, and thus learn and produce knowledge themselves. Encouragement, joy and critical rigor in cultural analysis are very transformative tools for social justice in American classrooms.
After all our students are the embodiment of U.S. policy gone wrong in Latin America: the overthrow of Maduro and populist regimes, violent dictatorships from Trujillo and Duvalier, and from towns in Ecuador or Mexico, where 43 student organizers who heading to a protest were disappeared in Ayotzinapa. They come with the fears, traumas and active memory of complex events that also face a double silence at home in regimes where it is simply not safe to state one’s political position like it is in the United States.
Thus teaching Latinx students requires care, and deep historical and cultural knowledge in order to be successfully employed for their benefit. By focusing on U.S., Caribbean and Latin American epistemologies through Latinx performance, we can powerfully frame Western philosophy in a genealogy that is more accessible for students of color. I am excited to develop curricula and syllabi that reflect these currents. I see the classroom as a pivotal site of transformation and hope, and culturally responsive pedagogy is just one of many reasons why.