Leading the writing workshop with the high school students, about one hour, or just a little more. In the library of their high school downstairs. Most of these students come from the “feeder” (according to one of the teachers) of Mexington Elementary school. Most of the students in the workshop live in the Mexington barrio. 16 students showed up to the workshop this time, about ten less than last time.
I brought notebooks for the students, and we began by doing some free-writing. First, I asked the students to open to the first spread in their notebooks, and on the left page to write Stereotypes. Below this, students drafted a list of Latino stereotypes, ranging from “lazy,” “illegal,” “bad students,” “cholos,” and the like to some “sort of positive” according to one student, such as “hard workers” and “all about family.” These stereotypes, I told them, were for us to get the list down, to determine what we were up against as we would write about our identities and conflicts we understood between who we are, who others expect us to be, and what others think we are as Latinos. One of the teachers standing by walked by me as I led students through the free write. A white woman with Southern accents to her English. She said she was the ESL teacher. “Very inspirational” she said in hushed tones.
There were some new students to this group. One young man had only recently arrived from Mexico. He was in this teacher’s ESL class. I assured him, and all students, we welcomed Spanish in our writing, the same with Spanglish. He smiled when I said this to him, as well as another student sitting near him who also appeared not to be completely confident with his English. The student from Mexico, Marcos, was 18. I wondered how long he would be at this high school, and what expectations he had for himself.
We discussed some of these stereotypes after students free-wrote for about five minutes. The first student who shared, Ana, was from Colombia. I asked her to share some stereotypes about Colombians in Kentucky.
“First, everybody thinks we’re Mexicans.”
Laughter from the students.”
“Well when you live in Mexington,” I said. More laughter from students. “What else?”
“Everyone thinks we’re, like, into drugs, or we sell drugs.”
“Why is that?”
“Because people in Colombia, well, they used to be into drugs. They used to.”
“What, and they aren’t any more?”
“No: they are, but it’s not as bad like it used to be.”
I said I couldn’t speak to that, but I did give a quick re-count of Plan Colombia and also the capture of Pablo Escobar. As soon as I said the name Escobar, Ana nodded her head, “yes, like that,” she said.
I then drew some connections to the drug war in Mexico, and dropped the name Chapo Guzman. So here was a stereotype shared between Colombians and Mexicans as Latinos.
We arrived, then, at some Latino parents stereotypes. Maria, the leader of the group said that one stereotype is that parents don’t care about their kids in school. “For example,” she said, “my mom didn’t graduate high school. She doesn’t know how hard it is to go to college, but she tells me.”
I instantly recognized the hallmark signs of the immigrant bargain which I had learned more in detail about at my time at MANOS. I asked Maria where this stereotype came from.
“Well the parents don’t speak English, so they don’t help with school–”
“And they are too busy working!” Rafael, another leader of the group chimed in. “They work too much, and they are always working, like third-shifts and stuff. So they don’t have time because they hardly ever see their kids.”
“And they don’t check the kids homework,” Maria said.
I had to break in the conversation and mention to the students that I had been to the Mexington Library the last few evenings, and what I saw there were parents who were interested, many of them. They may not have spoken English, but they were invested in their children. And when they took third-shifts, they did that for their kids, not so they could avoid them. I had to stick up for parents, especially when their children misinterpreted what they saw fitting the negative stereotypes of their parents, or the “deficits” schools ascribed to them.
Finally, the group read a poem by Chicano poet Luis Rodriguez dealing with racial stereotyping. As we read through together, I asked students to underline five images or phrases they liked. They did so, then I told them to write a poem modelled after Rodriguez’s “stealing” these words or images they underlined.
I will see the students again in a few weeks, and I’ll see how far they’ve progressed. I asked them to fill up at least ten pages of their journals.