Return to the Bluegrass after some time away, a month, back in AZ and then to NYC. Getting back in touch with family in both places, and I can say hearing more Spanish than I’d been accustomed to in Lexington. But late last night, I received word that a group from BCTC would do some mentoring this morning at a local middle school. I volunteered myself–again.
Fourteen volunteers showed up to mentor eight middle school students, mostly eighth graders. Most of the mentors were former college grads, and most from the DREAMer chapters of both Lexington and Louisville. They were gathered by the BCTC coordinator, who reached out via social media a few days ago. Incredible what she’s able to accomplish for mobilization on such short notice. We formed into four groups, dividing the 8th graders into two per group and dividing the mentors into groups of two or three. I was formed into a group with a male and female mentor and with two female eighth grade students.
At my table, I sat with two mentors were recent college grads, both DREAMers. The two DREAMers, C & J, had been active in campaigns for immigration reform, and the two 8 th graders, A & N were recent arrivals to Mexington, and new students at this middle school. I assumed that this early morning social meeting was to help them acclimate to the new environment.
The college coordinator drew up some talking points for “speed networking for reach of the four groups.”The idea, during this zero hour before school, was to speak or have conversations with the students. The basis for the “speed” happens with speed dating, for example, where potential couples chat with one another, get a feel for personality, or a brief intrusion into socializing with a stranger. This speed networking, at least in my group, turned into speed mentoring, especially when I found myself directing conversations, perhaps dwelling more than speedily moving from topic to topic.
Here’s the list of points distributed to us:
—— Middle School
Zero Hour: Latino People and Culture
Thursday, January 16th 2014
1. What is your name?
2. Where are you from? City, state, country.
3. How do you identify yourself?
4. What is your heritage?
5. What do you think is the most interesting and unique part of your culture?
6. In your opinion, what does being ___ mean to you? Mexicano/a, Venezolano/a, Brasileno/a, Costarricense, Puertorriqueno/a, etc).
7. Who is your favorite Latino American artist? Musician? Athlete? Comedian? Author? Actor?
8. What is your favorite traditional food?
9. What traditional holidays/holiday customs do you observe?
10. What historical moment stands out to you in the history of your country?
11. Tell me about a folk legend for your country (la llorona, el chupacabra)
12. What sport is your country most known for?
13. Who inspires you? Why?
14. What kind of music do you like? Is that different than most people in your culture?
15. What one thing do you wish people knew about being Latino/a, Hispano/a, Mexicano/a etc?
We went through each question. When we asked about one another’s heritage, I learned that the female mentor was from Brazil. The male mentor was from Honduras. One of the 8th graders was from Lexington, moved, and came back recently. The other was from Houston. When we spoke about national heritage, the idea of diversity seemed to be privileged in the discourse. When one 8th grader, M, said she was American, she seemed somewhat distraught.
“I’m just plain American, nothing complicated.”
“Nothing complicated?” I asked. The group laughed. “That’s more complicated than you think.”
“I didn’t mean it like that, I meant compared to everyone else here, I’m just American.”
“Nothing wrong with that,” said C, the male mentor.
The other was more strategic in pointing to her hybridity, calling herself “Mexican, Asian, some German, probably French too.”
“That’s cool,” said the student M.
“But I think everyone’s mixed.”
“Yeah, I think that’s the best part of America,” said M.
“What do you mean,” I asked.
“I mean, look at this table with everyone here. This is what America looks like, and I can see why you asked when I said plain American. Because everyone here’s from all over the country or other countries, and I can tell everyone here’s American.”