Hey family, we’d like you to meet another guest blogger; Chemay Morales-James. This is my ultimate homey. Get comfy!
So, admittedly, I’ve never celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month (HHM) while growing up nor while teaching. Although I am no longer a teacher in the traditional sense, I am an eclectic homeschooler (I marry both home schooling and un-schooling practices. That’s another blog for another time. LOL!) of two Afro-Caribbean boys (They are a blend of Puerto Rican and Trinidadian ancestry.). While I struggle with the concept of reserving months for different racial and ethnic groups, largely because this practice perpetuates the marginalization of under-represented groups by allowing those in power to tolerate us for a period of time before going back to their regularly scheduled program, I understand the need for some to start small and build towards more integrated and inclusive practices. Most of us are socialized to be unawake, so I get that it is a journey and process for many educators—Black, White, Latinx, etc.—to develop a critical , social awareness of one’s self and others (I just wish it would happen faster because, the truth is, there is an urgency for these practices to have been commonplace yesterday!) My advice to Afro-Latinx educators new to this social awakening is to utilize HHM as an opportunity to explore the ways in which they can dismantle anti-Blackness beliefs that plague many Latinx communities and, in turn, empower and affirm the multiple identities of their Afro-Latinx students. I believe there are three key actions necessary for Afro-Latinx teachers and parents (can’t forget our kids’ first and lifetime educators) to engage in order to nurture and support their Afro-Latinx kids in developing healthy racial and cultural identities. You got to…
- Be about that life
- Teach that life
- Create that life
What do I mean by that life? I am referring to Black life—a life that honors and centers the African roots in Latinx culture. Let’s dig a little deeper…
Be About that Life
From the clothes you wear to the dialect of Spanish and/or English you use, de-colonize your thinking and embrace all the parts that make you Afro-Latinx. That Spanglish and/or African Vernacular English you grew up speaking ain’t slang. It’s a dialect no different than a Southern twang or British English. When you stop relying heavily on the rules of the White middle class to measure and guide how you do everything, you liberate yourself. And when you live a life of liberation, you give your students permission to be about that life too. We all know kids see through inauthenticity. We can’t tell students to love themselves wholly if we ourselves struggle to do the same. Afro-Latinx teachers have to embrace and centralize their African ancestral roots in order to authentically teach from a socially conscious perspective. This doesn’t mean to set aside one’s Indigenous, European, and other cultural connections, but it does mean you need to take the lead and model to children what it looks like to own your Blackness as much as you own the other parts of yourself. For me, using the term Afro-Latino is a political statement. It is my way of publicizing my unwillingness to perpetuate the antiquated taboo in many Latino cultures of not speaking about race. It is my intentionality, by using this term, to center my African roots in how I identify myself as well as claim a place of origin that has influenced my Puerto Rican heritage and cultural customs. It’s difficult for me to fully identify with my European roots given the oppressive acts the Spaniards committed towards my African and Indeginous ancestors as well as the racism I’ve experienced in America from some of my White, European counterparts. My experiences in America have been racialized as a result of my brown skin, because whether it be on the light or dark side, in predominantly White spaces we all Black.
Teach That Life
So it is a bit difficult to fully embrace a part of you that you either don’t fully know about or have learned inaccurate information. I love how CREAD emphasizes the need to “learn what the schools don’t teach you”. I would add, some of us need to unlearn what schools have wrongly taught us. Schooling or unschooling yourself about Afro-Latinx history and culture is a necessary step to affirming yours and your students’ Afro-Latinx identity and shedding notions of anti-Blackness. Address head on some of the passed on racial micro-aggresisons, or racial insults, Latinx families quickly roll of their tounges and laugh about. Acknowledge the emotional and psychological harm, comments like, “tienes que mejorar la raza” (referring to the idea that marrying someone of a lighter complexion will better the race) and “pelo malo” (referring to afro-textured hair as bad) have had on students sense of self, including yourself. Explore, together, the rich African history that still lives on in our music, language, customs, and traditions. You’ll be surprised to learn how some of your favorite dishes still eaten today, like mofongo—my fave, originated from West Africa. Finally, something I think most heritage months, like Hispanic Heritage and Black History Month often leave out or don’t emphasize enough to students are the critical historical events that united and those that later broke the bondage between Latinx and Black American groups. For instance, in the 1950’s “Black American and Puerto Rican New Yorkers came to see themselves as minorities joined in the civil rights struggle, the War on Poverty, and the Black Power movement–until white backlash and internal class divisions helped break the coalition, remaking ‘Hispanicity’ as an ethnic identity that was mutually exclusive from ‘blackness’ .” We need to help all our students see and understand how the dismantling of past coalitions have shaped our society today. More importantly, we need to give them the tools to fight against racist practices that set marginalized groups up against each other and empower them to reimagine what their communities would look like if they reunited to push back against oppressive systems.
Create that Life
In a world that promotes anti-Blackness, we need to ensure we create a space that allows kids to be unapologetically Black. For Afro-Latinx students this is imperative given that many of them have been socialized to deny their Blackness, often by being taught by elders to label their African features as “Indio” (Indian) rather than embracing them as African. White parents have the privilege to preserve their child’s innocence around racial issues that persist in our society (To do so, blogger and activist, Shannon Gaggero would argue is an act of White supremacy, which I agree.); however, parents like me don’t. And although, I cannot control the ignorant acts of others and its impact it will have on my sons as they grow older; I do have the power to create an environment at home that tells them they are normal, brilliant, beautiful, Black Latinx boys that are loved and treasured. Afro-Latinx teachers also have the ability to do this. They can do this by carefully selecting materials and resources such as books, magazines, educational games and toys that speak to the physical and cultural identities of Afro-Latinx students. They can do this by finding literature, such as Designing Afro-Latino Pedagogy for Self-Determination by William Garcia, that outlines steps teachers can take to create instructional curriculum aimed at affirming and educating Afro-Latinx students. And, although, in my research I have found many Latinx educational organizations and entrepreneurs that create tools and services for teachers of Latinx students, it is very difficult finding those that centralize an African perspective in their work. African roots are either not spoken about at all, or used as an “add on’’ to curriculum and programming much the same way Black American perspectives are added on, silenced, or altered in mainstream curricula. This is why creating that life, or Black-affirming space, in your classroom is vitally important, because for many youth, your classroom may serve as the only emotionally and psychologically safe place for them to fully be themselves.
Some of you who read this may be feeling affirmed in what you already know and do, and others may be feeling some guilt and shame for not knowing what you think you should’ve known. This is a normal emotion, and the best way to address it is to dive head first into the work. Use this month to learn and grow with your Afro-Latinx students your knowledge of each other’s African ties. Model to your students how you build partnerships with other marginalized groups by surrounding yourself with teachers who think similarly around issues of social justice but don’t all necessarily share the same racial and ethnic background, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, etc. as you. Connect with and subscribe to #woke organizations that will keep you informed about your current and past history–like Afro Latin@ Forum, Zinn Education Project, and I Love Ancestry—as well as groups, such as My Reflection Matters and CREAD, that will provide you with the tools and ideas to support the development of healthy racial identities of Afro-Latinx and other students within the African diaspora. Finally, embrace the moment we are living in socially and politically. Help Afro-Latinx students see that they, too , are part of the Black Lives Matter movement. That when a police officer looks at their Brown skinned , curly haired body, they don’t see “Taino” or “Indio”, they see Blackness. Blackness in their demeanor. Blackness in their physical features. Blackness in their swag. Blackness in every which way White America has used fear and hate to mutate the very core of what I know and believe Blackness to be: Brilliant. Powerful. Resilient. That is the life your students need you to be about, teach about, and create for them.
Chemay is a #wokemami who enjoys spending quality time with her kids, especially now that she left her job of almost 10 years at NYU as a social justice coach for educators. As a highly involved parent and advocate for Black and Brown youth, Chemay recently founded My Reflection Matters (MRM). Through MRM, she creates and disseminates a free bi-monthly newsletter for parents and educators struggling to locate educational resources that affirm, empower, and reflect Black and Brown youth identity. In addition to providing this resource to local and abroad communities, she also offers consulting services for organizations looking for support around cultivating environments that nurture the development of healthy racial identities of Black and Brown youth. Chemay keeps her instructional skills sharp by continuing to teach at the collegiate level as well as unschooling her 3 and 5 year old. She is also involved in her community through her membership on the Waterbury CT Equity Action Network and serving on the board for the Zimmnation Foundation, a non-profit that provides enrichment programs for urban youth. Feel free to contact Chemay at firstname.lastname@example.org for inquiries and check out My Reflection Matters on Facebook & Tumblr.