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September 2021 Educator|Resource of the Month

The Center for Diversity and Social & Economic Justice Educator|Resource is a monthly feature that highlights curricular resources and social work educators who address diversity and justice.

Decolonizing the Curriculum:

Communities Reclaiming Their Stories 

Antiracism education has many elements, but at the most fundamental level it involves decolonizing the curriculum, the focus of the third part of the Diversity Center’s series, What Does Teaching From an Antiracist Perspective Look Like? We focus on content here, and in a future Educator|Resource we will turn our attention to decolonizing the learning environment. Decolonizing the curriculum requires removing the layers of harmful narratives that have been created by others about the communities with whom we are working.  

Decolonizing is reclaiming. Listening to communities reclaim their stories is the first step. Before learning facts, theories, and analyses of oppression, social work students need to immerse themselves in the broader context of the communities—from the communities' own perspectives. Grounded in the community’s strengths, heritage, and family-cultural-community-historical context, students are better able to, first, appreciate the essence of those communities, and second, attain a deeper understanding of the problems they are facing. Starting here will help students grasp the complex concept of decolonization (see more on decolonization from a social work perspective here). It will help them become more cognizant of what subjugation and exploitation through colonization (or colonialism, settler colonialism, or other forms of subjugation) took away—and not just metaphorically, as Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang remind us in “Decolonization is not a metaphor.” This understanding provides the necessary foundation for identifying ways to better support the communities’ efforts to reclaim what they have lost.

Teaching Resources  

How do we help future social workers get to know the authentic stories of the communities they hope to serve before entering their lives—figuratively or literally—to help them address pressing issues? In this Educator|Resource we model one approach: drawing on self-portraits of a community from multimedia Internet sources (for more on this teaching technique, see the February Educator|Resource on Preparing Students to Practice in an Interconnected World). As a way of decolonizing the classroom, we involve students, individually or in groups, by giving them the opportunity to

  • choose the communities they want to learn more about, theirs or others, and decide whether they want to focus on a specific subgroup; 
  • draw on their personal experiences as a source of wisdom, whether learning about their own community or one they care about; 
  • expand to other sources beyond the Internet to engage with the community more actively, for example, by doing community visits, interviews, or photovoice projects (see a short video of the photovoice project, “My city, our view”); and 
  • select a format to present the content they gather (e.g., video, PowerPoint, poster, storybook), making sure to integrate personal observations and reflections. 

The objective of this exercise is not, at this point, to gather information about a specific issue. Rather, it serves as the groundwork for that stage, as a form of deference to the community. The objective is to listen to people’s stories, to learn what influences their sense of identity, to gain insights into their worldviews. To show what the project may look like, we provide a multimedia self-portrait of the Latino community drawing on children’s storybooks, digital stories, interviews, art pieces, music videos, and literature. As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, myself and having grown up in the rich cultural estuary of the U.S.-Mexico border, I bring my identity to bear in creating this constellation of worldviews in stories, images, and sounds.

A Portrait of Latino Identity in Their Own Words 

Family and Community 

Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia  

Memories of the author’s childhood in Kingsville, Texas, a town near the U.S.-Mexico border, as told through a narrated collection of art pieces in this children’s story book by artist Carmen Lomas Garza. As someone who joined the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, for Lomas Garza her artistic creations helped "heal the wounds inflicted by discrimination and racism" (A Piece of My Heart/Pedacito de Mi Corazon, pp. 11–13). See a recorded read aloud of the book, starting with an introduction, and a teacher’s guide that can be found here. Source: Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia      

My Mexican American Family Never Celebrated Día de Muertos. Then Abuela Died. 

With the death of his grandmother, Washington Post columnist John Paul Brammer, who grew up mixed-race in Oklahoma, and his family return to the tradition of Día de Muertos, the Day of the Dead. In this opinion piece he recalls, “We put together our ofrendas, light candles and enjoy one another’s company, reminiscing in English but with a new vocabulary for life and what comes after.… ’Reclamation,’ in the end, isn’t such a straightforward process. I was still bringing binary thinking—border thinking—to how I saw my family and how I saw myself.” Source: Opinions, The Washington Post 

Multicultural Identities 

Young Latinos: Born in the U.S.A., Carving Their Own Identity 

In this news feature and short video, seven young Hispanics reflect on how navigating their parents' culture in the United States has shaped their views on what it means to be American. “Born in Queens, New York, to parents who emigrated from Ecuador 30 years ago, Mero would ruminate with his family growing up about the challenges facing an American with Hispanic roots: how to deal with a more hostile environment against Latinos, and how to assert his U.S. citizenship, his birthright, while staying connected to his community.” Source: Generation Latino Series, story and podcast by NBC News Digital

5 Asian Latines Open Up About Their Cultural Identity 

The stories of five women living in different parts of the world who identify as Asian Latines and how their family traditions helped shape their identification with their bicultural identities. When asked what comes to mind when she thinks about having a community and a sense of belonging, Jumko Ogata from Mexico City responds, “being able to find a group of people where all of our experiences are so diverse, but we still recognize each other in them, and we recognize a collective struggle.” Source: Remezcla  

Representations in Art, Music, and Literature 

Artists' Images of the U.S.-Mexico Border and Immigration 

In “We Didn't Cross the Border, the Border Crossed Us,” 13 paintings portray the geographic, social, political, and historical landscapes of the Latino struggle for liberation. “If this is really the home of the brave, may our gates now be open, for you had the courage to walk through the perilous fight with a child in your arms” is an excerpt of a song by Francisco Herrera and Diana Gameros that inspired one of the artistic projects. Source: Latin American and Latinx Visual Culture 

Elizabeth Acevedo on Writing Afro-Latinx Stories 

In an video interview about her work, Afro-Dominican author and slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo shares her inspiration for her two award-winning novels in verse. The Poet X, about Xiomara, a young girl from Harlem discovering her voice, opens with “The summer is made for stoop-sitting. And since it’s the last week before school starts, Harlem is opening its eyes to September.” Clap When You Land delves into coming to terms with Afro-Latinx identity. “Let’s take a moment and look at our stories, too. Our stories matter just as much as what the canon continuously puts forth,” says Acevedo. Source: TheGrio, Black America’s Breaking News 

The Rise of Regional Latin Music, Part 1: Mexican Music Genres 

Music videos (found by scrolling down to “A Gringo’s Guide to Mexican Regional Music”) of six rising stars in regional Latin music performing songs from diverse genres: mariachi, banda, norteño, corrido, grupero, and fusion. Accompanying narratives of the musical traditions and imagery reveal the very rich culture of Mexico: “If we take into account the diversity of the approximately 68 different indigenous groups that exist throughout the whole territory, add Spanish colonialism to the mix, throw in its central geographical location, and top it off with international commerce, it’s only natural that Mexico is truly a melting pot of cultures.” Source: Music Charts

The views expressed in the Educator|Resource are those of the educator(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council on Social Work Education.

 Contact Dr. Yolanda Padilla, CSWE Diversity Center Director, at [email protected].