By Bill Madigan, AVID Staff Developer
After viewing the inspiring and challenging video Boys in Peril by Graham Streeter, I thought about the life-paths of the many Latino boys I dealt with in my year as a vice principal at King Chavez high school in downtown San Diego. Then I wondered about the challenges and world of Latinas, especially since they comprise 30% of the students enrolled in the AVID elective family. In order to find answers to this “wondering” I asked three great educators at King Chavez: Gina Arias, Nancy Rosas and Suzie Valenzuela. Their responses are insightful and enlightening.
Gina, an AP Biology teacher shared that for too many Latinas, “high school is not a place of preparation but a place of conformity and a complete waste of time.” She also shared some of the greater personal challenges of her own life: “My adolescence was marked by a divorced, single parent home, parental drug abuse, and family gang involvement.” She admitted that she also dropped out of school in the eighth grade. In her research for her Doctorate degree, she has discovered that her experience is shared by many of her sisters: “adolescent Latina girls in the United States contend with multiple problems stemming from poverty, discrimination, the stresses of migration, and family pressures. They often struggle with low self-esteem, depression, suicide attempts [we had one at school the other day], school dropout, and early pregnancy.” (Turner, Kaplan, & Badger, 2006, p. 272).
Gina experienced a pivotal moment, amidst her adolescent hell: “a teacher who changed my mindset towards education.” This teacher taught me the value of mutual respect and reciprocity, also known as mutuality.” Gina’s research and life experiences validate this “mutuality”—the new understanding of relationship and connection. “Mutuality has been defined as a pattern of thoughts and communication relationships that are characterized by understanding, empathy, interest, respect, authenticity, empowerment, responsiveness, and zest.” (Turner, Kaplan, & Badger, 2006, p. 274) Gina said, “None of my problems were gone, but my perception of what I could accomplish had changed. I began to see education as a way to resist the life I had.” Gina transformed through the caring inspiration of a good teacher.
Nancy Rosas, our English Learner teacher shocked me with the pronouncement that “A Latina has an expiration date of 25 years. That’s when Grandma convinces you it’s time to start a family.” Nancy went on to explain that “expire” means “that they are outdated in respect to the culture and are past the prime for building a family.” She shared that her own sisters followed more of the traditional path, whereas she was inspired by “other Latinas making progress in the community and their personal lives” outside the traditional model. What was challenging for Nancy was the dearth of leaders in the school setting that looked like her—“Latinas need to see positive role models that look like them.” Like Gina’s experience, Nancy spoke of others believing in her, “At the end of the day I am the people who believe in me; I am their hopes, dreams embodied in one.” She gives a clarion call to her fellow Latinas to evolve their beliefs into mindsets of “progress, strength, and perseverance rather than self-destructive beliefs of missed potential and dreams deferred.”
Suzie Valenzuela, one of our social science teachers spoke of a tension of opposites: Machismo vs. Marianismo. Machismo being the assertive male energy that she experienced through her father, whose “word was never to be contradicted.” Marianismo was, “expected of me all of my life, and it was true of all my family. From a young age we were taught to “respect ourselves” by remaining pure until we were married, know the ropes of being good housewives, be home at a decent hour (when we were allowed out at all), be quiet, pious, and obedient.” She admitted some anger because the men in her life had far more freedom, choice, and their “sins” were almost celebrated, “while I learned how to make chiles rellenos and change diapers after school.”
Suzie asked some of her Latina students if their lives were much like hers growing up. “Sadly, I got exactly the answers I expected.” One student lamented, “I am expected to do the girly jobs, like a nurse, preschool teacher, you know? I want to have adventures, like a forensic scientist does!” Suzie confessed how tough it is to negotiate freedom and culture, “While I want to push my Latina students to aim as high as they can, I have to be mindful of how I word my advice for fear that I might directly contradict what they are being told at home. It is a tremendous task to hold on to the values instilled by our families, maintaining their approval, and at the same time staking out our own claims.”
So what about Latinas? Gina and Nancy say its about the “who” not the “what.” The “who” are the role models and those who hazard to care and love you into your best self. Suzie gives us an understanding of the “tension of opposites” and what must be negotiated in each Latina to determine their identity. Love, permission, and courage result in resiliency.
Thanks to Gina, Nancy, and Suzie for their insight and willingness to share. Listen to them.
Bill Madigan has been an educator for 25 years. He has taught emotionally disturbed and at-risk students, as well as Advanced Placement® learners. He has also been an AVID coordinator and elective teacher for 18 years. Bill has also been a Staff Developer both privately and with AVID for 18 years, teaching brain based learning, as well as English Language Learner best practices.