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Race in Latin America

Life update:

  1. I have found a place to live that is semi-close to where I teach. Now I have a 45-minute commute instead of 1 hour and 45 minutes. I live with a Chilean woman and a Senegalese-French woman. And a kitten. It’s common in Latin America (and maybe all the world over?) to toss out black cats or kill them, since they’re considered bad luck. When Miry found our little guy, he was in pretty bad shape out on the street. Now he’s a happy camper and seems to thoroughly enjoy being pampered by his three moms. Which brings me to update #2. 1015894_460224607519779_9180756673306851881_o
  2. I own a cat. Or rather, a cat owns me, as it often goes. He likes to sleep on me as I’m lesson planning or reading, a quiet sort of companionship I value with other living beings. So kudos to you, tiny, photogenic little ball of fur. 12823250_460836840791889_3598935602985658_o
  3. I’ve rediscovered the magic of the “feria,” essentially an open market in which fresh fruits and veggies are brought straight from the campo to the city. I spent under $10 on my last haul, which included a couple kilos of strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries. 12032628_461844950691078_5977920025023550141_o
  4. My first week of teaching went pretty well, although many of my students have behavioral problems and lack motivation, due to a variety of factors I assume. It’s in an “economically disadvantaged” area, as we would say in the US. There are a lot of family issues and a dearth of some educational basics that I have to compensate for. Fortunately I can relate to some degree, given my own background.So I’m trying to use a super interactive methodology that’ll keep them interested. I’m not sure it’s exactly what Freire had in mind, but I try.
    The perfect brand for when you just don’t want to beat around the bush.

    I’m finding that I enjoy teaching, but I would really prefer a dynamic like that of some of the classes I had the chance to take in college – more of an equal exchange between professor and student and less of an authoritarian atmosphere. I feel like I’m forced into that role a little bit here. It’s hard to navigate these overlapping matrices of privilege and oppression, in general, let alone in the classroom. But the very least I can do is emphasize that my classroom is a safe space and communication is paramount, more important than speaking with perfect grammar and/or pronunciation. I wholeheartedly believe in this concept of mutual learning and I learn from them every day. They teach me patience, flexibility, and help me maintain a sense of humor.

    12771822_459415164267390_2822034824106433694_o (2)
    A rose quartz necklace a woman from Paraguay made for me. 

Despite all this learning and growing and other awesome stuff going on, I came to an impasse with my students once this week. We were going over how to describe people’s physical attributes, when one student used “the N-word,” as we would euphemistically call it in the States, to refer to another student. I was already aware that some Chileans toss around that word much more nonchalantly than in the U.S. Since Chile doesn’t have a history of Black slavery, in contrast with the U.S., racial slurs don’t seem to have as much bite here as they do elsewhere. Regardless, I tried to explain to my students that the term is incredibly offensive and that they really shouldn’t be using it, even as a sign of endearment “entre amig@s” or between friends. They just laughed.

Nothing I could say made a difference.

It was really difficult to know I had a teaching opportunity in my hands, but the soil wasn’t fecund,so to speak. I think if only I had phrased it differently, maybe I could have made an impact. So that was my first failure as a teacher. On the other hand, I wonder if the old adage that “we learn only when we’re ready to learn” is true.

Discussing this incident with my roommate, she was, naturally, appalled. However, she commented that as a Black woman in Latin America, she’s never heard any racial slurs directed at her. On the contrary, while walking with her to the feria or around town, I hear piropos (basically catcalls) shouted at her every five seconds – “que linda,” “que hermosa,” “que preciosa” (how pretty, how beautiful, how precious). She says it doesn’t bother her at all. She commented that probably Chileans’ only exposure to the infamous “N-word” is music and TV shows from the U.S. Obviously race in Latin America is a complex and nuanced topic with a ton of layers to peel back, but I definitely don’t intend to drop the issue in my classes. For any sort of multicultural education to take place, real issues have to be tackled, and I intend to make some headway.

One more photo of Cat because I love him.


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