Jose Gonzalez and UNIDOS

            Our visit with Jose Gonzalez, former Mexican-American Studies (MAS) teacher, and United Non-discriminatory Individuals Demanding Our Studies (UNIDOS), raised far more questions and trains of thought that I can begin to enumerate here. One of the most expansive themes that came up in those visits was education (in its various forms and functions). I plan to weave my own experience and understanding throughout the conversations we had in class.
            One place our conversation resided for a while was about the role and function of education in society. We got onto this subject mostly through the discussion of charter schools, although of course in talking about MAS classes and their pedagogy we were also discussing these issues. Being asked about charter schools, Jose told us that, in his opinion, they are not a good or viable option because they make a good education a privilege and not a right. If a quality education must be paid for it will be the elite who can and will pay for that education, and that denies the section of society that cannot pay for education the hope of being “well educated.”
            Why is “well educated” in quotation marks? Well, it’s largely because, after almost 16 consecutive years of time spent in classrooms, I still have a hazy idea of what it means to be well educated. This, despite the fact that, growing up in Chicago, I went to a magnet program for grade school, the number one high school in the state of Illinois[1](and currently 25th in the nation[2]), and currently attend the 65th liberal arts institution in the United States.[3]The high school I went to was technically public, being a “selective enrollment” high school (students are accepted based on their score on an elective standardized test). My educational credentials are significant on paper, but how does that relate what I was taught, how I was taught it, and how that was controlled by the larger system that educated me?
            I’ll explain more, and attempt to shy away from the overly philosophical. I guess my question about education has to do with the larger pedagogical goals. These are goals that can be radically different in the classroom and in the city council, as the example of MAS classes illustrates. In my Intro to Women’s/Gender/Sexuality studies course last semester at Earlham, the class read a book called Understanding Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality: A Conceptual Framework.[4]The book uses education as its integrating theme, weaving in analyses of race, class, gender, and sexuality and their intersections. Lynn Weber, the author, lays out multiple educational models: whom they’re for, their goals, and how they function in the classroom. Without the text in front of me I know I’m paraphrasing dangerously, but I do remember that the “lower” models emphasizes rote learning and discipline as goals (stay at your desk, memorize formulas, don’t ask questions), and the higher models focus on discovery and critical thinking. This was certainly my high school experience, where our math class focused not on memorizing formulas but developing the formulas ourselves from word problems of real-life problems for which there were mathematical solutions. A crucial element of these multiple systems of education is the number and type of bodies that occupy each one. The lower-level, discipline-based models are occupied by the majority of society, and contain mostly people of color, lower class, and queer folks. A smaller number of primarily white, upper class, and heterosexual folks populate the upper educational echelons. These discipline-based models are components of things like the “school to prison pipeline”[5]whereby public school students are funneled into the criminal detention system. Jose brought this up when he mentioned the disparity in what the state will spend to educate a student versus incarcerate someone (Arizona currently spends approximately $16,000 more to incarcerate someone per year than they spend on public education).[6]
            Jose told us that his model of teaching MAS is right there in Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paolo Freire, and that he aims to teach his students to think critically.[7]This seems incredibly significant when considering Jose taught public high school, and Tucson Unified School District student body is overwhelmingly comprised of people of color (73% of the population, 57% of whom are Hispanic).[8]These are not the typical demographics that receive this type of education, according to the educational system presented by Weber. The MAS program, with educational models like Freire’s, did what no other program in the country could do or has done since: closed the achievement (or as Jose prefers to call it, opportunity) gap for students.[9]And yet, it was defunded. What does that say about the larger system of education? It seems to me that it suggests that despite the improvement in test scores and graduation rates, any program that threatens the educational system by which critical thinking skills are regulated will be shut down. It furthermore seems significant to me that the bodies receiving this education include a demographic majority of students of color, who are less likely or able to access critical pedagogy under the current system.
            The Tucson Unified School District, in their cancelation of the MAS program, seems to be intent on preserving the status quo for education in Tucson. This status quo suggests that a good education emphasizing critical thinking should not be readily or publicly available to the whole of society. Students of color (although due to the focus of the campaign, it is important that it is only Mexican-American students) should not have public access to their history taught by educators who strive to teach them to use their minds to achieve their goals and love themselves. The view of an educational future without MAS is a bleak reality, although I believe it would be an insult to the educators, students, and community who rallied around the program to assume that this is where the struggle will be left.

– Genevieve Beck-Roe


[1] “Top Ranked IL Schools.” US News and World Report.  US News and World Report LP.
2013. Web. 14 November 2013.
[2] “2013 America’s Best High Schools.” The Daily Beast. The Newsweek/Daily Beast LLC.
2013. Web. 14 November 2013
[3] “National Liberal Arts College Rankings.” US News and World Report.  US News and World
Report LP. 2013. Web. 14 November 2013.
[4] Weber, Lynn. Understanding Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality: A Conceptual Framework.
New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.
[5] “What Is The School-To-Prison Pipeline?” Racial Justice. ACLU. Web. 14 November 2013.
[6] Yellin, Tal. “Education vs prison costs.” CNNMoney. Cable News Network. Web. 14
November 2013.
[7] Freire, Paolo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2000. Print.
[8] “Ethnic/Gender Enrollment Breakdown for Instructional Day 40.” TUSDStats. Tucson
Unified School District. Web. 14 November 2013.
[9] “Need to know: Banned in Arizona.” PBS. 15 February 2013. Web. 7 November 2013.
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A Conversation with Mike Wilson

On November 14th, we met with Mike Wilson, an activist and member of the O’odham Nation. We had previously encountered stories about Mike Wilson in our summer reading for the program, a book called The Death of Josseline by Margaret Regan. The book, which chronicles the dangerous journey of many migrants through the desert, highlights Mike Wilson as an independent man set on providing water for migrants. The book also discusses the political tension between Wilson and the O’odham Nation with regards to migrant deaths on land belonging to the Nation. Ultimately, our conversation centered on the complex web of accountability that exists within the notion of humanitarian aid and the ramifications of larger immigration policies.

In our conversation, Wilson expanded on his political conflict with members of the Nation. To begin, he drew a chart on the board that created a distinction between the O’odham Nation and the O’odham people. Wilson’s chart emphasized that his debate was not with the O’odam people themselves, but was rather with members of the Nation’s various governmental bodies. He also used charts to highlight the high numbers of migrant deaths on O’odham land and juxtaposed those charts with anecdotes about his struggle with members of the O’odham Nation. When questioned about the reasons why the Nation might oppose the placement of water in the desert, Wilson referred to the Department of Homeland Security’s wide-spread dissemination of anti-immigrant narratives, for example the racist myths that migrants are dangerous, stealing jobs, and are connected with terrorism.

It is crucial to recognize the power of racist rhetoric around migrants because this rhetoric is constantly influencing policies in the Borderlands. Along with recognizing the influence of this language, it is also important to consider where these myths originate from and who is benefiting off of their dissemination. As Wilson highlighted, the origin of anti-immigrant myths stems from the US government and the web of private companies that are also engaged in the task of promoting increased border militarization and deportations. Ultimately, these entities are benefitting from anti-immigrant myths through perceived public, political support and also through financial gain, such as the profit from private prisons. Therefore, I believe it is important to not only look at the decisions being made about water on the Nation, but to also look at the root causes for anti-immigrant sentiment, a sentiment that did not originate within the O’odham Nation.

Wilson’s theme of accountability stretched to critique the network of organizations in Tucson that work to provide humanitarian aid in the desert. He highlighted the fact that several organizations in Tucson have failed to reach out to the O’odham Nation and ask if they can place water barrels on the Nation’s land. This notion of accountability ties into sovereignty, as many of these organizations may feel that it is not their place to tell the O’odham how to govern their land, especially given histories of colonization. However, Wilson confessed to us that he felt this reasoning was paternalistic and racist because it did not hold the O’odham to the same standards of morality. Within his words remains the question: how does one navigate dynamics of sovereignty while still maintaining accountability?

His language also reminded me of a presentation we had in class recently on the topic of Human Rights. The presentation was centered around the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. In our class conversation, we discussed how implementing a universal standard of human rights can be used as a political tool to spread western, imperialist standards. Furthermore, the notion of human rights can be used to dismiss current systems of oppression within the United States. Conversations around universal equality can often ignore the present existence of oppression and injustice, and instead simply promote the status quo. This idea of universality with regards to human rights could also be applied to questions of standard morality. Ultimately, Wilson’s talk pushed me to consider how I would define my morality if I am skeptical of a standard bar of moral behavior.

Tied into the conversation of morality and accountability was also the dynamic of activism and performativity. Wilson critiqued the way that numerous community organizations appear to be considering questions of equity and justice on the surface, but are not actually following through on their promises. While this “follow through” may look different based on one’s personal identity and experiences, it raised several questions for me about the way that activism can be enacted. I was also struck by the next part of his presentation where he charged us to remember that, “silence is never neutral.” Though I have heard a version of this sentiment before, I was reminded of its value and to continue holding myself to its implied challenge. It was also a important reminder considering the end of our group conversation, which delved into questions of intersectionality, including gender and racial justice. This was a charged conversation, and I was reminded of the neutrality of silence when considering when/how I wanted to articulate my argument. Ultimately, the presentation reminded me that we were all students and teachers, and for many reasons, I hope that we were able to challenge and stir Wilson, just as he had challenged and stirred many of us.

– Uma Venkatraman


The Border Is…

On the last night of our second travel seminar, after traveling from Douglas/Agua Prieta to El Paso and then to Big BendNational Park (and lots of places in between) we had to finish the statement “The Border Is…” Below is what I made/wrote and I think I’m going to let it speak for itself about what the second travel seminar/comparative borderlands trip meant to me and taught me.

(on back of envelope) The Border is bound up in my identity – somewhere. If only for the fact that I am a citizen of the country that built it. The Border is still new to me. The Border feels like a cousin or even a long-lost sibling that I have recently been introduced to – a contradictory and confused and mean and violent and racist one. I did not grow up with the Border. The Border is not my home. But isn’t my home built on the backs of the Border, of the people who cross it, of the people who leave their homes to make it their home? The Border is so many things – it is the physical: the wall in Nogales – its metals, rust color, its coldness at night and its hotness in the day. The Border is the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo. The Border is the bridge between El Paso and Juarez. But the Border is also a thing that cannot be seen, but felt. It is in rhetoric, in speeches, in interactions, inside individuals and communities. So much of the Border is about fear. I think of my own misguide, immature, reactionary fear – mostly fueled by family and friends’ disbelief that I was actually going to be going to the Border. The Border’s creation is about fear of distance and fear of closeness. The Border requires “blessed rage.” The Border is something and somewhere I feel I need to know.
At the vigil for Jose Antonio in Nogales, I thought a lot about what the Border is. That was probably because I was touching it, standing on it, looking and listening across it, and leaving a candle to melt into its base. Being there felt right and it felt wrong. I stood at the wall in the dark and could not understand the Spanish being spoken and sung on the other side, though I tried. I held a banner demanding justice and came in too late on chants for the same thing. I thought about wanting a sticker, which felt petty, felt privileged. I looked at the wall and I wanted to cry angry frustrated tears because what, how, why could any of it happen: the deaths in the dessert, U.S. policy, U.S. rhetoric, the fear, the racism, how could a 16 year old boy be shot and killed? The border outrages, upsets, confuses and disgusts me. It is a place that manufactures, and is manufactured. The Border is a site of beauty and resilience, for others. But is it for me?
(written on the strip across the center of the envelope): The Border is people and history. Senseless, yet filled with meaning. Violence, ugly, beautiful, everywhere and yet place specific. Land, laws, questions, change, an edge, an opening, the end, beginning, monumental and yet every-day.
(on the back of the Big Bend National Park postcard): The Border is this picture, too. The river, just water, dividing two bodies of land. A rock throw’s distance. A wade or swim or boat ride across. This picture, along with the experience of crossing at Boquillas makes me think of both what the border is and what it could be. But even this border is tricky, violent, watchful. The virtual passport checking machines when we crossed back in. The Border is rife with these false sense of comfort – comfort, safety, for some, for those that are U.S. citizens, or look like what U.S. citizens are expected to look like (white). The Border wall makes these people think they are “safe” (that’s the idea, right?). And at the Boquillas river crossing, I felt this false sense of freedom – feeling my body traverse the boundary only through the feel of the water’s current tugging at the resilience of my things and the rocks’ sharpness poking at my toes. But then I got to the machine, pulled out my little blue book of U.S. citizen privilege – my ticket into a cordial conversation with a Border Patrol officer in El Paso via telephone. The machine – with its false glass (a Border Patrol officer could see me, and I only saw a screen that read “Processing”). And I’m still processing how the Boquillas Crossing felt different. But, there, I felt like I saw something new about what the border is. The border is about two countries, places, lands, and always about people. The singing as we crossed and conversations with the Boquillas residents – how they were able to cross us into their country and back through a boat ride across the river. I know it’s not this simple, not this romanticized, but the border could be, should be, just about water.
– Jennifer Ruymann

Meeting Brad Lancaster

Brad Lancaster said his presentation would include strategies on how to live a more balanced life. He said these strategies can be adopted in other places “they’re not hindered by borders.” Brad is a teacher of Perm culture and mostly he focuses on water, our BSP group had the honor to hear from him in the comfort of his home.

What is the story of your place?” Is the first thing he asked us. After answering that question, he said, we can take on our role in that place. Brad told us Tucson is the oldest cultivated space in the U.S. Brad showed as a relatively current picture of Tucson and one taken 100 years ago. To me Tucson looked grayer and less vegetated now, back then, the Santa Cruz river was flowing. Brad told us Tucson has historically been a place of abundant natural resources with more than 400 native species. Back then when the Santa Cruz river used to flow all year long things used to be different. Infrastructural changes have had a major impact in Tucson, Brad calls it “dry infrastructure” . The over-pumping of Arizona’s water system is a major concern for Brad and should be for all of us. Tucson and Phoenix get their water from divesting water it the Colorado River. And Tucson is the second largest consumer in Arizona. According to Brad divesting that water requires an enormous amount of energy, hence resources.

Arizona looks so different from 100 years ago because “we live in a hydrophobic society” Brad comments. One that has created a “dehydration structure”. When there are big rainstorms the water washes down the streets of Tucson, like it’s not welcomed. Brad said floods are occurring here every 10 years rather every 100 years which was used to be before.

So after telling us a little about the story of Tucson, Brad told us his next question was “What is my role in this place? ” and Brad encourages us to do this at our hometowns as well. Do you we like the story? Our answer can help determine our roles in our community. This is how Brad led us into a journey of alternatives and challenges of more sustainable lifestyles for everybody.

Brad sees the possibility of beneficial generative infrastructure. Generative infrastructure according to Brad, is one that consumes less and conserves its resources. And even better than that Brad mentioned regenerative structures where we can count on nature doing the work for our consumption because we are working with nature as opposed to interrupting natural processes. For example: water conserving irrigation systems.

We learned that the relationship between nature and our human structures should is key. I am not able to reproduce the details about these structures in this blog post, but I invite you vistwww.HarvestingRainwater.com and www.DesertHaversters.com to take a clearer and closer look at Brad’s extensive work.

In this blog I want to share the bigger concepts I took out of Brad’s presentation that hope to implement in my ways of living. One of these is the importance of using our local resources rather than importing resources and plan carefully how to use those resources. This is beneficial to everybody, it’s about promoting our health and well-being the environment. One way this can happen in Tucson is by harvesting and utilizing on site water. Brad said Tucson gets enough rain water to be able to sustain on it. It would also create an organic underground-water sponge, that well, ultimately would maximize living here by promoting a growing environment for plants.

One way to achieve this would be by creating drainage systems on our roofs that would feed the plants around the homes. This an alternative to using our clean water for irrigation. However, we have tons of options, harvesting greywater is another way to make use of these resources easily available to us, easier on our pockets as well. Another of example of using free resources would be orienting your house, more specifically placing your windows toward the sun during winter months.

Brad claimed these our “solar rights” and hence our responsibility of not blocking our neighbors sunlight. New Mexico has made these rights lawful. Brad showed us this system at work in his own home. It made sense to me: Environmentally friendly and cheap for the pocket. So far, the alternatives Brad had presented seemed very realistic. I was worried coming into the presentation that I wasn’t going to be able to relate and hence engage well with ideas of “sustainability” due to financial limitations. Nonetheless for the most part I felt like the alternatives presented by Brad were relatively accessible and not solely possible for a certain privileged group. Brad commented that he is currently working on ways to reach out to the Tucson community more including spanish speakers members.

The second biggest idea I take from Brad’s presentation is not one he spoke about but one he enacted. And this is the idea of commitment. Brad not only presented all these healthier alternative ways of life but we also got to see them in place at his own home. A limitation I put on myself when thinking about these alternatives, is that I question what difference will it make if I use a composting toilet when there million other regular toilets around me? The way Brad thinks about it is that you can’t just sit around and wait for others to take action. You can’t force them either but “you can nudge them”. Brad has achieved a lot. His neighbors have started adopting several different ways of harvesting water and making use of other resources. But probably the biggest and most noticeable achievement of that neighborhood block is that they have their own rain water drainage system from the streets that feeds the trees along the sidewalk. The block is noticeably greener than its surroundings. The organization of the block has also brought the neighbors closer together. It is truly inspiring to see what some ideas, organization and cooperation can achieve for us!

– Martha McCann