Monday, September 29, 2014

Let Them Teach You

Photo credit: Getty Images

By guest poet Marisol León

Let my students teach you about violent inequality, warfare, and repression.

About armed struggles fought against U.S.-backed militaries in their native countries, and the murders of their brothers and sisters in L.A. neighborhoods-turned-war-zones.

About death. Displaced families. Fear. Sleepless nights. The sound of el tiro de gracia.

Let them teach you about the war of terror waged against their ancestors.

About countless narratives of resistance, including those found in the obituaries of their great grandmothers, uncles, and classroom “legends.”

About the African Diaspora—un pedacito de la historia negra,/de la historia nuestra to the sound of Afro-Colombian rhythms and beats.

Let them teach you about unfair and unjust immigration laws.

About their parents’ forced migration, the vast majority dragged by that/monstrous, technical/industrial giant called/Progress/and Anglo success

About their parents’ sacrifices and unfulfilled dreams… how painful it is to accept that for them life […] ain't been no crystal stair.

Let them teach you about the cuts to their education, and no, they’re not just referring to the current “budget crisis.”

About the inefficiency of tracking and test scores, and how a classmate never identified as “gifted and talented” fought his way into a Stanford program for gifted youth.

About endurance and strength of mind, let them remind you that you’re pretty young, so keep living your dream and don’t let no little pink slip stop you from what you want.

Let them teach you about past and future revolutions, and their visions for other worlds and utopian societies.

About their wants and needs: Wouldn’t you like to have clean streets, no violence, a government that tells the truth, a community that values peace?

About the steps they are taking to make sure their voices are heard and their worlds are built.

Let them teach you the meaning of solidarity, environmental justice, and grassroots development.

About their Solidarity Garden… and how the organic seeds they once planted are now strawberries, squash, cilantro, and tall stalks of maize.

About setting aside differences and working collectively—guided by common values of respect, humility, and human dignity.

Let them teach you about fighting for their rights through community organizing, never forgetting that our word is our weapon.

About marching, protesting, and staging a sit-in and walkout—all despite the criminalization of student activism on campus.

About the protest chants and gritos that brought together students, teachers, and parents, as new words […] formed,/Bitter/With the past/ But sweet/With the dream.

Let my little brothers and sisters teach you…

All they have taught me.

[Author’s note: I used to teach with the Los Angeles Unified School District. In 2009, I was laid off due to the budget cuts and wrote the poem below for my students as a parting thank you gift. I shared it with them on the last day of school. Everything in italics either comes from a piece we read in our English class, or from my students' writing. “Let Them Teach You” first appeared in Diálogo, an interdisciplinary, blind refereed journal published since 1996 by the Center for Latino Research at DePaul University in Chicago.]

Marisol León

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: The daughter of immigrant parents, both born and raised in rural Jalisco, Mexico, Marisol León is a proud Chicana from Mid-City Los Angeles. Her older sister, Susana, helped raise Marisol and instilled in her a sense of responsibility to use her education as a vehicle for community empowerment. As a first generation college student at Yale, Marisol founded La Fuerza, Yale's Latin@ Student News Magazine; her work on the publication was later recognized by The National Association of Hispanic Journalists through its Rubén Salazar Memorial Scholarship. While studying Latin American campesino social movements in college, Marisol traveled, researched and lived with Brazil's Landless Rural Workers' Movement. After graduation, she spent a year in Chiapas, Mexico, organizing indigenous and campesino communities with Friends of the Earth-Mexico.

After a year of informal teacher training in popular education, Marisol returned to Mid-City Los Angeles to work as an educator at her former middle school. A passionate writer, she has published autobiographical pieces, editorials, and research articles in the Los Angeles Times; Windows into My World: Latino Youth Write Their Lives; Yale Journal of Latin American Studies; Harvard Journal on Racial & Ethnic Justice; Diálogo, a publication of the Center for Latino Policy Research at DePaul University; and an upcoming piece in the Inter-American and European Human Rights Journal. Marisol is a graduate of Berkeley Law School (Boalt Hall), Loyola Marymount University’s School of Education, and Yale College. She is happiest when surrounded by former students, family, and loved ones; while listening to oldies, norteñas (Cornelio Reyna, Cadetes, Las Jilguerillas, Ramon Ayala), and 90s hip-hop; and when she gets to make her beautiful 16-month-old godson laugh again and again. And again.

1 comment:

Giora said...

This poem/essay is impressive although too militant for my taste. But I'm touched that you spent one year in Chiapas, because my Mexican novel is about a young woman from Chiapas. Maybe you can come back to LA BLOGA and post about your year in Chiapas or share a short story or poems about Chiapas, or maybe tell here where I can look for it online. I am familiar with modern Norteno music like Priscila y Sus Balas but it's nice to get names of older Norteno music. best wishes, Marisol, with all your writings.