Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Guest Review: Mowing Leaves Of Grass.

Guest Review: There Is Power In The Naming. On Matt Sedillo’s Mowing Leaves Of Grass.

Theresa Montaño

Matt Sedillo's, Mowing Leaves of Grass, should be a required reading for every student taking a Chicanx Studies course. Sedillo takes the reader on a sometimes troubling, but always realistic journey, into Chicanx historical and contemporary reality. 

Teaching Chicanx Studies requires students to understand contemporary reality, and to engage in the critical process of eradicating capitalism and racism. Sedillo’s poetic compositions describe how Chicanx negotiate life in the colonial project called the “United States of Amerika”. 

Central to Chicanx Studies is participation in resistance movements and engagement in struggles for social justice. Matt Sedillo’s vivid visualizations always end with the necessary “call to action” that Chicanx Studies activist scholars often embed in their coursework. 

Matt Sedillo’s work is more than just a supplemental text. I found that using this text in my course establishes a framework for researching Chicanx history, exposing educational injustice and inviting co-conspirators to reimagine and construct a post-imperial, post-colonial life.

Matt frames his literary writing in a three-act poem. The power of the three-act poem is clearly defined in Lupe Carrasco Cardona’s Foreword. The three-act poem is a…

gift to poets, scholars and liberation activists alike, for it does not stop at calling out oppression in witty eye-opening metaphoric detail, but is simultaneously a call to action that speaks truth to power

Matt’s poetry is also a testament to the beauty of our sustainable, ever-evolving and dynamic culture. His prose and poetry are tributes to the ancestral knowledge of our people flourishing amidst the trauma of racism. 

The poem El Sereno is about surviving personal trauma, but most importantly it is about love of self and of the beautiful, intelligent women who are Chicanas. It is the poem of an activist scholar who grew up like many of my students. It is about personal growth, community, and overcoming internalized racism. Sedillo’s depiction of the barrio’s people, the abuelitas selling mangos and papayas and cherries, the trauma of childhood and resistance to racism, is about becoming Chicano. 

Sedillo’s poems are meant to be heard, to be read aloud. I find his work reminiscent of Corky Gonzalez’s I am Joaquin. Students cannot silently just read the words. My students read Joaquin and El Sereno aloud, the two poems become the vehicle for the student’s own voice. 

In articulating the poems, my students then express their pain, their emotions, and their dreams. I have often used El Sereno to engage my students in constructing their personal counternarrative, to describe their own journey of self-discovery. One can learn so much about one’s students from these creative journeys. 

As an educator, I appreciate Sedillo’s portrayal of the power dynamic in the institutions we label “education” and “schooling”. Matt’s personal counternarratives are realistic and relatable. Upon reading and reflecting on Sedillo’s poems, my students freely exchange their individual experience circumnavigating schooling in the United States. Students in my courses share how Pedagogy of the Oppressor prompts remembrances of Eurocentric teaching practices Sedillo describes. 

In Naming Practices, Matt indicts the educational system for teaching Chicanx “shame and self-loathing”, but concludes this powerful discourse and unapologetic literary declaration announcing that 

There is strength in numbers

There is power in the naming

An empowering pronouncement that many of my students appreciate.

As activists for Ethnic Studies, Matt reminds us that the racist pushback to efforts to integrate Ethnic Studies into the curriculum is premediated and intentional. In Pilgrim, he tells the story of every Brown child who ever attended school in this country, who upon entering classrooms read majoritarian tales, heard ahistorical revisionist narratives and were “miseducated in some of those very same schools”. The poem concludes with an astounding rebuke of imperialism and Donald Trump.

we didn’t cross the borders 

The borders crossed us 

Who you are calling immigrant 


Sedillo magically weaves a tapestry of historical narratives, contemporary experiences, and collective action. It is not surprising that the political and poetic literary work in Mowing Leaves of Grass by Matt Sedillo is currently used by Ethnic Studies faculty throughout the nation. His poems are simultaneously situated in struggle, tragedy, anger, and disillusionment, but can also engage students in the healing process. 

Entire classrooms can become sites of reimagination, where students actively contest marginalization, capitalism, and racism. Whether the topic is one about gentrification or the census, Mowing Leaves of Grass, persuasively captures the Chicanx experience. Matt Sedillo’s revolutionary, artistic, and profound counternarrative work can be use in introductory, creative writing, speech, history, or educational Ethnic Studies courses. 

I concur with Lupe Carrasco Cardona, warrior educator, this book is the 

Holy Writ of school guerrerx activists, transformative decolonial educators, righteous contrarian poets, students in need of cultivating their roots…and everyone’s abuelit@s![sic]

Matt Sedillo. 
Poet Laureate of the Chicanx revolutionary struggle?


Theresa Montaño is a Professor of Chicano/a Studies with an emphasis in education at CSU-Northridge. Dr. Montaño has more than 40 years in public education, she taught for 15 years K12 schools before moving into higher education. 

Montaño is the former CTA Vice President and currently coordinates the public education work for the California Faculty Association. She is active in the movement for Ethnic Studies having served on California’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Advisory Committee. She is actively working with teachers and districts on the implementation of Ethnic Studies programs and curriculum, including work with the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Consortium. 

Her current research includes a project on women of color in union leadership and assorted articles on Ethnic Studies. Her publications include two co-edited books, several research publications, essays and curriculum units.

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