Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cultural Snapshot

A list of references, dynamic and embedded links and so forth used in this article.

One of the purposes of this class is to defeat deficit theory. When I went looking for artifacts, I kept deficit theory in mind. It is the idea that because a person comes from a different race, socio-economic class, or has other such group traits, they cannot learn and perform on the same level as those who enjoy a "white, middle-class" socio-economic status. I have a particular interest in Hispanics, because I am in a relationship with one, but I have never really researched it. I was quite willing to believe the stereotypes portrayed by those back home, without thinking about why those stereotypes were in place.

My first instinct was to go for movies and TV shows. They are watched by many and are a very easy source of cultural information. In the TV shows I found (Scrubs, Without a Trace) I saw successful Latinos that were struggling with their cultural identity. Carla felt that she would 'lose' part of her identity if she let in too much 'white' influence (such as the language), whereas Danny, despite his high-ranking job in the FBI missing person's department, cannot escape his past.

But what does this mean? It highlights a theme found in our students, that they must hold onto their culture because they can 'lose' it. This was highlighted in class when the First Year Latino teacher was called "El Prep" because he seemed to act in accordance with the dominate culture. They are responding to passive racism, namely, the racism that is prevalent in our culture, but is not outspoken or violent. If it was not for this passive racism Carla would feel no backlash because her dream was in English, and Danny would be able to be more proud of his hard Latino background.

In theme with the movie clips, I cam across a trailer clip from a movie, The Perez Family. It highlighted a particular segment of the Hispanic population- Cuban refugees. Often, in our color-blind states, we ignore this segment of the Hispanic population because they rarely contribute to one of the biggest issues we have with Hispanics- illegal immigration. However, this show shows that this segment is not immune. Even though they are going to legal means, the 'Perez' family is still skirting the laws.

Our students will see this, combined with the stories about Mexican illegal immigration statistics (from the New York Times) and think that nothing their cultural group does is within the law. This builds a sort of sub-culture in the culture of poverty. Because these groups are coming from having very little or nothing (as showed by the Perez "family") then there is little chance that they will rise above this. They are stuck in the trends that have been set for them. This image is also underlined by the two Cagle Post Cartoons (Calgle Post is a website that features political cartoons printed all over the United States) in their reaction to the place of Mexico and the work that we have for immigrants.

In one, we show the derisive attitudes that the United States have towards Mexico. As many of the Hispanics (I will not say all) can trace their origins back to Mexico, this is a direct insult to an entire groups nationality. The culture of witness also attacks the role we give our immigrants in the second Cagle Cartoon, in which Uncle Sam sends the immigrants to go do all the jobs that we don't want, but at the same time calls them 'free loaders'. This is deficit theory at it's best. It is human nature to react when one attacks the background or cultural group one is in. This is negative resistance theory. When we say that the place where these Latinos are coming from is second-rate, and not worth respect, we are applying that label to the cultural group also. When we give a certain group the 'bad' jobs of society, and reserve the 'good' jobs for a particularity culture (in this case, the dominate white culture) we also send the message that these people are not good enough. We do not expect this of them.

As I moved on I found a fairly explicit rap-song talking about the life of a Latino. I was shocked by the negative resistance theory found therein. The star was wearing a well know soccer logo, Chivas of Guadalajara. This artist clearly believed that in the "Ethnically Different" paradigm. Which is not true, but if this is part of the popular culture of not only Hispanics, but whites, it is no surprise that we have such a mindset of deficit theory when dealing with the Hispanic populations within our country.

I tried to move away from the media hereafter, and started to look more into the news. I found a 'Latino Wish List' from the New York Times, which had immigration reform right at the top. Ant it made me wonder, how could our students develop an interest if our media is telling them that the only interest that matters about Latinos is their association with immigration? When we are talking to African-American's, we do not continually talk about Africa; why then is immigration forced up the noses of the Hispanic population? I would not be surprised if some Hispanic Americans roll their eyes a politics, because they are not seen has having opinions on other things.

This is fundamentally not true, but what it appears to be on the surface of the news articles. The truth is that Hispanics (because they are such a diverse cultural group) do not have more then general trends in how they vote. When I went to Mexico this last year, I myself was affected by discrimination because I believed that all Hispanics would be democrats, but I ran into a small inn owner who was flaming Republican. It forced me to reevaluate, and really look at the Hispanic culture as pieces of a whole, not a whole in and of itself. If we are telling our students that all that should matter political to them is immigration, then we are losing a valuable voting block. In the recent elections we saw how crucial this group can be in the election of a president.

Another article I found, dispelled the myth that Hispanics are a very very small minority. The truth is that their numbers are growing exponentially. But in our color-blind society, we seem to be trying to ignore the rise of this cultural group. They can never be 'white'.

One of the most heart-wrenching stories I found was about a Roaring Fork Valley resident, Jose. He is facing deportation, even though he has contributed greatly to his community. The story attempted to be color-blind, but one striking deficit theory comment was made, "Some teachers thought Mendoza Turbin might be a special-needs student. He seemed so befuddled, and his language skills were so poor. His teachers taught him fractions and division by filling a bowl with coins and dividing them." It then goes on to talk about how he has grown into an upstanding young man attending college to become a nurse. But this little sentence provides evidence for how the student-teacher relationship with English language learners go. Rather then assuming that a child is of normal intellect, the automatically assume that because they do not speak our language, that they must be inferior. No matter that we have success stories, such as Jose's we still feel that those who are not on our language level can never be on our intellectual level either.

In the comments to Jose's story, I found a striking display of meritocracy. It was an all-or-nothing approach to the problems of immigration. Either a) they come here legally or b) they should be kicked out. Never mind that Jose had done nothing but contribute positively to his area. The fact that he originally came here illegally gives him a black ball that he will never be able to get with. His 'merit' is torn to pieces by readers who cannot understand that this individual can be outside the social norm, but still have merit. When youngsters read these comments they cannot help but feel the sting as if the comments were directed at them. These comments tell them that they do not have merit, and that somehow, they should have control over the micro factors which brought them to America in the first place.

In the toy industry Latinos are rarely shown, so the appearance of toys called 'Homies' quickly gained popularity among the Hispanic community. These are 'accurate' representations of the hispanic populations. A child looking at this will come to understand that of course, all Hispanics have patchy and take little care of themselves. Even as Barbie (c) shows that all whites must be high class and successful, these homies help display that the Hispanic community is lower class.

All of this applies in the classroom. Students will bring in these negative stereotypes into the classroom. They will share them with the friends. It was once said that a child will become only what is expected of it. If society, though these cultural artifacts, show that Hispanics are a part of a cultural of poverty, ethnically different, inferior to the white culture, etc, then they will take this expectation with them. English Language Learners will give up, because they will come to understand quickly that their teachers are still operating from deficit theory. Teacher efficacy will be low in response. This is a cycle that has to be forcefully broken out of else all will continue to contribute to the culture of poverty and passive racism that are slowly eroding our system. Minorities are already beginning to be a very large segment of our population. If we cannot change, starting in the classroom, we will continue this downward spiral until much comes crashing down.

I found many stereotypes in the media, but I also found the roots of the death of these stereotypes. I found several very successful individuals who come from Latino roots. If we as teachers only pay attention to the surface of the issues which come before us, we will have a very shallow view of the struggles and triumphs of the Latino community. It is important for us to really search the media and stay up on it because if we do not our teaching will be hurt by the bias' that are thrown about. The defeat of deficit theory hides in the articles and media which promote it. If we are willing to turn these things on their ear, and then show them to our students, we can begin to teach them how to look at the media for themselves. They can then start to see the positive of their own culture, not simply the negatives.

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