A guest post by Désirée Zamorano written during the week of September 26th, 2016.
- I participate in a organized for years by a young Chicana poet/activist. The audience, like the readers, is diverse.
- As I scroll through my Instagram feed I am captivated by the selfies at the PENUSA awards of two I know. I smile at their celebration.
- After class I chat with a Mexican-American mom; her daughter attends my literacy center, at Occidental College. She is a special ed teacher at LA Unified. We catch up.
- At Cal State Long Beach a student of mine from El Salvador wonders, during class discussion, “What do people see in Trump? Are they uneducated?” Later she comes up to me to ask if she offended the sole Republican in our class.
- At the bus stop I pick up my housekeeper, originally from Guatemala. We chat about her sons, one in Colorado, one in Georgia.
The week is not yet over, and I’ve interacted with Latin@s of different economic levels, from different countries of origin, and yet of the above examples only one portrayal, alas, is pervasive in the dominant culture.
Some writers rightfully resent being placed by default on the “Diversity Panel.” But diversity, equity and access, is something I revel in exploring with my classes of soon-to-be teachers. In a respectful environment we can peel back the white wash of US history in order to discuss government outrages and connect them to the painful realities of today. I believe and share with these students that in order to make our country better, we must look clearly at the past we have all inherited.
Each time I teach this class I learn something new, from revisiting the assigned readings and from my students and their insights. This semester a phrase that students keep bringing up is “selective perception.”
From Wikipedia: “Selective perception is the tendency not to notice and more quickly forget stimuli that cause emotional discomfort and contradict our prior beliefs.”
This explains so much to me.
The same selective perception that made the nation at large shudder when Sonia Sotomayor called herself a “wise Latina.” The selective perception of a nation that allows a narcissistic bully to become a presidential candidate.
Selective perception is perhaps the most benign excuse or explanation for limited portrayals of people I know, in print and other media. Or perhaps our blanket invisibility or relegation to hot or subservient roles has something to do with institutional racism. I leave that to you, gentle reader, to decide.
National Hispanic Heritage Month, and months like it, as well as #weneeddiversebooks attempt to redress the selective perception of our culture at large, to display multi-hued lives in their radiant depth and breadth. One of the gifts of teaching diversity is the ability to take a classroom of future teachers and help them examine the lenses that they use to view the world, and to exchange them for something with a wider field.
Back in the classroom in Long Beach:
- A woman from Mexico, shares in her presentation a memory from elementary school: when she was tested for her English level and properly used the word “shallow” the teacher was offended that people were telling her the answers. (No one had).
- We, the class and I, are outraged on her behalf.
- Later, during discussion, another student, whose parents are from Vietnam, connects the intentional destruction of Natives’ languages to her southern California education—where she and her peers lost their home language. We let that sink in.
- My student from El Salvador presents to the class how she goes back to her small town of origin each December to give the children the celebrations she always dreamed of as a young child.
- We, the class and I, are so moved.
Each time I sit down to write a novel I have to consider, with whom do I want to spend the creative years of my life? And how is my demographic doing out there in the great (white) world? How visible are the people I interact with day after day, month after month?
Slowly, slowly, aspirational and middle class Latinas are emerging from a national brown out. Class by class, novel by novel, I hope to open eyes to the vibrant world in which we live.
The Amado Women – by Désirée Zamorano
Here’s another great book to read during Latinx Heritage Month, or anytime after!
Linked by birth, separated by secrets
The Amado Women is the story of four very different women, linked by birth struggling to reconnect.
Mercedes Amado has raised and watched her three daughters grow into women. Celeste, fiercely intelligent and proud, has fled her youth and family in Los Angeles to financial independence in San Jose. Sylvia has immersed herself in the world of her two young daughters, while Nataly, the baby, waits tables in an upscale restaurant by night and works on her textile art by day.
Four women struggle for their piece of the American Dream, but will it evaporate when confronted with family tragedy?
About the Author:
Désirée Zamorano‘s latest novel is , a story of four women connected by birth, separated by secrets. She has wrestled with identity over at Publishers Weekly, the Los Angeles Times and NPR’s Latino USA. She is currently looking forward to s of four of her short stories with this killer cast:Marina Palmier Gonzalez (Desperate Housewives, The Shield)Sherry Mandujano (Shameless, Telenovela) and Vanessa Suarez (The Adventures of Superseven’s Madame Wasabi).
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