No Tinc Por: I Am Not Afraid

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Crowds gather on Saturday for the No Tinc Por Solidary March in Barcelona, a response to the terrorist attacks of last week.

Moving to a new city in a new country where I don’t speak the language has been a lot to navigate.  Moving across the world and then reading about current events in the U.S. and experiencing the terrorist attack in Barcelona has been more than I’ve been able to fully comprehend.

I was home alone when the first attack occurred.  I was sitting at my kitchen table, eating ravioli, when my I received a text from my friend telling me not to go to Las Ramblas because there was a terrorist attack, a car crashed people all the way down.

My heart jumped.  My hands started to shake. Immediately, I checked the news.  Nothing was out yet.

I texted my roommates and all of my friends to let them know.

My mind raced: Is this a real attack?  Or an accident?  I flashed back to September 11th when I questioned the same thing.  It is probably an attack.

I opened my computer and watched the events unfold.

The attacks happened about two miles from my apartment.  I could hear the emergency team responses, but I was safe.

Several of my friends were right there.  They were ushered into buildings, and told to wait.

Friends who lived nearby witnessed the police create blockades, set up checkpoints, and search the streets.

But we were all okay.

Scared, shaken, and saddened, but okay.

The next morning, I had an early flight to Paris.  It felt confusing to be leaving the city in such a time of crises and greif.  Would public transportation be working? Would planes be taking off?  Was the airport safe?  Was it okay to leave?

Ultimately, I decided the strongest act of reclamation against terror I could do was to make my plans happen, as close to exactly as I had arranged, before the attacks occurred.

I called a cab and got on the plane.

While I enjoyed Paris (I was there visiting the city with good friends from the states) my heart was heavy.  There were memorials being assembled in Las Ramblas; there was a moment of silence for those who were lost and injured; there were conversations on the streets, in coffee shops, and around the city talking about what happened and how to move forward, and I was missing all of that.

I was struggling to move forward without being in Barcelona to witness the aftermath of the attacks and process what happened.

Yesterday, I got this much-needed community time.

Barcelona held a “No tinc por” solidarity march.  No tinc por means “I am not afraid” in Catalan.  People from all over the area (500,000 of us according to this Aljeezera news article) came together to march for peace and to show life will continue to thrive in our city.

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People gather at the top of Passeig de Gracia to begin the march.
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Catalonian Independence Flag is carried in the crowd, mixed in with signs calling for peace and the end of terrorism.
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More Youth More Peace, an organization that holds annual summits bringing together youth from around the world, marches in the demonstration.
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View from the Passeig de Gracia.
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This sign, written in Catalan, translates to “We want peace, not to sell weapons”
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Another sign protesting arms sales. People are upset with the relationship Spanish officials, including King, Felipe VI  and prime minister,Mariano Rayjoy, have built with Saudi Arabia.
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Folks who are Muslim speak out about the violence.  In the front, the sign reads, “I am not afraid.  Terrorism has no religion. Islam means peace.  Muslims condemn terrorism.”  Behind this sign, blue signs read, “No to Islamaphobia.”
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Sign reads, “Violence is not a religion.  It’s politics, and it’s the worst.”
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Sign in front reads, “No to Islmaphobia.”  Sign to the right reads, “We are not afraid.”
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A Catalonian Independence and Gay Pride Flag flies with the crowd in Plaça de Catalunyna,  
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The march slogan, “No Tinc Por” translated into multiple languages.
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Police walk through the crowd, and people part and clap.
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A memorial, filled with candles, stuffed animals, and notes, at the top of Las Ramblas to honor the victims of the attacks.
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A man who is Muslim stands in Las Ramblas, holding a sign denouncing terrorism and stating that Islam is a religion of peace and safety.
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View from Las Ramblas.
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Another memorial in Las Ramblas.
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Together, signs send the message, “Racism kills, not Islam.  Islam is not hate, nor anger, nor fear.”

The march left me humbled, hopeful, and reflective.  Peoples lives were lost.  Terrorism around the world continues to grow.  Nations need to figure out how to work together to communicate and address these very real threats.

But for now, we are here.  We are alive.  This is our community.  And we have lives to live, and work to do.


Thank you to everyone who reached out to me during this time.  I really appreciate the support, care, and conversations we’ve had to process these events.  This story wouldn’t be complete without a shout-out to my mom, who called me as soon as she learned what happened and spent hours on video-chat with me watching and processing events as they unfolded. Your hugs were felt from far away.

If you are interested in reading more about the march, check out the article, “‘No Tinc Por’ demonstration fills Barcelona; king and Spanish PM Rayjoy booed” by Marta Lasalas in El Nacional.cat.

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How Do We Move Forward? A Classroom Teacher’s Response to Current Events

In the aftermath of the white nationalist rallies in Charlottesville and the terrorist attacks in Barcelona, one thought lays heavily on my mind as I prepare for the school year:

How do we move forward?

After reading countless news articles, listening to podcasts, and having multiple discussions about the events, I’ve decided I’m going to renew my focus on helping students develop a framework for understanding identity.

I’m starting here because I think once we have a deep understanding of ourselves, we can begin to understand the complexity of our communities and make choices that are inclusive and justice-oriented.

For the last several years, a large piece of my teaching with middle schoolers has focused on identity development and specifically, the intersection of identities within an individual.  This concept comes from Kimberlé Crenshaw, a civil rights advocate, professor, and founder of Critical Race Theory, who coined the term “intersectionality.”  In Crenshaw’s work, intersectionality explores how different aspects of identities- such as race, gender, and class- impact and affect individuals’ experiences in the world.

To be clear, Crenshaws work on intersectionality specifically studies black women’s experiences.  Her work critiques the frequent lack of acknowledgment of black women’s experiences as both black and female. As Crenshaw writes in “Mapping the Margins,” “Although racism and sexism readily intersect in the lives of real people, they seldom do in feminist and antiracist practices.”1 Crenshaw argues that black women, who have unique experiences because of both of their blackness and femaleness, are often disregarded or forgotten in decisions and movements that are meant to be antiracist or anti-sexist.

While this unique experience of the intersection of race and gender belongs to women of color,2 the analogous experience of being forgotten or disregarded due to the complexity of one’s identity is something many people who hold oppressed identities experience.  Furthermore, for those of us with privilege, it is important to be aware of the multiple areas in which we hold privilege, so that as we move forward, we can do so in a way that benefits our community, rather than solely ourselves.

Translating this to middle school, what this looks like for me and my students is building an understanding of the multiple dimensions of our individual identities, and exploring how these identities relate, intersect, and impact our experience in the world.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me explain a little about what this looked like in my classroom last year.

Near the beginning of the school year, we started with an identity sort, an idea I adapted from Beth Leah Sondel.3 First, drawing from Crenshaw’s work, I introduced the idea of identity as being composed of multiple facets.  We focused on nine areas: race, gender, sexual orientation, class/SES, religion, nationality, generation, ability level, and a hobby/interest.

From here, students spent time analyzing their own identity in each category.  After creating a list for themselves, students were asked to rank their identities in the order that they were most important to them.  Then, students were asked rank them in the order they felt others perceived them.  Afterward, students compared the two lists and wrote a reflection on their experiences.

While the writing produced in this activity was solely for the students (due to the personal nature of responses, I did not ask students to turn it in), this exploration of identity provided a foundation for the understanding of literature and world events in the year to come.

We transitioned this idea of identity intersectionality to analyzing the identities of characters in books.4  We created identity molecules, in which we placed a character’s name in the center of the paper, and then wrote aspects of their identity (which we learned or inferred from text evidence), around their name.5  We studied how characters’ identities impacted their experiences, looking at the areas in which characters held privilege and areas in which characters experienced oppression.

Soon, students were transferring this understanding of identity and perspective to the world around them.  Our class was asking questions like, “Why would people vote for the candidate they did?” “Whose voice is heard in this news story?” and “Whose story are we missing when we learn history?”

Our understanding of identity helped us analyze current events, make sense of choices, and figure out stories we needed to seek out and pay closer attention to.

Additionally, our understanding of identity helped my students understand themselves. We know that in middle school, students are constantly questioning, exploring and figuring out who they are.  Students are grappling with issues of identity everyday, in the small daily choices, like figuring out what to wear, to big choices, like choosing friends and taking stances and sharing ideas in class discussions and debates.

The importance of developing an understanding of  identity is evident in the reflections of my students.  During a write-out last year responding to our conversations around identity, a student wrote, “I came into class feeling confused about a lot of this stuff.  Writing about it helped.”

I’m with my student on this one: I think writing about it helps too.  And foundational for writing about it is building vocabulary, knowledge, and a framework to help us understand and analyze human experiences in the world.  By starting with identity, my students work on developing a sense of who they are, how they move throughout the world, and where they need to grow.

This won’t solve terrorism. It won’t solve racism.  But it’s a place to start.

For once we know who we are, once we know where we stand- the areas in which we hold privilege, and the areas in which we may face oppression- we can move forward with nuance.  We can listen, we can begin to understand, and we can recognize areas in which we should take up more or less space.  With this knowledge, we can build an authentic community that struggles together, succeeds together, and is a place where each of us, in all of our differences, belongs.


Footnotes:

  1. Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review, vol. 43, no. 1241, July 1991, p. 1242.
  2. For more on this, read Cameron Glover’s “Intersectionality Ain’t for White Women,” in which she argues the word “intersectionality” and the specific experience of it belongs to black women. If you’re doing identity work, and especially if you’ve been doing this work for awhile, I recommend checking this article out.
  3. Beth Leah Sondel is an Assistant Professor at NC State University.  Previously, she earned her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction at UW-Madison, where I had the pleasure of taking a social studies methods course from her.
  4. Jen Breeze, my previous district literacy coordinator, was instrumental in helping me plan how to transfer this learning to age appropriate text for middle schoolers.  Thank you, Jen!
  5. I adapted this idea from the “Identity Molecule” resource published by Keshet, an organization dedicated to creating LGBTQ inclusion in Jewish Life.

To learn more about Kimberlé Crenshaw, check out her bio page on UCLA Law, her work through the African American Policy Forum, or follow her on Twitter.

To learn more about Cameron Glover, check out her website or follow her on Twitter.

To learn more about Beth Leah Sondel, check out her bio page at NC State or follow her on Twitter.

To learn more about Keshet.org, check out their website.

 

“You’re doing it now”

It was Sunday afternoon, and I sat in a café scrolling through Twitter.  My heart broke and stomach churned as I read story after story about the violence in Charlottesville, Virgina.

Finally, I read this tweet by Aditi Juneja, a lawyer, activist, and writer:

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Answer:  I would have been….. sitting in a café in Spain, sipping a late?!

Not the scenario I was anticipating for myself.

The question of “What does it mean to be an American living abroad?” has been on my mind since I moved here.  Today, at a time when I am simultaneously grateful to be away from the country and aching to be with my students at home, the question sits differently with me.

Today, the question is not just about navigating my privilege or claiming my culture, it’s about figuring out how to exist, teach, and live abroad as a critically conscious citizen. How can I be committed to racial justice from the other side of the ocean?

In thinking about what I can do moving forward, the answer for me, is the same as it was when I lived in the states:  My job is to make a difference in the community in which I live.  Right now, that community is my neighborhood and my school in Barcelona.

So, in these communities, here are some of the things I am doing and can do to make a difference:

  1. Commit to Discussing the US with Nuance:  As an expat, I am often asked questions about the U.S.  Some are thoughtful, others blunt, and others still shed insight on the ways in which people around the world think about us.  A small sampling of the questions I’ve been asked by folks from all over the world include: ¨What is traditional American food, anyway?¨ or ¨Do you like your President?  How did he get elected?¨and ¨What is the difference between free speech and hate speech in your country?¨or ¨What’s the deal with Walmart? ‘Fo Real.¨ While it’s easy to brush these questions off with a joke or sarcastic remark, I want to commit to truly discussing and exploring them with the people that ask.  The truth is, the American experience is complex.  It’s intensely personal. The intersection of our individual identities, our family histories, and our location causes us to have a million different experiences all while living in one place.  And while I understand folks who ask these questions aren’t looking for a lecture on the past 400 years of race and class in America, I am committed to explaining my point of view with a critical and compassionate lens.
  2. Take Stock of My Classroom Library:  Moving to a new school, I am not entirely sure what my new library will hold.  Whose stories will be represented?  Whose voices will be missing?  Can my students see themselves reflected in the material? Or, for the students who always see themselves, can they find books that are windows and doors, rather than solely mirrors? (Thank you Rudine Simms Bishop for that framework.) My task is to figure out the books I have and the books I need to get.
  3. Take Stock of My History Curriculum:  Again, starting a new curriculum, I am not entirely sure what the year holds.  As I gear up to teach eighth grade American History at an American School of Barcelona the questions on my mind are: Whose stories are we telling?  Whose stories are left out?  How can we represent history through multiple timelines? And, as I teach in a school that is comprised of a myriad of nationalities (the student population is about 20% American, 35% Spanish, and 45% International Students), the largest question on my mind is: How is American history relevant in Spain?
  4. Commit to Reading the News…. Now, more than ever before, it is important for me to know the news in order to be able to teach it.  For me, that means reading my traditional American news sources, seeking out world news outlets, like BBC, and also, finding local news sources in Spain and the community of Catalonia.
  5. …And Incorporating Current Events in the Classroom: In addition to reading about the news, incorporating current events into the classroom is paramount.  With student news sources, like Newsela, I am able to teach about world events through developmentally appropriate texts.  My thoughts this year lie with how to layer historical knowledge with current events so students can see build a narrative of past events that impact and affect the present.
  6. Get to Know My Students:  Of course, most importantly, I need to get to know my students.  Their likes and dislikes, their preferences, what makes them tick. I can’t wait to begin to learn the knowledge they come into the classroom with, the values and beliefs they hold, and their understanding of right and wrong and justice. I can’t wait to read with them.  To write with them.  And to grow and explore with them.  For after all, we are all in this crazy mess together, trying to make sense of the world, one day at a time.

What are you communities?  Remembering Mary Ehrenworth’s words, “Social justice is in the small things,” what can you do to make a difference?


Shout out to Aditi Juneja and Rudine Simms Bishop, who inspired much of my thinking in this post. 

If you want to read more from Aditi Juneja, check out her website or twitter handle.

If you want to learn more about Rudine Simms Bishop, you can check out this short biography or read her books, 

Con Tiempo y Paciencia

Right now, I am a bit confused, by basically everything. The language is new. The public transportation is new. My grocery store, which I finally found, is new.

To be fair, I am living in a major city in Europe in 2017, so as far as culture shock goes, I have it pretty easy. In fact, I think I am experiencing more city-shock than culture shock. I have never lived in a big city before, and let me tell you, there are many differences between the city and the suburbs, or even between a big city, and a mid-sized city, like Madison.  

One of the biggest challenges for me in this new place was finding my grocery store. Food is very important to me. I am used to having a car, driving to the store, filling up the cart, and then loading up my car and driving home. Here, in the city, I no longer have a car. I walk almost everywhere, and, when I go grocery shopping, I can only take what I can carry.

Two weeks ago, I found my grocery store. This was no small feat for me. Out of the dozens of markets, fruit stands, and meat shops everywhere, I needed one place I could call grocery-store home. One place I could go if going to a million different little shops wasn’t going to fit the bill that day. One place that was within close-walking distance, was well-priced, and had good hours. And I finally found it: Condis Life.

At my new grocery store, I couldn’t wait to buy fresh fish. At the back of Condis Life there is a whole fish counter. No, not a counter, a display. A gigantic table filled with ice, and fresh whole fish, and shrimp, and piles of other seafood. I couldn’t wait to buy fresh salmon in Spain and cook myself a meal.

However, I had a couple of problems. The first was, I had no idea how to identify salmon in full form. My cooking skills are to the level of being able to identify a salmon filet by sight. But with the scales still on? Forget it. And beyond that, I had no idea how to buy it.  Do I buy the whole fish? What do I do with the head? Do I have to cut it open and de-bone it myself?

When I don’t know what to do, my general game plan is to observe and study.  To watch the people and systems before me and gain an understanding of how things work.  

What this amounted to when attempting to buy fish in the grocery store was me my pulling my basket back and forth in front of the fish counter, pretending to look at all of the different seafood options, while really eavesdropping on business transactions.* Once I overstayed my welcome at the counter area, because I wasn’t buying anything, I discreetly moved to a nearby shelf and pretended to peruse the lovely canned options available, all while staying in earshot of the counter.

I implemented this method for about twenty minutes, and still had no idea how to buy salmon. What I had deduced was the large fish to the left of the counter was indeed salmon. To my relief, I had witnessed it was possible to purchase a piece of salmon, rather than the entire fish. It even seemed that the person behind the counter would de-bone the fish for you. Win.

However, the same man who had ordered a piece of salmon fifteen minutes earlier was still standing there as the lady cleaned his fish.  And it looked like he was getting an entire fish. It seemed this salmon-ordering operation would take a long time, and I decided for today, it was currently too taxing for my growing hunger and still-emerging Spanish.  

I picked out a piece of frozen salmon (I had studied these extensively while observing the fish counter, so I had no trouble deciding which one to grab), and decided to settle for frozen fish and fresh vegetables for dinner. I could be content with the fact that I had at least gained some valuable information.

A few days later, I relayed this story to some American friends of mine, who have lived in Barcelona for several years. They told me I was being ridiculous, and the people at the fish counter were there to help me. All I had to do was ask or motion, and we’d be able to figure it out.

I decided my friends were correct. It was time for me to woman-up and buy some fresh salmon.

I marched into Condis Life, grocery list in hand.  I picked up my fruits and vegetables for the week, and then headed to the fish counter.  Phone out, Spanish Dictionary App at the ready, I pulled up the word ¨piece¨ in Spanish. I was prepared to order my piece of fish.

¨Quiero un pedazo de salmon, por favor,¨I enunciated to the man working behind the counter.

¨Do you know how the pricing works?¨ he replied in English.

My face fell. I wasn’t sure whether to be happy or disappointed.  I had geared up for a mumbly and confusing conversation in Spanish, in which I was hoping I would learn something, and now, he was speaking to me in English?  I quickly decided what was important was figuring out how to order fish. I could figure out the Spanish another time.

¨No, I don’t know how it works,¨ I said in English.  ¨Could you help me?¨

Later that night, I sat down to a meal of fresh Moroccan green beans, rice with onion and garlic, and salmon pan-fried with olive oil and lemon wedges.  I poured myself a glass of wine, and took a celebratory sip.  I had done it.  I had bought fresh fish and cooked it myself.  I had made a delicious meal in Barcelona.

As I took my first bite, I discovered there was one more thing I should’ve done before cooking the fish.

¨You didn’t take the bones out?¨ my roommate, Enrico, asked.

¨I thought the piece the man gave me was without bones!¨

¨They take out the major bones,¨ Enrico said, ¨But you still have to do some of it yourself.¨

Okay, so I still have a ways to go.

And this, I realized, is what my life is currently going to be like for a while. This is the beauty of transitions. I am going to be confused almost all of the time. I will study and observe, and then woman-up, and take action.  I will feel proud of myself for this, and then I’ll realize, I still have a lot to learn. 

But for now, I’ll take it. Even with the bones, the salmon is pretty good.

And with time, and patience, eventually, I’ll figure it out.

 


*Side note: This whole pulling a basket-thing is new for me.  Rather than grocery carts, here, we use baskets.  Like the ones I used to carry in the States, except bigger, more durable, and with wheels.  Similar to the ones I used in the States, these have one handle to hold with your arm if you are only getting a few things, but, they also have an additional large handle you can extend if you want to put the basket down on the ground and pull it behind you.  It’s sort of like luggage.  Or a tiny grocery cart.