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:
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- …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.
- 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.