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Your Struggle Is My Struggle

Your Struggle Is My Struggle
MARCELA ITZEL ORTEGA -- PHOTO COURTESY SCOTT BRALEY

You have to know where you are coming from to know where you are going.

Its funny how a single lucid moment can change so many things; a single video can light a spark for justice. That reality hit me when my teacher, Devin Carberry, played a YouTube clip of UNIDOS, a group of students fighting to keep ethnic studies alive in Arizona (See Precious Knowledge: Teaching Solidarity with Tucson). I was befuddled as to why these students were chaining themselves to chairs in a courtroom when the police force was clearly evident. I kept asking myself: Why are these students running the risk of incarceration? I had trouble analyzing the videos hidden messages, yet I still felt a tug inside of me. The people chaining themselves looked like me; they were students of color trying to make a statement, and whatever statement they were making, it seemed it was worth finding out about.

Devin brought in the documentary Precious Knowledge, an intimate look into ethnic studies classes in Tucson high schools and the community battle to defend the program. As we analyzed the video, I made connections between the students in the film and myself. For example, in the beginning, Gilbert, Crystal, and Priscilla, the three students who are the focus of the films narrative, are looking off into the distance. The look in their eyes reflects their need to get away from the injustice in the world. I remember I did the same thing every day in the car going to and from school. When I looked out the window, I saw how vast and unfair the world is. There was always the reflection of a familiar pair of eyes looking back at me saying, Youll never be able to change it.

Growing up, I always had a tough time understanding why life wasnt fair. Other people had more privileges and a better life, yet a kid never thinks, Oh, maybe its because my ancestors were killed and made slaves as a means of profit and gain. My classes have taught me the real history that pertains to my background. I saw how Gilbert, Crystal, and Pricilla all had difficult circumstances and struggles they had to overcome in their daily lives so that they could focus on school. It made me wonder how my life and theirs would have been different if colonization never took place, if our civilizations had been left unharmed, if our people had not been murdered and enslaved.

I made many connections from the film to the theory of white supremacy, which is the belief that white people or Anglos are the superior race and therefore they should be the ones in power. They didnt say so explicitly, but I think many of the politicians in the film were against the Mexican American Studies (MAS) program because it gave students a way out of the roles society has created for them. It meant those students would go to college and get higher paying jobs, taking the place of deserving Americans. I will be the first in my family to attend college. I am going against the role society has created for me. I am not taking anyones place, but the one that rightfully belongs to me.

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