immigration sound byte - postscript

i accompanied erick to horizon academy at rikers island last thursday to help the young men practice reading their pieces out loud and to establish the reading order, etc. this was the first time i had spent any extended amount of time in the bilingual class. there were about ten young men in there whose average age seemed to be 20 years old. i pulled a chair and sat next to a young man wearing knee length jean shorts and a black t-shirt. i'll call him david - it was the name he said that he would have chosen for himself because there were already too many people in his family with his given first name.
david smiled briefly in my direction, shifted his feet slightly, and resumed his conversation with his classmate sitting next to him. after several minutes, david and i began talking. the following is a list of notables that i learned during our conversation:
  • arrived at rikers two months ago
  • arrived in the united states three years ago
  • is awaiting sentencing on a plea he just agreed to so that he can serve out his sentence before being deported back to the dominican republic.
my face must have registered my disbelief at this last point because david laughed quietly, shook his head, and said the thing that was going through my head, "can you believe that shit?"

the following day, david read for tito who was not present for the reading. it was clear that he had practiced and as he uttered the following words, i could almost see him writing them himself.

david, reading for tito:
"Advice comes from experiences that the person giving it to you already had, supposing a person that gives you advice already through those experiences or has seen then and doesn't want you to have to go through the same thing.
A lot of times I didn't follow the advice, but I did listen. But I didn't change, or I might for a month or so and then go back to doing the same things. ...
I don't want anyone to do the same things I've done, it's no good - look at where I am now. Do you understand the advice I'm giving?"


voices of immigration - beyond sound bytes

this past friday, 5/26, i sat in the gymnasium at one of the jail sites at rikers island listening to young men, who are there awaiting sentencing, share excerpts from published stories in the collection titled, Echando humo para siempre (Forever billowing smoke). of the six authors in the book, three were present for the reading. their stories, printed in both spanish and english in the eighty-one page book, were read aloud in both versions that made the gym reverberate with reflections about family, musings on inequity, observations about cross cultural survival - these words painted images that challenged the sound byte media culture about immigration.

raul: "In Mexico we don't treat [minorities] like they do here. Even Americans have a lot of businesses there - the best, I'd say - and we don't treat them like they treat us here."

jaime: "[My parents] brought me up with the music - the meringue, the bachata, the salsa - and they brought me up with the food, too. The brought me up with the culture from over there, like the people from there, like it was before for their gradparents, they they had been raised."

enano: "I miss my family so much - my parents, my friends. Here, you have friends while you have something to give, but if you don't have anything, they turn their backs on you. And over there, whether or not you have anything, they're your friends."

edwin: "...being out here in the United States there are always good chances, many opportunities here to come out ahead. Here I found out that I can draw - I started to draw here. ... I bought a tattoo gun and as soon as I leave here, if I ever do leave, I'm going to start tattooing."

in their words are "undeniable ambiguities and contradiction," (a point made in the introduction written by patricia cortes) that further call attention to the inadequate scope of the immigration rhetoric that dominates popular media discourses.

from a literacies perspective, we might ask what the implications are for how these young men make sense of their world through literacies as the move across national borders and cultural boundaries. lesley bartlett's research explores this and related questions about transnational literacies and resonates with some work that doris warriner is doing, as well. both of these literacy researchers, along with many others, are helping the field understand the life changing, sometimes threatening, experiences of individuals who are border crossing on a minute-to-minute basis. their work and the recently published Echando humo para siempre reminds us that we need stories that are not only rich in ethnographic detail, but that also are produced by those individuals whose crossings, negotiations, and balancing of transnational literacies, identities, experiences, challenges, and dreams too often become the purview of overused phrases and easily quantifiable categories.

this story was also filmed for the local news (new york city, abc) but i was out of town and didn't catch it. i'll report back on what story sound bytes made it to the small screen...


can you see me now?

to everyone who mocked my early musings about the feasibility of creating a real life invisibilty cloak (based on the key harry potter accessory): it appears that i am having the last laugh! check this out:

Theories see path to invisibility

this real-life version is made possible with "optical-camouflage technology." i wonder: can the marauder map be far behind? it's really only a matter of tweaks to the current gps technologies, if you ask me...


if a tree falls...

i was looking through some field notes on the bus today and came across some quotes
i had jotted down while attending the launch of EVC's Video Production curriculum titled "Youth Powered Video" (which i wrote about earlier). what caught my eye this time was a question posed by a woman from arts engine who - after the curriculum had been previewed for the audience and an EVC alum had talked about his experiences - wondered aloud, "if a film is made and no one sees it, does it make an impact?" she immediately acknowledged that the actual video production certainly had an impact for the participants involved in the process, but challenged the audience to consider the distribution and dissemination dimension of youth media. who views the films? engages with them? shares them? is aware they exist???

next week the sixth annual media that matters film festival will kick off here in nyc. the 16 films that were selected from hundreds (maybe thousands) of entries will be shown and also available online at the media that matters website. here's a link to last year's online film festival, which features a couple of films produced by youth. this is one of several spaces in which youth media production is being made visible, recognized for the contribution the stories contained in these films makes, and celebrated for the intentional attention paid in the films that are chosen to social action and justice.

in response to the challenge about impact, i offer the following list of sites as a first step in spreading the word about youth produced media, including film and radio documentaries, digital stories, and a range of texts:

youth media distribution
mnn youth channel
youth portraits

and in the real-world-like words of the opening voices on the youth radio site, youth media can show us "what happens when [youth] stop being stereotyped and start getting real."

fyi: ymdi also makes a youth video distribution toolkit available on their website.

a beer in the afternoon

recently, in recognition of the semester being over, i indulged myself and accepted an invitation to have a beer in the afternoon. or rather, a cider, to be precise. i sat oustide with two students in our program and watched people walk by as we discussed a range of topics and enjoyed the just-right warmth of a spring day. as i walked back to my office afterwards, i recall feelings of guilt. as if i had broken some unwritten rule... crossed yellow and black caution tape...

earlier this year, i experienced a similar feeling when i shared some ideas for research with some individuals whose support i'll need to move forward with my project ideas. i laid out a plan for engaging youth as co-researchers in exploring certain dimensions of the "school-to-prison" pipeline. i emphasized the role of young people as not only informants but as participants and collaborators in the research design. the questions that followed had less to do with the project and more to do with my sanity regarding this approach. as they raised questions about "safety" and "trustworthiness," i could feel my insides shriveling and slowly detaching themselves from my skin. i began to feel guilty for suggesting new methodology, but later realized that it had more to do with the disruption to business as usual and all of the ontological and epistemological implications such a proposal entailed. it was as if i had taken a swig from a flask right there in the middle of an otherwise civilized meeting.


a long road ahead...

my younger brother graduated this past weekend, which directly translates into: a lot of time with my family, namely my parents who live closeby but who i see not too frequently, and certainly not for two straight days at a time.

during a conversation with my father on the very long, rainy, and construction-ridden drive back, i found myself defending television... again. to the casual observer, i might have sounded a bit maniacal as i declared, with fervor, that it wasn't the tv watching itself that was the point, but rather the context in which the watching of tv occurred. that is, is tv seen as another text with which kids engage? and are parents motivated to ask them about the shows they watched in much the same way as they inquire about the stories found in the books they read?

in response, my father replied with a vignette starring the granddaughter of one of his colleagues who, he said, rarely, if ever, watches television and on a recent visit to his friend's house he witnessed the hypnotizing effects of television as this otherwise "bubbly and loving child" (his words) sat transfixed and immune to the happenings of the world around her. wouldn't we excuse that behavior, i asked him, if the same child exhibited the same reaction (or lack, as it were) while engrossed in a book? i reminded him of the hours and days i spent lying in my bedroom completely transported to other worlds as i read printed text, much in the same way as i was fully immersed when i watched television; yet i only ever got reprimanded when i watched tv.

i guess i need to order him a copy of steven johnson's book and hope that he, and others like him for whom reading trumps tv any day, recognizes that we live in a technicolor world - one that transcends the boundaries of black and white print on paper, and that to keep hierarchicalizing texts in this way is not only a waste of time, but delegitimizes experiences that some of us hold quite dear.


reading as wine tasting

there is a scene in the movie french kiss that, to me, personifies the experience of reading.

in it, kevin kline's character (luc) scaffolds the wine tasting experience for meg ryan's character (kate) by intentionally blending the sensations of smell and taste with the use of a box which has in it numerous smells including lavendar, rosemary, and other herbs and flavors used in winemaking. luc asks kate to taste the wine and asks her to describe it. she does, and her description is adequate, acceptable. she might score well on a test. he then asks her to close her eyes and inhale a scent he places near her nose and then asks her to taste the wine again. she does, and this time kate can taste more in the wine - flavors that were there the first time, but that are "visible" to her palette after her olfactory experience. her new response might risk fracturing the 5 paragraph essay format and she may fail...

i've been thinking about this scene a lot over the last several months as i've been delving back into research literature that explores (and often bemoans) the state of adolescents' literacies. on the one hand, there is little space for their interpretations, literacies, and lives in the space of the school day (or, too often, in adolescent literacy research...); and on the other hand, there is little space or time in the school day, or curricula to offer new scents and lenses for youth to read their worlds and to reread texts and to delve deeply into the history of the soil in which the grapevines grow.

i was also thinking about the art of wine tasting as reading after watching breakfast on pluto. i won't go into the plot details but will say that i loved it and think it's absolutely worth watching. which is why i want to forget some of it before watching it again. that is, in the act of rereading, or re-watching in this case, the experience is never quite like the first time, but i'm wondering what scents and flavors i can experience before watching this movie again, for the first time ... (the first again-time, that is)


what if you don't know what you're good at before you try it?

today's ny times had two articles that captured my attention, both for their content and mutual resonance.

freakonomics authors stephen dubner and steven levitt, in their monthly column for the paper, took on the age old question of whether practice really does make perfect. based on their review of anders ericsson's research, the answer is a resounding yes! few of us, the authors argue in their article titled "a star is made," are born with the inherent ability to achieve/perform/excel at high levels without additional practice thrown in. they note:
"This is not to say that all people have equal potential. Michael Jordan, even if he hadn't spent countless hours in the gym, would still have been a better basketball player than most of us. But without those hours in the gym, he would never have become the player he was."
in another article on the sims, titled, "welcome to the new dollhouse," the author, seth schiesel, notes that this game, and others like it, are replacing the role that dolls used to occupy in the lives of children. schiesel includes quotes from young players and older academics alike; among them, jim gee, who posits that, "[Video games are] a great resource for them to design and think about relationships and social spaces."

where the article begins to break down, and where these game researchers and psychologists could take a lesson from the freakonomics noted above, is when gender is addressed in all too simple terms.
"Modern girls are very interested in video games, but then when they get toward high school they start to gravitate away because they begin to think that boys don't like girls who play games," said Professor Gee. "They give up their interest in video games around the same time they give up their interest in science and math and that's a real problem because boys use video games to foster an interest in technology, and if girls give that up we're going to continue to see a real gender imbalance in these areas."
levitt and dubner begin their piece by revealing that over half of european professional soccer players are born in the first three months of the year. then, at the end, explain that since the cut off for most team selections is done by calendar year, the kids who were born in december of a given year as assessed on their skill level alongside kids born in january. as the authors write:
"Guess which player the coach is more likely to pick? He may be mistaking maturity for ability, but he is making his selection nonetheless. And once chosen, those January-born players are the ones who, year after year, receive the training, the deliberate practice and the feedback — to say nothing of the accompanying self-esteem — that will turn them into elites."
shouldn't we be asking, of video games, more about the kinds of possibilities these games open up for kids who might not have thought to explore or pursue various avenues prior to playing games? what kinds of practices, identities, and rabbit-holes do these games allow kids to discover and create in ways that other activities do not? and, from a pedagogical standpoint, knowing that practice - and specifically ericsson's notion of "deliberate practice" - can develop, nurture and challenge an existing skill or talent, particularly when there is immediate and sustained feedback, what can we ask about how the girls who play video games are encouraged and supported to pursue their practice?

and finally, from the dollhouse article:
Ms. Kelleher of Carnegie Mellon said her research with school-age girls made much the same point. "If you walk into a room full of girls and ask them, 'Who wants to learn to program computers?' you don't get very many hands," she said. "But if you ask them, 'Who wants to learn how to make a movie like Pixar or perhaps something like The Sims?', you get a very different response. And fundamentally, those two activities can be the same thing."
why? and is this always the case? if yes, if no - where? why? when?



check this out:

imagine the avatar-being, storytelling, world-creating fun you could have with this!

i really hope it's not a hoax... i always have this fear whenever something crazysuperfun is revealed to me. (thanks, ingrid!)


adolescent images

i love this image:

reminds me of what laurence fishburne was said in a wire image podcast interview - that there are possibilities for representing different images of the african american community and the movie he is currently featured in, Akeelah and the Bee, is an example of one such image. i haven't seen the movie, but am intrigued both by its premise and the lead actress, keke palmer.

the image above (it should change pics periodically) is taken from the website for the Youth Media Development Forum taking place this year in Mali. yes, i want to go; no, i'm not going. what's particularly interesting about this forum is that the organizers intend for this to be a forum for youth media producers from developing nations. there is tremendous potential, in an event like this, for new images to be produced and emerge. if anyone attends, or is planning to attend, do let me know!