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Nomatic Folk No.3,p.27,29,31,33,35-36

Popular Education, La Escuela Popular Norteña

Sunday 1 January 1995

Popular Education

La Escuela Popular Norteña

Who Knows us? Who knows us as Latinas and Latinos in the U.S.? Dominicanas, Centroamericanas, rural and urban Chicanas, Puertoriqueñas, rural and urban Mejianas, gente de America del Sur, Cubanas? Who knows our situations, who knows our needs, problems, hopes, strategies for survival, the directions we need to take? Part of the situation that confronts us is the Issue of control of knowledge; of who it is we get to be. The people that tell us who we are, who make decisions about our problems our needs, where we can move, who tell us who and what we are - - do not know us. They just make us up to be like them or invent who we are and how to handle us. The relation between knowledge and control over our lives is crucial to our survival and well-being.

In these pages we want to explain that popular education for us at the Escuela Popular is a central tool towards any social movement that takes our voices seriously. That is why we are getting together. Such movement begins with us taking each other seriously, with our learning each other. We need to hear each other’s voices and practice our own voice being heard attentively and critically by others, including other Latinas and Latinos. We need to understand our own and each other’s voices in a critical way that does not take the authority of the speaker away. We need to elaborate an understanding of who we are what our problems are what our needs and wants are what our situations are, what directions we need to take. We need to elaborate that understanding and put it out: put it out in our communities, in public for everyone to see. We need to move together towards our sense of being heard and dealt with publicly.

We need to get together to formulate that understanding and produce knowledge that does not assume we Latinas and Latinos are all the same. On the contrary, each one or us needs to be ready to say: "These are the limits of my understanding. I see the situation this way, but that does not require that I assume the next woman or man will see it the same my. I need to listen to her or him and be prepared to hear something new, maybe so new that it is not even understandable to me. I need to be ready not to throw it out but to work towards understanding."

As things stand, we do not know each other. People in this moiety do not know us. Everything in this society keeps people from knowing each other and keeps us from attending to each other’s needs. Different agencies, different group, different political movement, are used against us or to try to help us. But they are used in such a way that they tell us who we are and what our needs are supposed to be. They present a version of ourselves to ourselves. They accommodate us to the extent that they say we are just as any other people. But they ignore all of the differences.
Others may draw their conclusions about a person or a community’s oppression based on a picture that is false or misleading. But in defining and working towards social change, we need to take up the authority of knowledge, the authority of our voice, and move with it, change our situation as we see fit, after taking distance to engage in collective critical and complex mutual understanding. Thus in popular education, we look towards each other, jointly constructing a vision for our future. We determine the direction.

So what does it take to know us? What does it take for us to listen to each others? It required giving oneself over to listening and hearing. Concentrating on each other’s voices, on what we say about ourselves and each other. That will already be tramsformative. Listening without fear and responding, thinking deeply about oneself in relation to others, can further the transformation and the complex unity that result. This is particulary difficult for Latino men to do with Latinas. But of course that is part of the reason that needs to change.

At the Escuela Poplar Norteña, we engage in popular education in a way that takes into account cultural complexity, cultural and material domination, and colonization. We work towards a complex unity that does not erasae bits of who we are and what we need for the sake of agreement or common ground. Complexity and unity are at odds. Simplification is always a tol of oppression: it simplifies us out of the picture.

Complex unity is based on hearing each other learning each other, coming to understand what we do not understand, coming to see the borders of our own worlds and making our worlds larger or getting ourselves from our worlds to other’s worlds. Complex unity leads to a transformation of our relations to each other and a transformation of ourselves. It also leads to a transformation, a fundamental change, in how we move and think of our needs, this transformation is thus also a transformation of the very concept of unity. The unity has to take seriously the complexity of our communities of our relationships, and of ourselves. Unity arises out of a complex communication: communication that is open to understanding each other as very different from each other. Together we can give voice to knowledge that is very complicated. Knowledge that doesn’t reduce us to being simply images of each other. It doesn’t reduce my desires to yours or yours to mine.

As we move together in complex unity, we recommend three particular attitudes to maintain towards each other and towards the situations we move through together. First, we do not look for agreement or common ground. Seeking resolution too soon, or plans for action that are simplistic or not open ended, indicates a discomfort and impatience with cultural plurality. Second, we do not look for simplicity. Rather we appreciate complexity. In developing complex unity, lots of things are going on at once, and one can not separate them, classify them, simplify them, straighten them out, without muting people. Finally, we recommend that people develop an ease in uncertainty. Because people are perceiving each other from so many different locations. and because we are attentive to that, we develop a sense that we are not sure we are being understood, or we do not know what kind of sense we are making. We are also uncertain about our understanding of other people. We are able to be at ease in uncertainty. These are attitudes that are good to keep in mind as one thinks about the possibility of complex unity.

Many people have a tendency to say, "This is what you are. This is how things are, and this is how the world is." But as soon as one does that complex unity is impossible. That is. we are telling people that the limits of "my" knowledge are the limits of reality. To say that is to say to other people the movement is going to be in "my" terms. Your needs are not going to be taken care of because your needs don’t exist.

Rather than say, "This is how things are," one needs to say, "From my position, my location, this is how things look. This is how your needs look, my needs look, how my relationship to you looks, how my relationship to other people look, how your relationship to other people look to me. Now, let’s look at what your needs are, and how things look from your location and your point of view." But as one does that, one recognizes that one has certain disabilities. "Instead of just telling you how you are, I need to check my prejudices and assumptions about you. There are lots of limits to my knowledge about you." We are in the habit of filling in people because that is what we are taught to do and so too oftener make people in our own Image or In the my we assume them to be.

The reason why the word "unity" is important is because it gives a sense of moving together. "Solidarity" has come to include sending letters saying ’’we are with you," when you’re not, or sending aid packages and then living as if that had taken care of the problem. But unity means "we are together." Bernice Johnson Reagon says that Black folks do not believe in saying "we" but rather say, "I" when they be together in unity. This was important to her in the Civil Rights movement. Because when I say "I shine" and you say "I shine" I know I am with other peoples, I hear it, and then the "we" shines through. But when you say "we" the "I" is hidden and when it comes down to it, the person saying "we"’ may not stick around, might not even shown up. Unity is something that you have to see to believe. because we don’t have it yet.

Self-transfermatlon is not done alone. It is a changing of relations to each other. Social change occurs through changing the homophobic, racist, ad economically oppressive conditions that we face, including the values that we hold. That requires the creation of different ways of thinking and desiring, different ways of treating people, different associations. It requires the formation of movement.

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