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My takeaway from The Great Wall of L.A. tour: Ethnic Studies now!

The Great Wall of Los Angeles is a half-mile mural in the Tujunga Flood Control Channel of the San Fernando Valley that reveals the underrepresented histories of ethnic California. Though the mural shows moments between the Pre-Historic Era and the 1950s—years beyond my birth date—its message remains relevant to me: Ethnic peoples’ voices matter.

The content I learned during the Discover L.A. Bike Tour of The Great Wall of L.A. made me reflect on my K-12 California public school education, and what I was not taught about California’s history.

The reality is I was exposed to more ethnic history during this tour than I ever was in my time in public schooling.

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Often this mural is acknowledged as a monument to inter-racial harmony, both in how it was developed and in its aesthetic. However, I think it’s also a monument for what it can spark. For me it reinforced my passion for Ethnic Studies–the interdisciplinary study of ethnic groups. I grew eager to learn more and at the same time I thought how incredibly empowering it would’ve been for me to have Ethnic Studies in my public high school.

Middle school and high school were composed of me hating reading. Instead I wrote stories that were relatable to me. I didn’t read any ethnic literature. I didn’t even know that such writers of color existed. If I did read about ethnic groups, it was written from the perspective of a white male.

In essence, The Great Wall of L.A. is a claim for ethnic existence. The perspectives afforded to me throughout this mural made me think about how painful it is to reimagine these histories, but at the same time how necessary it is to learn them.

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In California, where about three-quarters of students in K-12 public schools are non-White, Ethnic Studies are rare. I can attest to that. I never came across history from the perspective of ethnic groups and neither has my younger sister nor my cousins.

The National Education Association, in its research review “ The Academic and Social Value of Ethnic Studies,” reports that an overwhelming dominance of Euro-American perspectives lead many students to disengage from academic learning.

The NEA adds that since the 1960s, educators, scholars, and activists have pressed schools, districts, and textbook companies to produce curricula that is representative of the U.S.’s diversity. In the 1970s and 1980s, when The Great Wall of L.A. was completed, textbook publishers addressed Euro-American biases and ethnic group stereotypes that were being perpetuated in their textbooks.

However, the NEA reports that although some progress has been made in adding ethnic history into school curricula, “Whites continue to receive the most attention and appear in the widest variety of roles, dominating story lines and lists of accomplishments.”

The U.S. has a history of censorship. Moreover, Ethnic Studies bans have not been uncommon and legislative pushes for Ethnic Studies in public schools have not been too successful. But in California, Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville) is currently gaining support from lawmakers for his new Ethnic Studies bill. Alejo has not received the same clash that has been seen in other states.

AB 1750 will require California to form a task force that will study how to best implement a standardized Ethnic Studies program for high school students. I believe that the bill can begin to address the important gaps in students’ knowledge and serve as a model for the rest of the country.

“Rather than being divisive, ethnic studies helps students to bridge differences that already exist in experiences and perspectives,” the NEA reports. “In these ways, ethnic studies plays an important role in building a truly inclusive multicultural democracy and system of education.”

Research shows that both students of color and White students have benefited academically and socially from Ethnic Studies. In fact, students of color are more engaged academically, with graduation rates for students of color increasing significantly. But opponents argue that Ethnic Studies is divisive and that it fosters anti-American perspectives.

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The Great Wall of L.A. illustrates the purpose of ethnic studies perfectly. It’s about understanding our past so that we can know how to exist harmoniously in the present. It’s about equal visibility and finding commonalities in struggle and triumph, without thinking of a particular race or ethnicity as superior. Now, the process of learning must be a process of unlearning.

From the perspective of ethnic groups, Ethnic Studies makes sense. But why do White students need Ethnic Studies?

To be honest, I can’t expect White students to understand the underrepresentation of ethnic groups. But, education allows such insensitivity to be transformed into something other than ignorant actions. It begins to harmonize our differences, much like The Great Wall of L.A. does.

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Mexico’s Independence Day! Wait..what are we celebrating again?

Today is Mexico’s Independence Day from Spain and yesterday marked the first day of the Latin@ Heritage Month in the U.S.  However, last month I had the privilege to visit Mexico City and I found out about a line of events that took place in the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (National Autonomous University of Mexico), better known as UNAM.  These events included workshops and performances dedicated to celebrating Black hxstory: Agosto Negro.

A group of students organized Agosto Negro to shine light on Black identity, one that has been marginalized in Mexico.  These students talked about Blackness as worldwide but emphasized the importance of acknowledging it in a country where the reigning identity is the mestiza or mestizo (person of mixed Spanish and Indigenous ancestry).  The mestiz@ identity has politically erased the Afrikan element from Mexico, even as the Afrikan element strongly remains in the people and their traditions.

I attended Agosto Negro at UNAM for a full day.  I was able to presence a viewing of a documentary about the Civil Rights Movement in the United States followed by a panel of student speakers who shared their knowledge on various Black leaders around the world, political prisoners, and the significance of hip hop. The day culminated with a performance by two local rappers that go by Fuera de Servicio. This was my favorite part of the day because their flows poetically summarized the knowledge that was shared through out the day’s workshops.

It is important to critically think about what it really means to celebrate being independent and being Mexican today.  It is important to critically think about what it means to celebrate a month of Latin@ heritage in the U.S.   And it is important to critically think about what identities are being celebrated over others. At the end of the day, the point is not to be divisive based on differences, but to create solidarity between our similarities.

 

Watch these clips to see Fuera de Servicio’s flows!

 

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Yuri’s Records Hold Intimate Summer Show

On August 31st, Yuri’s Records hosted its annual chalk contest and in-store performances of local bands to celebrate the local talent in the South East Los Angeles area.

Yuri’s has opened their doors to many local bands during their monthly showcase for the last two years.

“There is so much talent in South Gate. Even the cities that are neighboring us, they have so much talent but they have nowhere to play,” said Jacquie Farfan, owner of Yuri’s Records. “Especially groups that are younger that can’t play at bars. This is a free event where everyone is welcomed to come in.”

Alongside local performances, Yuri’s also showcases artists through their art galleries and opportunities like the chalk contest. These events are part of a larger plan to reopen the Allen Theatre for these public presentations. The Allen Theatre, located right next to Yuri’s, was primarily a movie theatre and turned to a venue for rock concerts. It has been closed for over seven years with no notice of opening soon.

“We’ve also organized, trying to bring what we are doing here back to the Allen,” said Farfan.

Throughout the hot Sunday evening, four local bands played for a small crowd inside the intimate record store. But, the overbearing heat did not stop the audience from dancing and hanging out with the band members.

“In South Gate there’s not many entertainment options, so the fact that they have this is great. There’s something for all ages,” said April Jimenez, from The Honey Tones.

With the support of small stores like Yuri’s, local bands are able to flourish and gain more attention.

“It’s always cool to have a music scene,” said Jonathan Rivera, from Curly Bear. “It’s a good outlet for me to play and for people to see other bands that are coming around. Not just go to Staple Center and see The Black Keys and shit. It’s cool. It’s alive and it’s happening.”

The bands that performed were: Paper Sails, The Honey Tones, Curly Bear, and Sun Craves. Like Yuri’s Records on Facebook for updates!


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