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Cultural Autobiography

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Sergio Diaz Luna

Multicultural Ed

Professor Cohen

1 March 2015

The Professor

I’m from a humble home in Pomona, CA where I learned to be happy for what I have, where I grew to appreciate the underappreciated things in life, and where I developed a conflicting identity of myself. Both of my parents are first generation immigrants from Mexico and we live that low-income life. Ever since I can remember they’ve been there to provide and care for me and have contributed greatly to who I am today. I remember days when my mom would take me by the hand as we walked through the grocery shopping and Saturday mornings as we would walk through the Swapmeet in our town. At times I would work up the courage and ask her if she would buy me a toy, as stressed as the last batter in a World Championship with the win in his hands, and I would often strike out; walking home sad about not getting a power ranger. I grew to understand that I couldn’t always have what I wanted and I had to make sacrifices and learn to live without much. I didn’t think much of it at the time, I thought everyone lived in the same way I did. It wasn’t really until I began going to school when I began seeing difference. I remember the first time I was in a place where English was spoken directly to me and I didn’t have my mom there to comfort me in my confusion. I felt so weird in that space and as any preschooler would I cried for my mom. It was an interestingly important moment in my life, and little did I know that it would eventually foreshadow my educational career.

            My first year at school was an experience that I realize now, looking back at it, was all about segmenting my life into home-life and school-life. Although this separation might not be something all people face, it was something explicit in my experience that was highlighted by the two spoken languages. At home, the only language my parents speak is Spanish. It was my first language, the language I spoke to my childhood friends in as we walked to school, the language I grew up listening on TV and radio, and the language that I learned to express my feelings through. It’s an important aspect of my identity that is inseparable to who I am today. Unfortunately I am not inseparable from the language. You see, while Spanish is familiar to my present being and the means through which I communicate with my beloved family, English has become the language through which I think of and process information. I’ve learned English in a formal setting with school teachers explaining to that verbs describe and action and that pronouns are used in place of people or things and that you have you use a comma in between certain parts of a sentence to have it make sense. I learned about sentence structure and how to write an essay in English, how to process and speak effectively in English. I don’t have to point out that there is a considerable gap in between those two worlds. However, I do have to explain that poetry doesn’t mean the same to me in English as it does in Spanish, that in one language I have been taught to read phrases looking for literary meaning while in the other I read them for what they are. I have to explain that while some families can talk with their children about what they are learning and have deep political discussions in the language they know, I struggle transcending the boundaries between my English educational life and my Spanish home-life; I struggle talking to my parents about Mexican politics or about issues of race because I don’t have the Spanish vocabulary, I never formally learned it. This barrier between Spanish and English has created a different sort of dialogue between my parents and I that might have contributed to some disadvantages in formal and informal interactions with both languages. In this form, the back and forth Paulo Freire and Ira Shor have about dialogue presents yet another challenge to my life. (Freire and Shor) Although I could contribute to dialogue in English in a classroom setting. How can I have effective dialogue in both languages when I know both in different ways? This concept doesn’t just relate to my interactions with English and Spanish. It also relates to my disconnection between the cultured school and my cultural life.

            Pomona is a predominantly Latin@ city with a good portion of us being working-class residents. There is a large first-generation population in our city that makes us different from other cities. In my view, Pomona is a marginalized city with almost all of its population having at least one underprivileged identity (when speaking in broader US-terms) including but not limited to race, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, migration status, and/or gender identity. There are, however, many non-profit programs in our city that are meant to be an equalizer that actually improves the status of migrants, Latin@s, and low-income families. These aspects make Pomona a unique town and by first understanding this aspect of my city we can understand my world view. Characterized as a “ghetto,” many people from Pomona and outside of it look down on the city as it were a detriment to society. This has led me and many of my friends to “Other” ourselves from mainstream American society because we don’t fit into the traditional American cultural model. When I was in my early-mid teens, I would traverse the city on my skateboard or BMX bike with a group of friends, eating at McDonalds, going to the LA County Fair to walk around, and making trips to Wal-Mart while shoplifting things we wanted but didn’t have the money to buy. We followed our own set of rules because no one was going to give us what we wanted. We were on the brink of understanding something deep; inequality. We were noting differences in clothing, housing, and even interactions between us in our trailer park, and those on the other side of the tracks. Nowhere was this more apparent than at school. Although school was supposed to be the great equalizer it showed deeply rooted tensions between social classes even though it was just the difference between middle-class and low-income class. Since most of us were similar ethnically, the interactions between teachers and students varied greatly depending on socioeconomic class. It was in this space where the address of a teacher was meant for students acclimated to a mainstream culture environment and responses by friends like mine were condemned. This experience is closely related to Ann Berlak’s analysis of the ‘adaptive unconscious.’ (Berlak) Whether or not the teachers were taking into consideration their own biases before the class, I feel that in this experience the lack of teacher consideration of our experiences and our own “adaptive unconsciousness” made our interactions in the classroom difficult and paradoxically made us interact less in the classroom and further marginalizing us from the institution of education. Similarly, Chia-lin Huang tries to make sense of the teachers role in multicultural education especially when faced by a group that is an ethnic majority. (Huang) This difference might be obvious to a college-educated teacher but the implications of socio-economic class might be overlooked. The teacher coming in from a more privileged background must take this much more into consideration and think about how student interactions will vary from their own experiences and therefore they must be careful not to further ostracize them and instead help bridge the gap between institution and life. That gap is something I am greatly struggling with here in college specifically through the privilege I’ve obtained as a low-income Latino male in college.

            I was getting into too much trouble a young teen and my mom lotteried me into a fancy public school in the rich part of town. Seperated from my friends I had to accustom to a new environment and while I still hung out with the Others, even the Others in this environment were focused and competitive in school. Coming into high school I was back with my old friends but my classes were completely different. I was in AP and Honors classes as I had always been but this time I didn’t see my friends often as their schedules completely mismatched with mine and instead I was surrounded by new faces that were competitive in school. I joined extracurricular activities because all of my new friends were doing it and that’s how I met more school-oriented people. This environment itself was an opportunity for me to expand my horizons and seek my personal intellectual growth at the expense of my previous friendships. Throughout high school I had the privilege to attend summer school to further my placement in math to be one above grade level, attend a prestigious summer college-simulation program at Pomona College, and be mentored by a college-access program that helped me through my college applications applying to the most prestigious schools in the country. This educational focus is ultimately who I am today and although my best friends are still those who I messed around with all my teens, I acknowledge how I’ve changed by acculturating to the elite environment.

Although these opportunities have greatly contributed to who I am today and helped me get to a top college in the country as a native Spanish speaker and son of immigrants, I still have a yearning and I acknowledge that I will not be able to speak with my friends or family the same again. They will forever see me as “the professor,” as they have nicknamed me, because now that I am in this school, thousands of miles away from home. I won’t be the same again. I remember one time when I went back home for one of the breaks and away from the utopian safety of Haverford, driving through the main road in front of my trailer park, looking at the ragged fences and littered streets, I felt foreign. For a brief moment I felt scared as if something bad was going to happen to me. For the first time in my life I was on the wrong side of the tracks. But I was on my side; I have been living here my whole life. As soon as I realized my reaction I stopped myself. This deeply seeded bias against my community was something I learned here at Haverford. Are all the white faces and nice smiles fucking with my psyche? Are they making me soft? Am I forgetting who I am where I came from and why I’m here? Even worse: am I becoming one of them? Will I too be someone who just wants to escape the ghetto and never look back? I honestly fucken hope I don’t. I’m not here to be a sell-out fake-ass White-in-Latino clothing mother fucker. I’m here to learn the institutional language and bring it back to my people to advance our success. I will return, I can promise that. Just not the same.




Works Cited:

Berlak, Ann. "Challenging the Hegemony of Whiteness by Addressing the Adaptive Unconscious." Undoing Whiteness in the Classroom: Critical Educultural Teaching Approaches for Social Justice Activism. New York: Peter Lang, 2008. 47-66. Print.

Huang, Chia-lin. "Professional Actions Echo Personal Experiences." Becoming Multicultural Educators: Personal Journey toward Professional Agency. Ed. Geneva Gay. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2003. 181. Print.

Shor, Ira, and Paulo Freire. "What Is The 'Dialogical Method' Of Teaching?" A Pedagogy For Liberation: Dialogues On Transforming Education. South Hadley, Mass.: Bergin & Garvey, 1987. 97-119. Print.

Visual Representation:

Lyrical Translation: My Past and My Present

I’m going to talk to about my life
Not everything is what it seems, I have also struggled
I come from humble people and there are many sad moments impossible to forget
My poor parents overworked themselves too hard
Their purpose to never leave us hungry
A dose of love for dessert
Maybe we were very poor but very fortunate

I was born in Sinaloa
I’m from a town of anguish if anyone has a doubt it’s close to the thread
By fate of destiny in little time I was brought to Sonora
The course of the clock marks the hours
Time passes as do many things
My father and my brother I had lost
Sometimes I look happy but the reality is another

My mother is back in the ranch
I apologize if I’ve never told you that I appreciate all that you’ve given me
I’ve learned to value the beautiful things and my past honestly makes me proud
The times that I’d play with my brothers
Running around laughing and barefoot
They’re moments that are vivid in my mine
Although luck has changed my course I started from the very bottom

Then I spent time in the streets
Aboard a patrol car I told myself life is hard but I have to keep on trying
One day I met a friend and when he saw me he asked want to do a job
I remember that I answered instantly
You tell me I’m ready to put in the effort
Since then I’ve had support from the man
With his brother I’m always moving all the homies already know it

Now life has changed me
Today everything is different I don’t show off my money but there’s money for tortillas(food staple)
And to those who passed away we have them in our minds of course you’re not forgotten
A greeting to the townfolk that take care of me
The boys always have the shot up
Activated is the team and they act as one
Much love I’m el tunco and I’m close to the line