On Thursday, we were having a lesson on understanding, asking and answering (discussion, short answer, essay) questions. Students have been reading student-selected books with partners. I asked them to write discussion questions about their books so that they could have a conversation about big ideas from their text with others who have not read the book.
One of my 10th graders wrote this discussion question for The Friendship (a novella by Mildred D. Taylor set in turn-of-the-century American South about a conflict that arises when a black man addresses a white store owner by his first name) : “Do you agree or disagree have friends with niggers?” I said the question used a very racist word. He said he's not racist, but then went on to say that Nicas (short for Nicaraguans) are dirty, stupid, talk stupid, violent – greeted by giggles from the rest of class. I said, “I'm not laughing.” Good strategy or not, I let him continue, so he could practice his English and I could listen and better understand. I asked why. Asked if others agreed (all did, one qualified “not all bad”). The student continued. Stupid. Kill people. 9 people at the bank (in Monteverde 2 years ago). Rotweiller chased a Nica. And girls. Men *hip thrust and smile* girls. I was overwhelmed with the matter-of-fact hatred.
I said I wanted to understand. Told students to bring in articles to show me, and “justify their opinion” (a phrase we were practicing). And we would talk about this topic more. Clearly haven't resolved, and I'm still figuring out what my plan will be for our next class on Tuesday. We didn't have class on Friday, since celebrating Children's Day and also a trip to see the play for 7th, 8th and 9th which I'll mention more below. Monday we have Independence Day celebrations.
During break, another student said a joke in Spanish about Nicas crawling on the floor in Pali (=Walmart) looking for “los precios mas bajos” (“the lowest prices”). I mentioned dumb blonde jokes. But rubias are beautiful. Ah, stereotypes.
On Friday, I went with students to see Cesar Melendez's El Nica, a powerful monologue about hate, marginalization. After some slides showing news headlines and graffiti with hate messages towards Nicas, the character, El Nica, stumbles onto the stage in a dirty, bloody “Pura Vida – Costa Rica” t-shirt with a giant smiling tree frog. He confides in a small cruxifix on the table – laughing, yelling, reenacting flashbacks. He apologizes to the audience for being poor, illiterate, for coming to the country, for his accent, for his dead father. He talks about political oppression, torture, real hunger, Ruben Dario, brotherhood, a dangerous crossing in secret of the San Juan River (border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica). A scene near the end involved him being beaten up by unseen attackers and ended with his arms outstretched, crucified. Play is 8 years old. Over 1400 performances. In a short Q&A after the performance, Cesar said wants a day when the message he presents is no longer needed and people stop coming. When we returned to CEC, the other students were wrapping up ice cream to celebrate Children's Day. No formal processing of the piece. What was understood? How will we continue this conversation? Where does prejudice come from? Political instability? Oppression? Poverty? Hate?
I've been trying to process what I've seen, and figure out what to do with this knowledge. Anna (my roommate and colegio science teacher) said that she saw most of the 10th graders at the play when they had a public performance, so we can use that as a common discussion topic to address these issues.
In the meantime, this weekend and Monday are celebrations for Central American independence from Spain, which originally was 5 provinces, now Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica (Panama part of Columbia). Here's a look at the parades that will happen tomorrow on the 15th. A major event involves a torch that leaves Guatemala at 4am on the 13th and is carried by youth down the Panamerican highway and into each community. Our town received the torch in a ceremony at 9am this morning, after high schoolers had been running with it all night from the highway and up the hill (taking turns, with a bus). This symbol of shared purpose and unity is so interesting when considered with the hateful anti-Nica speech I've been hearing.