So what is your project, anyway? / by Michelle Nicola

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Sigh. I always start out with such good intentions. I plan my weekly schedule, settting aside time for work, sleep and play. I penciled in two hours of blogging time for every Sunday, time during which I was supposed to explain step by step, week by week, the evolution of my Fulbright project.  And yes, I have posted every few weeks or so, but when I received an email from a friend saying, “So what exactly is your project again?” I had to let out a belly laugh. There are my plans, and there are life’s plans. Last time I checked, life’s plans were scoring right and left. So even though, in this social media age of ours when it seems like any post over 24 hours later is passé, I am going to dedicate a few posts to explaining the teacher moves I made during the last few months. I know. Crazy me, writing about stuff that happened three months ago.

The goal of my project has always been this: I want to create educational materials for Spanish teachers who want to teach about the Afro-Mexican population. Years back, during my first year teaching I had a Black student who looked at me one day and said, “Wait, there are Black people who speak Spanish?” Yes, I told him, and set out to create lessons that would teach the class about Afro-Latinos, because for me, a huge component of being a social justice minded educator is making sure that my students see themselves reflected in the curriculum. When I do my job right, I should be helping my kids learn about themselves by learning about the world.

There was one problem- (which I talk about in this article) all of the materials I found were either a) in English or b) in a Spanish that was too difficult for my year one and two students. So, I submitted a Fulbright application to see if I could change that.

When I arrived in Xalapa, I spent the first month reading articles and interviewing the professors who wrote them. (Shout out to the amazing and incredible Aranzazú Hernández González for helping me arrange all that!)

Next, I went to the town of Coyolillo, where I proposed a series of workshops to the high and middle school principals. The idea was that I would teach a little English, and also do some creative writing activities in Spanish. The plan was to use the work that students in Coyolillo created as mentor texts for my students in the United States. The next step of this part will be to modify the unit to meet the needs of my students in the States.  We also managed to get a short letter exchange going between students in Coyolillo and Portland Public Schools, which students loved.

While teaching in Coyolillo, I also helped my friends at Casa Coyolillo, a cultural collective that works to empower and improve the lives of the people in their town. I interviewed some of the member, hoping to gather insight on some of the key issues facing Afro-Mexicans today. 

Lastly, I traveled to el Nacimiento, Coahuila and Pintotepa, Oaxaca to gather stories from other groups of Afro-Mexicans outside of Veracruz. My hope is to use this informa to write historical fiction mini-novels for students of Spanish.  

That’s pretty much it. In the next few blogs I’ll take you through it step by step.