Spaces for Learning: Civic Engagement in the Classroom and in Public Sites of Memory

Endorsed by the OAH Committee on Teaching and the OAH Committee on National Park Service Collaboration and the Oral History Association

Type: Paper Session

Tags: Latino/a; Public History and Memory; Teaching and Pedagogy


Scholars of Latinx history challenge formal citizenship as the sole or highest measure of belonging in the United States. We use our research and public practices to contemplate how immigration, changing political borders, land displacement, and the denial of civil rights have shaped Latinx participation in democratic processes, particularly in the greater Southwest Borderlands. This panel weaves together the expertise of K-12 teachers, historians, and curators to explore new avenues for civic participation in secondary and higher schools of education, as well as in public spaces of institutional memory. How can scholars of Latinx and borderlands history better leverage partnerships with secondary educators, public historians, and historic preservationists to recognize alternative forms of social membership at a community level? How does speaking across institutional lines make knowledge more accessible outside of the academy? In this panel we will explore how educators at the secondary level use curriculum design, daily instructional practices, and family engagement to promote civic participation and community involvement. We will also consider how public historians position historic places as sites of Latinx community knowledge and as locations for mobilizing people, regardless of citizenship status or educational background, in public processes that sustain their connections to their homes and communities. Together, panelists will engage the audience in a conversation about cultivating democratic principles in different sites of learning, recognizing the myriad attachments people form to community and to place through the study of the past.

Papers Presented

An Archivist in the Classroom: Preserving Student Voice for Historical Justice

When the Appalachian poet George Ella Lyon first published her poem “Where I’m From” in the early 1990s, she could never have anticipated the impact it would have in classrooms across the nation. In the decades since, elementary and secondary school teachers have used Lyon’s poem to build community and belonging in the classroom by having students write their own “Where I’m From” poems. Education scholars have long noted the poem’s effectiveness for connecting students’ home lives to spaces of institutional learning when the two are readily partitioned off. Yet few scholars have explored “Where I’m From” poems as a site of historical inquiry and an archive of youth home-making. This paper explores over six hundred “Where I’m from” poems written by predominantly Latinx eighth-grade students in California’s San Fernando Valley from 2012—2018. It demonstrates that the classroom archive is a window onto the various attachments second-generation youth forge to home, community, and the past. While this paper focuses on the “Where I’m From” archive, it also raises questions about how we document the lives of historically marginalized voices—be they children, undocumented migrants, or others whose histories exist outside the traditional epistemic boundaries. It presents the Lakeview Charter Academy Archival Project as a case study in educational archiving practices and calls for collaboration between educators and scholars to better preserve the affective and intellectual lives of second generation Latinx youth.

Presented By
Julia Brown-Bernstein, University of Southern California

The Changing Voices of the Preservation Movement

Rigid ideas of what places can and should be preserved kept Latinx cultural heritage from entering the nation’s public and institutional memory for generations. Out of view of mainstream preservationists, Latinx communities labored to save their longtime homes, neighborhoods, and businesses throughout the twentieth century. Most had no formal training, and their protests fell on deaf ears in the halls of power. Nonetheless, they rooted themselves in everyday spaces, often putting their bodies on the line to defend their belonging and fight their erasure. This paper will situate contemporary efforts to preserve Latinx historic places in this longer genealogy of place-based advocacy. As I will demonstrate, community-led campaigns to protect significant buildings and cultural landscapes create new pathways into local government and widen the boundaries of institutional memory. Despite new diversity initiatives, decision-makers still deny landmark applications on the grounds of insufficient scholarship or a building’s physical integrity, regardless of affirmative community testimonios. Consultants overlook key places in fieldwork because they lack the cultural knowledge to read and interpret Latinx landscapes. Public officials fail to engage communities in consequential projects. Nonetheless, case studies from Los Angeles show how Mexican American and Chicanx activists leverage historic places to amplify their voices in public processes. This paper will connect local campaigns to national organizations like Latinos in Heritage Conservation, which cultivate democratic values and principles through preservation advocacy and education. Using a relational lens, I will also discuss how Latinx heritage practices have developed in collaboration with other communities of color.

Presented By
Laura A. Dominguez, University of Southern California

Subjects, Not Objects: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy as a Means of Developing Student Agency

Students come to the classroom with a variety of lived experiences that inform their social identities. Students often live in mixed status homes where individuals have a range of education levels. These factors, alongside family narratives, influence their perceptions of belonging, particularly when it comes to places with a formalized criteria for belonging, such as a school or a nation. This paper will describe how culturally responsive pedagogy creates a classroom culture where all students feel valued—as though their individual voices and experiences matter and that they belong as integral members of the classroom and school community. This sense of belonging within the classroom is a crucial stepping stone to enhancing a sense of belonging within a broader national and even global community. Through a year long curriculum designed around a combination of essential questions, beginning and ending with the question “What does it mean to be an American?” Latinx students question traditional perceptions of American identity. Through a critical lens on how history is taught and commemorated in texts, museums, and other cultural and historical sites, students study the examples of changemakers and develop the tools that help them recognize their own voices as powerful and deserving of inclusion. Students ultimately learn that no aspect of their identities, including age, precludes them from democratic participation.

Presented By
Michelle Elizabeth Hofmann-Amaya, PUC Lakeview Charter Academy

Tales from Los Courts: The Community Museum as Community Advocate

The Museo del Westside, a forthcoming community participatory museum, is located in one of the poorest areas of San Antonio, Texas, an area that is also so historically and culturally rich that it has been called the Mexican American cultural capital of the United States. As we work with our community to plan the Museo, the neighborhood we serve is under threat. Demolitions, land speculation, and gentrification have arrived. Two blocks from the Museo sits the city’s oldest extant public housing project, the Alazan-Apache Courts. Los Courts, as the community calls them, house approximately 1,800 people, but there are currently plans to demolish them to make way for a new development. This paper describes a community storytelling initiative with the residents of the Los Courts. This collaborative project confronts the residents’ impending removal due, empowers them to share their lives in their own words and through their own eyes, and demands recognition of their belonging in this community. Using oral history, photography, and community mapping workshops the project is documenting the lives of Los Courts residents and working with them to create public presentations of their stories while also working towards our institutional goal to not only be an advocate for our community, but also work with our community to build an equitable future.

Presented By
Sarah Zenaida Gould, Museo del Westside

Session Participants

Chair and Commentator: Lilliana Patricia Saldaña, University of Texas at San Antonio
Dr. Lilliana Patricia Saldaña is from San Antonio, Texas, and is an Associate Professor of Mexican American Studies at UTSA where she also serves as program coordinator for the MAS program and is co-director of UTSA’s MAS Teachers’ Academy which offers professional development for K-12 teachers and community educators.

As an activist scholar, Saldaña’s scholarship intersects Chicna/x/o studies, decolonial and anti-colonial studies, and education studies, and centers intellectual traditions from social movements. She’s published in nationally recognized journals, including Latinos & Education, Decolonization: Indigeneity, education & society, and Association of Mexican American Educators Journal. She is currently working on various scholarly book projects, including one that documents and examines the history of settler colonial public celebrations like Fiesta San Antonio in barrio schools

As a public intellectual, Saldaña bridges community and academia through innovative teaching, public scholarship, and professional service to the field and the community. She is actively involved in the statewide organizing efforts to expand MAS in K-12 schools and currently serves on the board of the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center which promotes social justice through cultural arts programming and historical preservation. She also serves on the board of the National Institute on Mexican American History of Civil Rights – the first institute of its kind in the U.S. dedicated to researching and documenting historic and contemporary civil rights milestones in education, voting rights, economic justice, and other civil rights forged in San Antonio and South Texas.

Presenter: Julia Brown-Bernstein, University of Southern California
Julia Brown-Bernstein is a doctoral student in history at the University of Southern California. Her research focuses on Latinx migrant home-making, memory, and relational race formation in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Ms. Brown-Bernstein graduated summa cum laude from Oberlin College with a bachelor’s in History and Latin American Studies. She was the recipient of a J. William Fulbright research grant to Santiago, Chile where she worked as a fellow-in-residence at the Universidad de Chile and conducted an ethnographic study of Chilean students born after the transition back to democracy. She later earned a master’s in education from the University of California, Los Angeles with a certification in Bilingual, Cross-Cultural, Language, and Academic Development (BCLAD) and a single-subject teaching credential in history. Ms. Brown-Bernstein taught eighth grade history for six years at Lakeview Charter Academy in Lakeview Terrace, California before returning to graduate school. While in the classroom, she directed professional development workshops, served as an exemplar history teacher for novice instructors, and was a mentor teacher in the Partnership to Uplift Communities' Alumni Teacher Project.

Presenter: Laura A. Dominguez, University of Southern California
Laura Dominguez is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Southern California, where she studies race, conservation, and placemaking in the American West. She previously earned a bachelor’s degree in architectural history from Columbia University and a master’s degree in historic preservation from USC. She is a recipient of multiple fellowships and awards, including the Del Amo Doctoral Fellowship, the Lois W. Banner Award for Women Graduate Studies, and a California Governor’s Historic Preservation Award. She was recently named a USC Mellon and the University of the Future Ph.D. Fellow for the 2020-2021 academic year. Ms. Dominguez’s professional experiences in historic preservation advocacy and education inform her scholarship. Her previous roles with San Francisco Heritage and the Los Angeles Conservancy included major projects that documented, interpreted, and preserved cultural resources associated with communities of color, women, and LGBTQ communities. In 2014, she co-founded Latinos in Heritage Conservation, a national organization dedicated to promoting preservation in Latinx communities, and she is currently a member of the City of Los Angeles Civic Memory Working Group.

Presenter: Sarah Zenaida Gould, Museo del Westside
Sarah Zenaida Gould is director of the Museo del Westside, an emerging community participatory museum that is a project of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center in San Antonio, TX. A longtime museum worker, she has curated over a dozen exhibits on history, art, and culture. Gould is co-founder and co-chair of Latinos in Heritage Conservation, a national organization that promotes historic preservation within American Latino communities and advocates for the protection of Latino (in)tangible heritage. Additionally, she serves on the boards of the El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail Association, the Friends of the Texas Historical Commission, the National Institute on Mexican American History of Civil Rights, and is an active member of the Westside Preservation Alliance, a coalition dedicated to promoting and preserving the working-class architecture of San Antonio's historic Westside. She received a BA in American Studies from Smith College and an MA and PhD in American Culture from the University of Michigan. She is a former fellow at the National Museum of American History, the Winterthur Museum, and the American Antiquarian Society, and is an alumna of the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture Leadership Institute.

Presenter: Michelle Elizabeth Hofmann-Amaya, PUC Lakeview Charter Academy
Michelle Hofmann-Amaya is an eighth grade English and Designated ELD (English Language Development) teacher at PUC Lakeview Charter Academy in Lake View Terrace, California. She earned a BA in Literature with an emphasis in twentieth century pan-Latin American literature from the College of Creative Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. She went on to earn her Single Subject Teaching Credential in Secondary English and a Master of Arts in Teaching at the University of Southern California. She has worked in classrooms and after school programs with students in elementary, middle, and high schools and has taught at her current school for the last seven years. In her current capacity, she served as a mentor teacher in Partnerships to Uplift Communities’ Alumni Teacher Program, designed and facilitated professional development workshops for fellow teachers, and has served on the ELD Cadre, a research team dedicated to curriculum development and providing school-site professional development to all teachers in support of students who are designated English learners. She is also co-sponsor of PUC LCA’s Student Leadership organization.