Language, Learning and Love

Welcome! Use the pull-down menu to find information about my research, teaching and writing on language brokering, Cultural Modeling, pedagogies of heart and mind,  immigrant youth and families, and gender/literacy and power.  You will find links to public blogposts, academic papers, course syllabi and more. I invite you to leave comments: your reactions to my work, sharing of your own work, and dialogue with other readers.

On this page you’ll find my reconstituted blog (see Lessons on Impermanence), which offers reflections on these issues, and the themes of language, learning and love.  I have been thinking about these matters of heart and mind in41T4j75d6sL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ different ways since 1983: first as a classroom teacher, then as a researcher of language and literacy in immigrant communities and a designer of pedagogies, and always as a learner myself. Topics will include:

  • Reflections from my ongoing research on language and literacy practices in immigrant communities, both in and out of school
  • The “pedagogy of heart and mind” that we cultivate in an after-school program I direct in downtown Los Angeles (called “B-Club”), where Teacher Education students, and K-5 kids come together to learn while playing and play with learning  (See also my 2016 book: Immigrant Children in Transcultural Spaces: Language, Learning and Love)
  • Issues facing immigrant communities more broadly, especially the lack of love (and often direct hatred) that is directed against them.
  • Other random lessons from the grand School of Life.

For those who followed the blog that I began in June, 2015, please note that I was forced to restart in March 2016. I’ll be reviving the old blog posts in some form, but mostly learning from the past and moving onward, as is the way of Life.


Giving Thanks under the Threat of Extinction

downloadIMG_4845On this pre-Thanksgiving travel day, I am riding a train from Copenhagen to Amsterdam – opting for ground travel rather than a much shorter plane ride, as my small contribution to reducing my overly large carbon footprint. I love traveling this way: seeing the land stretch out before me, mingling with locals, hearing the sounds of multiple languages, feeling the distances between points that are eclipsed in the air. Plus train travel offers undistracted time for reflection and writing.

I will be meeting up with two dear friends/colleagues from London (also traveling by train): Ann Phoenix and Elaine Bauer. I met Ann and Elaine in 2009 when I spent six weeks on sabbatical working on Ann’s study of “non-normative” childhoods (see, analyzing interviews with the adult children of immigrants who serve as language and cultural brokers between their families and the larger social world. It was such a treat to meld minds with these brilliant and generous women, and to build friendships that have stretched across space and time.

That year I was in recovery from what I now call my “year from hell:” a time of multiple losses dealt through cancer, divorce, five surgeries, and the death of my father. It took me a long time to move through the grieving process, to heal and reach a profound sense of gratitude not just for surviving, but for all I learned about what really matters in life by facing the losses head on. I have reflected on that journey in another Thanksgiving blog (, and I channeled what I learned from these life lessons into my work, culminating in a book that just went to press last week (

Ten years later, as I approach another milestone birthday, and as the world moves into an increasingly threatening climate emergency, I want to dig deeper on the gratitude front, and think hard about what my moral and ethical responsibility is to the world, given all that I have received in my lifetime. Because in so many ways, I have come to see that I have been gifted with living through the very best years of the entire history of the species on the planet (from my social location, with all the privileges that my whiteness and location in the global north accords).

What do I mean by “the best years of the species”? The world was expanding; the Cold War had ended; and things were looking up, including on the social front, through the expansion of human and civil rights, and on the economic front, via the expansion of the global economy. Travel became more affordable and globalization had not yet set in (thus the world actually looked quite different in different places; you didn’t see a Starbucks on every corner). Social media had not yet colonized our lives. And we did not yet realize the possibility of our species’ extinction.

Ironically, the very things that made my lifestyle more comfortable (and that made it possible for my parents to raise eight children in modest circumstances, such as the invention of convenience foods and plastic) are now the very things that are contributing to the threat of

What is my responsibility in the face of these realizations?

When Trump was elected, my brother Robert suggested, only half facetiously, that perhaps it was time for us aging white folks to sacrifice ourselves for the welfare of the planet: via self-immolation in front of the White House, much as Buddhist priests did to protest the Vietnamese war. Robert has also suggested, again only half facetiously, that perhaps everyone should be given a “death day” – an appointed time to check out, once we’ve used up our fair share of the resources needed for life.

downloadI don’t think I’m brave or enlightened enough to set myself on fire. I’m not sure I’ll ever be courageous enough to voluntarily “check out” of life.  And while I believe deeply in the equitable sharing of resources – not just a political stance, but one that was strongly enculturated by growing up in a family of ten people – I also recognize that even in an ideal world all resources can never be distributed with complete equity. We can strive to make things fair for others, but in the end, we each get what we get, of both tangibles and intangibles, such as our share of beauty, intelligence, love, belonging, and connection.

The question is, what do we do with what we get?

Perhaps we can do more good by staying alive and sharing our gifts with others than by sending shock waves through our families and nation through the kind of dramatic actions my brother suggested. (So please don’t worry that I am suicidal. Nor is my brother.)

The first thing we can do, I think, is to deeply and fully embrace what we have, with gratefulness, rather than focusing on what we didn’t get, or what we have lost. (However, as per my previous Thanksgiving blog, I realize that grieving can’t be rushed, anger and resentment can be part of the journey, and we can achieve a deeper sense of gratefulness when there is room for us to name our suffering as well.)

And then, we can do what we can to pay it all forward. The tangibles and the intangibles. Share what we have received with the world. For me, the spaces I most aim to do this are with my family, my students, and at B-Club. (See for blogs about this space that is my main place for community-engaged research and that is so dear to my heart; see also,204,203,200_

Feeling guilty or ashamed for what we have (as I have often done) won’t make the world a better place. Focusing on what we didn’t get won’t bring those things to us.  But we can make the world better by sharing what we have been given – and perhaps also by giving to others what we wished we had gotten ourselves. Perhaps, if enough of us do this, we can even turn the threat of extinction around, by moving beyond the grasping, never-enough, need-more-more-more human mentality that seems to have led us into this mess in the first place.

And we may even find that what we give to others comes circling back to ourselves – as indeed I have found, in the sense of connection, love and belonging I have received from B-Club love.

Visit to Adelanto ICE Processing Center

This blog reports on a  visit to the ICE Processing Center in Adelanto, California, organized by the Center for the Study of International Migration at UCLA.

We headed out from UCLA around 9:30 am on Thursday, November 14. Five of us packed in to the car: two Sociology professors (Roger Waldinger and César Ayala), two graduate students and I. Another student was to meet us near the Detention Center. The freeway was remarkably open, and we sailed across the City of Angels and out into the southeastern desert. In the car we discussed what we each anticipated the visit would involve, and realized that most of us had rather little idea of what to expect.

Ninety minutes later we encountered a sign telling us we had arrived at Adelanto: “The city of unlimited possibilities.” The irony was not lost on us.


We met at a coffee shop with our contact to the facilities, a visitor-volunteer who spends countless hours as well as her own money to support migrants. She keeps records about who is housed in the facilities, the status of their asylum cases, and other basic information. She helps them advocate for their rights and secure things they need, including visitors, basic supplies, and access to lawyers, as well as information, help and basic goods if and when they are released.  We were provided with a list of asylum seekers who don’t have families and friends in the area and who have not had visitors in a long time.

IMG_4758The facilities were tucked in a far corner of this desert town, itself already well isolated from the larger metropolitan area of Los Angeles. A sign bears the GEO label; this “Modified Community Correctional Facility” is actually a complex of facilities, including a prison and two migration detention center buildings, all run by the GEO group, a for-profit management company that claims it is “committed to providing leading, evidence-based rehabilitation programs to individuals while in-custody and post-release into the community.”

Isolation and separation are a large part of how the detention system works, like the prison system. People in detention are removed from the larger society – kept out of sight and thus out of mind. They are further separated and isolated within the centers, with visits possible only under carefully controlled situations. I spoke with a migrant from Ghana who told me there were three other Ghaneans in the facility, but they were (seemingly deliberately) housed in separate units, and had been discouraged from talking to each other. Men and women are also separated, not surprisingly, with different visiting days for each.  I don’t know where transgender people – a growing group of refugee seekers escaping persecution in their home countries – would be housed. Thursdays were designated for men.

IMG_4768We walked into the reception area. A framed poster behind the front desk read, “General Library” and sported an image of neatly organized books. To the right of the desk was a notice for “Attorney Appointments” with a phone number. There were two bank-teller-like machines across from the desk with a potted fern in between. These machines boasted “Send money the fast, easy, reliable way.” Other signs on the walls included one that decIMG_4769lared, “Keep Detention Safe” and proclaimed “zero tolerance” for sexual abuse and assault. The waiting area off to the side was lined with blue plastic chairs, and sported another series of framed posters: pristine images from around the facilities, all eerily devoid of people.

A guard in a powdered blue button-down shirt and uniform grey pants welcomed us, though “welcome” is surely not the right word. Most of the receptionists and guards that we interacted with that day avoided eye contact and stuck with the regulations: recording our names and the numbers of the migrants we wanted to visit, collecting our government-issued IDs, handing us keys to lock up our valuables – or not just our valuables, but rather everything we had with us, down to the chapstick I found in my pocket. We were given badges with our visitation numbers. The guards showed little curiosity about why our merry band was there.IMG_4770

One of our members had forgotten to bring his license. Not surprisingly, he was told that he would not be allowed to enter the facilities. This was an awakening to the privilege that many of us operate with: to move about the world without carrying official documentation of our legal status, not expecting to encounter checkpoints where our entry would be barred.

After waiting for some time in the waiting area, we were told we could proceed through the security detector. We were escorted by armed guards through a series of heavily bolted doors, past a window into the guards’ area where we saw a large board filled with handcuffs of different sizes, and into a holding area, where a “Continuum of Care” poster was prominently displayed.Screen Shot 2019-11-17 at 3.40.34 PM

We were then allowed into the visiting area: a room set with small tables and chairs, not unlike the one in the waiting room poster. Five or six men were there, waiting, spaced around the room. We were told where to sit – across from the migrant we had signed up to visit, not next to him. (This arrangement made it hard to hear – a fact that was aggravated by the ambient noise in the room.)

There were strict regulations about how people many could be in the room at the same time, and who could be mixed with whom. No recording instruments were allowed past the waiting area: no phones, notebooks, pencils or pens. At the end of the visits, we were allowed to write down the names and bunk/dorm numbers of the migrants, and to offer them our contact information – but only under the strict vigilance of the guards, who gave us stubby pencils and small scraps of paper. One of my colleagues reached over the desk to borrow a pen to jot something down, and was promptly scolded by the guard: “You should ask to borrow my pen.”

The migrants were all dressed in clean blue prison-like garb, except one older man who was in orange, visiting with a middle-aged woman, three younger women of varying ages, and a baby. We learned from that this man had lived in Los Angeles for 25 years; he had been detained by ICE after a traffic stop, and was now awaiting his deportation hearing.

Later, we asked our guide about the different color uniforms. She explained that those migrants who are deemed “low risk” or “docile” wear blue; red is for those who are considered “belligerent;” orange is for those deemed “in between docile and belligerent.” There is a careful system of monitoring who gets to be in the room at the same time: red and blue are never to mix. Some migrants are also “quarantined” when they are ill.

I met with a migrant whom I’ll call Ronald. Ronald was from Ghana. He had been in detention since December. He had left Ghana in June last year, traveling to Ecuador, then by boat to Colombia, and up through the Panamanian jungle. He said it was “very difficult” and he talked repeatedly about pain –both physical and psychological. I did not get a clear story about Ronald’s asylum case, though he mentioned that someone had wanted him killed. When I asked him what he wanted me to say to the world on his behalf, he said, “I am not a criminal. Not here, not there, and I never will be.” He made clear that he felt he was being treated as one. (We might wonder, just what are refugee seekers to be “rehabilitated” from, in GEO’s Continuum of Care?)

Ronald told me that he works in the cafeteria for 7-8 hours a day. For this, he is paid $1/day. He needs the money to buy items at the prison’s commissary (at heavily marked up prices) or to make phone calls – the phone calls that are promised in a waiting room poster. These phone calls cost $1 per MINUTE.

In the afternoon, I met with another migrant at the other unit of the detention center – this after our group waited for more than an hour. Eduardo (a pseudonym) was from Honduras.  His story was that he had been recruited by his uncle, who was a drug lord, into a gang. “I am not a killer,” he told me, and he felt he had to leave Honduras or be killed for his resistance. His asylum case had been denied, but was under appeal. He was afraid for his life, should he be deported back to Honduras. And he had lost contact with his wife and children.

Eduardo teared up as he, like Ronald, told me of his suffering. His immediate concern was physical pain. He had been hospitalized a few days earlier and had returned to find that his things had been stolen (documents and a few items he had purchased in the commissary, his pain medication, and the Claritin that he needed for allergies.) But it was the indignity that he had experienced that seemed most distressing: going in handcuffs to the hospital, then returning, still in great pain, and being told he had to stand in line like everyone else for his dinner. When he couldn’t stand, the guard let him sit down – but then told him he couldn’t eat.

When we parted, Eduardo asked me to call his mother to tell him he was ok. He asked me not to tell her about the pain he was in.  But the guard insisted that he write down the number for me. This meant that Eduardo had to translate the phone number into English for the guard. Perhaps it was a problem that arose in the translation or transcription, but when I called that number, and spoke in Spanish asking for Eduardo, I was met with the voice of an angry woman who told me, “Speak in English or get out of this country.”

These are just two of many migrants’ stories. Some eventually pass through the system and are released on bail to await their asylum hearings – like Donaldo, a 21-year-old Cuban who met with César.  Donaldo was released a few days later. With help from César and the foundation that supports migrants, he managed to post his $7500 bail, rent the required GPS surveillance device that will be used to track him, buy new clothes (because the clothes migrants bring into detention often do not serve them upon release), purchase a ticket to Tampa, stay over night in Los Angeles, and fly out to stay with relatives. Note: Without the help of foundations that post bail, migrants are left to borrow the money from bondspeople, who charge $1000 plus 20% of the bond. [One of the best ways you can help refugees is to contribute to organizations who post bonds. See below for a links.]

A few migrants may eventually be granted official refugee status. A few may give up on detention and opt to return to their home countries on their own. Others will be deported, to uncertain fates.


When we walked out the door at the end of the day I felt a tremendous surge of gratitude for freedoms I take for granted every day: to walk where I want to walk, in the open air, sunshine, or night sky. To eat what and when I choose. To purchase basic supplies, treat my own allergies, and go to the doctor without handcuffs around my wrists. Never mind to live without fear for my life.

Certainly, refugees suffer in many places around the world, not just the Unite States. Thousands are crowded into tents in northern Africa and put onto islands off the coast of Australia. There have been refugees throughout history who have been denied entry to this and other countries, even when we knew they were at risk for being rounded up and sent to their deaths.

But this clinical, neat, clean, prison-like approach seems uniquely American, and driven by a profit motive. Note that GEO’s stock portfolio shows a huge spike in November, 2016, right after Donald Trump was elected.Screen Shot 2019-11-17 at 3.29.23 PM

To me, the overall look and feel of Adelanto’s detention center was eerily reminiscent of the concentration camp I visited outside Munich this summer. Dachau was begun as a work camp, not an extermination camp; but that work was done in service to the nation, by people that the nation did not value as their own. I wonder what other Germans knew about what went on in these camps.

The American detention center system is not an extermination camp, though when we deny asylum we may well be sending people to their deaths. It is not a work camp, though at $1/day migrants’ labor surely contributes to the profits GEO reaps. But the parallels still bear consideration. Surely we can learn from history about the importance of knowing what is being done behind barbed wires, by people our nation deems less than fully human, in our name?

What we can do in the face of this system? I went to Adelanto in order to see with my own eyes the things that my government wants to keep out of view. I wanted to listen to people, hear their stories, and give them a chance to be heard. I wanted to respond to Ronald’s plea: “I need someone to talk with to receive my pain and sadness.” And I wanted to bring migrants’ stories to a larger public, so that no one can say, “But we didn’t know.”

The Center for the Study of International Migration at UCLA will continue to organize monthly visits. If you’d like to join us, please contact me or reach out the Center. We are also organizing letter-writing campaigns and a penpal program with migrants. This in addition to our work bringing together diverse forms of scholarship about migration matters. Check out the calendar of events at

See also for a list of actions you can take in support of migrants, including links to foundations that provide bail funds.

A proud mamá moment and reflections on all the gifts to the world that are lost

May I be a proud mama for a moment? I am filled with so many feelings as I contrast my personal joy with the pain I see in the world around me, and it’s all blurring together; I hope you will indulge me in sharing both.

First, I’m brimming with admiration at the hard work my son has done over the last four years at Berklee College of Music, where he has both pursued his love of jazz music as a tenor saxophone player, and acquired a whole new set of skills as an electronic sound designer. He has put together his musicality and these new technical skills to produce these three songs, which are now available on Spotify, Itunes, and other music platforms. He composed the music, plays sax and synthesizer on these tracks, mixed the sounds and did all the production work.

Have a listen:  (Or find it on your favorite music platform – Prism by Abstract Apathy.)

So that’s my proud-mama-bragging. But now I want to shift to some other thoughts and feelings that are jumbled together with this pride.

I know some people may look at my children and see them as white-looking, privileged children of a UCLA professor. On the one hand, this is who they are. I was able to pay for Andres’ college education (with the help of scholarships he earned), and he got to take music lessons while he was growing up. He also benefited from a public school that funds and supports arts education, including a fabulous jazz program.

But for the record, I wasn’t a professor when my kids were born; and I was one of eight children with a father who dreamed of but never got to go to college. Further – and more to the point that I want to make in this political moment: their own father was what would today be called an “unaccompanied minor:” he crossed the border at age 16, with his siblings, to join his mother, who had left Guatemala eight years before, to work in a garment factory in downtown LA, in order to send money back to her six children, who were struggling to survive under a military dictatorship in Guatemala. He was fleeing poverty and war in Central America – war that was funded and supported by the U.S.A. and that reverberates today in a new round of refugees.

And so, as I listen to the beautiful music Andrés has gifted to the world, I think about the young people who have recently died in the hands of the border patrol – all young, all from Guatemala – who didn’t get to pursue their own dreams, didn’t get to have children who got to go to college, didn’t get to follow their own passions, didn’t get to have the opportunities that my children got, due to sheer luck, pathways to citizenship, and quality public education.


I hope you will enjoy Andrés’ music, and take in the fact that he is the son of someone not unlike the 16-year-old who died this month in the hands of the border patrol: Carlos Hernández Vásquez.  (Say his name.) We might wonder at how much talent is lost to the world every day. What would happen if we treated all people as precious, as full of possibility, and supported them in surviving the injustices that have delimited their lives, and finding the gifts that they can offer to the world?


Becoming Marjorie E. Laine


I am trying on the idea of changing my name. After 35 years living legally as Marjorie Elaine Orellana, or, in my professional life, in a hyphenated state (without actually using a hyphen), as Marjorie Faulstich Orellana, I am preparing to cut off the last six syllables of my public persona, and privilege my given names, not the ones I inherited or married into: Marjorie Elaine. To make “Elaine” sound a bit more like a surname, I’m leaning toward Marjorie E. Laine. That rolls off the tongue easily; I could gloss it as Marjelaine or Marjolaine (which happens to be a lovely herb).

downloadI had thought my choices were to continue to walk the world as Marjorie Elaine Orellana (my legal name) or to file for an official reversion to my “maiden” name (Marjorie Elaine Faulstich), returning me as the person I once was: the sixth child and third daughter of Anna Marie Walter and Charles Nicholas Faulstich.  But this left me feeling tugged between two poles of patriarchy that no longer served my life. I’m not sure I would know how to re-become Margie Faulstich.  Nor would I necessarily want to.

In dropping Faulstich, I mean no disrespect to my own father.  In fact Charles Nicholas was the only b7db2a1357be94fc8c63aa9c330ad266person who ever called me Marjorie Elaine. Choosing to be Marjorie E. Laine is about connecting with my father, in my own unique way, and with my self: a version of myself that holds some continuity with the past, while offering a fresh way to move into the future. (Though I must admit, there is a part of me that is declaring: “Fuck the patriarchy” – something little Margie Faulstich would never have dared say.)

It’s not a simple thing to change a name that I have used professionally and personally for so many years.  I see this as a time of transition, and take inspiration from those who have made much more complex transitions, such as between gendered identities.  I will have to petition for the legal right to be Marjorie E. Laine; pay a fee; be prepared for reactions from – and confusion among – colleagues, families and friends; figure out how to change the domain name and master-head for this blog (something I’ve attempted, and was stymied by – so it may have to remain as is), and a gazillion other things.  It’s possible all of that will feel too daunting.  I may just take the path of least resistance and remind myself that a name is…just a name. My name does not define my character, and it can never name all that I am. A surname is a tag to mark some ties to other people. (Indeed, a reason to remain Marjorie Orellana is to mark my ties to my own children; but I trust that our bond does not depend on our names.)

I have written several longer versions of this announcement, elaborating on my thought processes, and reflecting on the meanings and histories of names. (Did you know that Faulstich loosely translates as “Lazy Bones?” Or even worse: “Putrid Wound”? There is some hidden history there that bears exploration, and perhaps some very old wounds to heal.  Just how did all my “Lazybone” family members gain such reputations as hard workers, who always do more than their share? )

Sharing drafts with a few friends and family members, I have been inviting responses. Reactions have helped me to consider things I want to examine further. I am sure that work will continue as I try on the idea of becoming Marjorie E. Laine, and see how the world responds to her.  So while I am not looking for opinions about whether or not I should make this change – that’s something I need to decide for myself – I welcome your thoughts about names, choices, and life transformations.

The LA teachers’ strike and the ratification of the rights and needs of teachers, children and families

49501656_10156582604186928_187270869142208512_nI walked the line in ’89.  I was a teacher in Los Angeles Unified School District when the teachers’ union (UTLA) led the last teachers’ strike.  Thirty years later, I see things from a somewhat different angle.  I’m happy to report one big difference between 1989 and now: LA teachers asked for – and won – much more than a modest and well-deserved pay raise for themselves. They advocated loudly and clearly  for the rights of children and families in a public education system that has been severely eroded over the years since I left the classroom.


In 1989 conditions in schools were challenging too, but those problems weren’t up front and center in the strike rhetoric. Then, one of the biggest issues was overcrowding.  I worked in a multi-track, “year-round” school, where three classes shared two classroom spaces, rotating between them – and shuffling all our materials – as each class came on for two months and then off for one throughout the year.  Then, as now, we were short-staffed on support services. Once a week we had access to a school psychologist, whose main job was to conduct testing, not secure services for kids who had experienced multiple traumas in the new-immigrant, high poverty school where I worked. There was only one part-time nurse on duty to serve a school of 700 kids. Students were not allowed to run on the asphalt playground for fear of the scraped knees that could result. (And in schools with high levels of trauma, nurses play important roles in terms of providing kids some respite from psychosomatic illnesses.)

Image result for image Los Angeles teachers strike

Thirty years later, overcrowded schools are not the biggest problem LA schools face. That is in large part due to gentrification and the exodus of students from public to private or charter schools – the continuation of a long process of “white flight” and a growing abandonment of everything public by those with the means to buy services.  But overcrowded classrooms are a real problem, with upwards of 45 students squeezing into many classrooms.  And support staff has shrunk even more. The strike called attention to these issues. The resolution of the strike does not mean that these problems are resolved, but at least there is an awareness of them, and some effort to address them.


In the 1980s there were groups within UTLA who advocated for the rights and needs of the children and families.  I worked with the Teachers Committee on Central America to support children whose families had fled civil war in their home countrieswars that were fueled with U.S. dollars and that left a legacy of violence that reverberates in the current migration crisis, which in turn shows up as trauma in our schools.  In the Human Rights Committee, we highlighted the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which calls for devotion to the best interests of all children, regardless of nationality, and for protections for children’s health, education and well-being. This convention has been ratified by all members of the United Nations except the United States.

Image result for image Los Angeles teachers strike

The advocacy work for children and families that was relegated to special UTLA committees in the past are at the center stage today. The union made the issues of investment in community schools, special education, early childhood and bilingual education central to the strike.  From my current standpoint, I know that there are no easy solutions to entrenched social inequities. But Los Angeles teachers gave us all the opportunity to publicly ratify the human rights of teachers, families and all children, and to call for an end to the erosion of public education in the second largest school district in the nation. Thank you to UTLA and to the teachers of LAUSD.

Karma, interconnectedness, and the immigrant crisis

“Don’t come to our country illegally,” President Trump blasted in a recent tweet, his solution to the current immigrant crisis – one in which thousands of immigrants are fleeing violence in Central America and attempting to cross into the United States.  He went on to emphasize the importance of borders, national sovereignty, and “rule of law.”

“Don’t invade our country,” Central Americans might well have twittered back.  What goes ‘round, comes aroudownloadnd, and whether you believe in laws of kharma and the spiritual interconnectedness of life on this planet or not, there is plenty of evidence that the “crises” we see today were initiated long ago by actions that our country took.  And the actions we take today will have profound effects on the future.

In most of the reports I have read about the “immigrant crisis,” there is some recognition that there are reasons families take the tremendous risks they do to cross the border into the United States – a migration that costs thousands of dollars and potentially their lives, with no guarantee of success. These reports usually mention the rampant gang violence in Central America, and sometimes domestic violence as well.

But there is scant mention of the role of the United States played in begetting that violence, through “interventions” we took over the last century.  Interventions, by their very name, involve a disrespecting of nat01_US-int-1890s-1930s-768x423ional sovereignty, borders, and the rule of law. They are achieved militarily – i.e. through violence.

Take the case of Guatemala. In 1954, the CIA engineered a coup that overthrew the democratically-elected presidency of Jacobo Arbenz, because Arbenz had instituted land reform that threatened the U.S.-based United Fruit Company, which was owned by Allen Dulles, brother to CIA director John Foster Dulles.  (For details on this history see Steve Kinzer’s book, The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and their Secret World War.) This ushered in fifty years of military dictatorships that were supported and funded by the United States, leading to the “disappearance” or murder of some 200,000 civilians and a legacy of violence that now reverberates in everyday life.

My point is simple: violence begets violence; for every action there is a reaction; and what we do today will have profound effects on tomorrow.

The United States’ recent decision to separate young children from their families at the border, regardless of their requests for asylum (asylum from violence that we are implicated in), will have repercussions far into the future: trauma layered on historical trauma.  Recognizing our own role in creating these conditions would offer us an opportunity to right the historical record, to repair, restore, and set in place a different legacy.IMG-0669

Let me end on a more uplifting note. Last week’s international efforts to rescue the soccer team from the cave in Thailand shows the good that can happen when people come together to support life, not thwart it. While some psychologists have warned that the boys may be traumatized by their experience, all reports thus far are that the boys are happy and at peace. This is likely due to the great efforts their coach took to care for them during their time in the cave, and to ensure that they cared for each other. And now, the mothers of the boys are promising to help “heal the heart” of the young coach who is suffering from his feelings of responsibility – such a different response than the press seemed to expect from the parents.

A situation that could have been tragic, traumatic, and full of blame or shame, has become an opportunity to see the power of interconnectedness, the good that can happen when we work together, and the healing power of care. As a favorite podcast reminds me (, we can choose how we respond to any situation in the world, and how we choose matters for what we set in play. There seem to be many forces that perpetuate violence and negativity, but with just a little conscious effort, we might tip the balance toward positivity and love.



Birthday blog: Some reflections on life and death


Indulge me with a birthday blog. A bit of self-indulgence on our birthdays is ok, no?

However, my birthday blog is not really about birthdays at all. It’s about the other end of life. I hope you’ll read on, and trust that I’m not suicidal.

Why am I thinking about death?

Why not?  10350432_10152366752796928_3512390558073954627_nWe all should, really. We plan for everything else.  Schools these days are very concerned with making sure toddlers are ready for preschool, preschoolers transition properly into kindergarten, elementary school students to middle school, middle to high school, high school to college, college to the work force. But after that, we mostly stop preparing for what will, eventually, come next.

(I couldn’t resist inserting this “Why?” photo I took in a cementary in Berlin…¿Warum nicht?)

In this sense thinking about death is not really a divergence from my work in education.  We might educate ourselves and others very differently – and live very differently – if we really, truly, fully, grasped the fact that we all will, someday, die.

How would we treat the people on this planet, and the planet itself, if we viewed all life as precarious, and precious?

How would we live each moment if we knew that whatever words we say could be our last ones, or the last ones our loved ones heard from us?

Let me be clear. I do not think young people should have to wonder such things each morning when they walk through their school doors.  

But I do think that schools do a disservice to young people when we suggest that if they keep their heads down and put all their attention on their futures  they will live happily ever after.

I often hear students (and faculty) saying things like, “I can’t wait until the end of the semester!” “Two more years, and I graduate!” “Just have to push through to the end of the quarter…”

Would we say this about our lives?  (“Almost at the end! One more push to the finish line!”)

download-2Sogyal Rinpoche’s interpretation and elaboration of The Tibetan Book of the Dead (in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying) offers a refreshingly different perspective on life and death than the dominant “denial” that permeates modern western culture. Rinpoche suggests how “hollow and futile life can be, when it’s founded on a false belief in continuity and permanence” (p. 17).  He describes the way most people live: “Hypnotized by the thrill of building, we have raised the houses of our lives on sand. This world can seem marvelously convincing until death collapses the illusion and evicts us from our hiding place” (p. 16).

He quotes Chuang Tzu:

The birth of a man is the birth of his sorrow. The longer he lives, the more stupid he becomes, because his anxiety to avoid unavoidable death becomes more and more acute. What bitterness! He lives for what is always out of reach! His thirst for survival in the future makes him incapable of living in the present.  (p. 17)

My children encouraged me to read The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. They understand more about what really matters than I surely did at their age, when I was busy trying to “get through” college, establish a career, raise a family, get tenure, write a book, build a life…rather than just living the one I was in.

Thinking about death doesn’t have to be morbid – except in the literal sense of that word.  Nor do I mean to diminish the pain we feel at the death of loved ones – a pain that is felt deeply around the world right now.  Embracing this moment also doesn’t mean we should close our eyes to the work that needs to be done to make life better for more beings on the planet both now and in the future. It doesn’t mean we stop all preparation for what could lie ahead. But recognizing our own mortality can help us to take less seriously the things that don’t matter, and more seriously the things that do.

So as my birthday gift to readers, I wish you a day full of wonder, grounded in a deep recognition of the impermanence of all things. I hope you will be fully present wherever you are. Kiss your children, tell someone you love them, put a pause in your plans for the future, take a deep breath and remember that this day, this moment, this juncture of the time/space continuum, is a gift, not guaranteed.

I leave you with the words of Mary Oliver, in one of my favorite poems of all time:

When Death Comesdownload-1

When death comes

like the hungry bear in autumn,

when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;

when death comes

like the measle-pox

when death comes

like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:

What is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything

downloadas a brotherhood and a sisterhood,

and I look upon time as no more than an idea,

and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common

as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth

tending, as all music does, toward silence

and each body a lion of courage, and something precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.


Words from a man who lost his home in Mexico’s earthquake

22859998_10155521906031928_2080079651281708923_oAs part of my fall sabbatical, I had the opportunity to visit Tlatempo, Mexico, a small town in the hills above Cuernavaca that was partly destroyed in the recent earthquake. About half the houses in the town were located directly on an earthquake fault, and they were reduced to rubble. The community school also had crumbled.

I accompanied Dra. Alicia Valencia and a group of her students from the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional – future teachers who were learning with Alicia about community-engaged-pedagogy. They were accompanying the community in a variety of ways: working with children, listening to parents, offering meditation and yoga sessions, and helping with a myriad of reconstruction tasks.22829443_10155521906026928_6214897323039309781_o

Unfortunately, a large part of the collective energy of this group went to a rather sad task: bagging moldy clothing that had been donated to the town.  After any natural disaster, there are often massive donations of relatively useless stuff. In this case, people who had lost homes had no where to store the clothing, even if they could find items that were appropriate and in good condition. And it was the rainy season…

23004391_10155521921141928_2206013737615094998_o 22829820_10155521921406928_3274288189793025410_o







While visiting the town, I had the opportunity to talk with a man named Rosalio Saucedo Figueroa,  whose home had been reduced to rubble. Rogelio spoke thoughtfully and eloquently about his losses. I promised him that I would bring his thoughts to a wider public, and so I share them verbatim here, along with my translation:

“Hoy aquí en mi pueblo tengo la bendición de Dios de contar con una persona que viene de Los Angeles, California. Está grabando este testimonio, y quiero decirle a la humanidad entera, del Polo Norte al Polo Sur, de este a oeste, que caerse no significa el final. Caerse, y levantarse, es lo más lindo que Dios nos ha permitido hacer en la Tierra. Nos quedamos en cero, sin hogar, pero hoy vivimos contentos, felices, porque nos llega la gente de donde quiera a traernos su buena vibra, su voluntad, y sus buenos deseos. Son los mejores cimientos que vamos a poner a nuestras nuevas casas, y que primero Dios, con toda la suma de ayuda y esfuerzos que estamos hacienda, pronto tendremos un nuevo nido, una nueva casa, y será un pueblo con encanto, un pueblo mágico. Ayúdenos, por favor, se les pedimos, gracias.”

“Today in my town I am blessed with a visit from a person who lives in Los Angeles, California. She is taping this testimony, and I want to say to all of humanity, from the North Pole to the South Pole, from east to west, that to fall down does not mean the end. To fall down, and get back up, is the most beautiful thing that God has permitted us on the planet. We are back to zero, without homes, but we live happy, content, because people from all over send us their good vibes, their good will, their good wishes. Those are the best bricks that we can put into our new homes, because if God permits, with all of the help and efforts that we are doing, son we will have a new nest, a new house, and it will be an enchanted town, a magical town. Help us, please, we ask, thank you.”

“Ahora tenemos que ver que nuestra vida sea arte, y tenemos que demostrar a la humanidad complete que a pesar del desastre mundial que hay, en el desequilibrio que los gobernantes de cada país han provocado, por la ambición del dinero y del poder, muy aparte de eso vivimos gente que nos gusta vivir en fiesta, en harmonía, en paz, sin corrupción, sin ambición. Porque hoy que esta tragedia nos da la oportunidad de contarlo, nos dimos cuenta que no tenemos nada, que sólo somos seres vivos en el planeta, como cualquier animalito, como cualquiera planta, pero que somos importantes para nosotros mismos. Y para poder querer a los demás tengo que quererme primero yo… Si hay amor debe comenzar conmigo…Nosotros tenemos ese gran compromiso con nuestra Madre Tierra. Que mucho daño le han hecho los grandes empresarios, los ricos…y tal vez estos terremotos, cataclismos, estén sucediendo también por eso, que no nos hemos dado cuenta que el planeta está viva, el planeta se está manifestando, así es que vivimos con amor, fraternidad, demostrémos la amistad, y bueno, ojalá que esas gentes duras metálicas, un día reflexionan, y hagamos verdaderamente a nuestra planeta donde la gente vivimos en fiesta.”

“Now we have to see that our life is art, and we have to show all of humanity that in spite of this world disaster, and the uncertainty that the leaders of each country have provoked by their ambition for money and power, that very separate from that live people who love to live in celebration in harmony, in peace, without corruption, without ambition. Because today this tragedy gives us the opportunity, we realize that we are nothing, that we are just beings alive on the planet, like any little animal or plant, but that we are important for ourselves. And that in order to love others we first have to love ourselves. If there is love it should begin with me…We need to make a commitment to our Mother Earth. Because the big corporations, the rich, have don ea lot of damage. Perhaps this is why earthquakes and cataclisms are happening, so that we realize that the planet is alive, that it is speaking, and that we have to live in love and brotherhood, in friendship, and I hope that all those hard metallic men will one day reflect, so that we can truly make this planet a place where people live in celebration.”

When I told Rogelio that I help to train teachers, he offered these words:

“Para todas esas personas que hoy se están preparando para ser maestros, quiero decirles que hay un compromiso tan grande. Podría ser más grande que nuestro planeta, ya que futuramente tendrán que trabajar con recurso humano, y lo que Uds como estudiantes hoy y como profesionales mañana van a ser con sus pupilos. Tienen que mostrar que tenemos que vivir con arte. Les tienen que enseñar a reflexionar. Les tienen que enseñar a pensar. No debemos vivir por vivir. No al materialismo. No a la corrupción. La preparación no es para eso. Ayudemos a prepararnos espiritual y mentalmente. La riqueza del ser humano no es en el capital que tenga, sino en el espíritu, conocimiento, y lo que haga para toda su gente, que esté cerca o lejos de allí.”
“To all those people who are preparing to be teachers, I would like to say that this is a very great commitment. It could be the greatest one on the planet, given that in the future you will work with human resources, what you as students today and as professionals tomorrow will be with your pupils. You will have to show them how to live with art. You will have to show them how to reflect.  You will have to show them how to think. We should not live just to live. No to materialism. No to corruption. Education is not for that. We need to help ourselves to prepare spiritually and mentally. The richness of human beings is not in the capital that they have, but in the spirit, knowledge, and what they do for people, whether they are near or far from here.”
“Que no se olviden que van a ser formadores de nuevas generaciones. Que esas generaciones sepan reconocer su planeta. Sepan reconocer los animales. Sepan reconocer su próximo. Sepan reconocer su propia familia. Y sobre todo que infundan y viven con valores: honestidad, amor, fraternidad, colaboración, que mucha falta nos hace en todos los países de esta planeta.”
“Don’t forget that you are going to be forming new generations. Those generations should know how to respect (recognize) the planet.  They should respect animals. They should respect their neighbors. They should respect their family.  And above all they should infuse and live with values: honesty, love, brotherhood, collaboration, which is sorely lacking in many countries on this planet. “
Rogelio is re-building his home and he knows that he will appreciate it all the more for having seen how easily things he love were lost. I take inspiration from his words and will carry them to the future teachers I work with at UCLA.

Why love? Some reflections on splitting and healing

I would be remiss if I pretended that my interest in “love” (as in my previous post) was merely philosophical and scholarly. In fact, my decision to center love in my work has been a deeply personal one, propelled by life experiences: facing my own mortality with a cancer diagnosis ten years ago, while simultaneously seeing my life unravel in divorce; seeing others lose loved ones or have their lives fall apart in unexpected and confusing ways; grappling with just how small we are in the grand scheme of things; turning to spiritual teachings from diverse traditions as a way to find new meaning and purpose in life; and re-affirming that I want to use my “one precious life” (Mary Oliver’s term) not just to study the world, but to participate as best I can in making it a more positive, uplifting, equitable and just experience for more people on the planet. I’m inspired by bell hooks, who wrote that she was determined to talk about love wherever she goes, even though it may “challenge, disturb, and at times even frighten or enrage readers.” (

Part of my own post-cancer, post-divorce, post-life-falling-apart healing process has involved looking deeply at the psychodynamics of my own life decisions – trying to make more conscious things that were not fully so.  This feels important to explicate in relation to the matter of “splitting” that I discussed in the previous blog post.

For some time, I have struggled to understand what it was that drew me to cross linguistic and cultural borders in my own life, as I moved from a homogeneous, English speaking, white working class, mostly Catholic community to an elite institution of higher education and then ran fast and furiously from that world of privilege into community organizing and teaching. What is my own confusing relationship to my class origins, my whiteness and privilege – especially the privilege that I speak from today, as a white, English-speaking, U.S. full professor at an elite institution?

What I have been seeking are not explanations for my own border crossing that allow me to feel good about myself, or superior to others (e.g. to those members of my family and community who have not chosen to cross cultural or linguistic borders very much in their lives). Rather, I have been trying to understand what I was pushing away from, differentiating myself from, or “splitting” from myself – and what it would mean to reconcile those aspects with other parts of myself that I have more consciously chosen.  My aim has been to understand something about the kind of healing work we have to do as individuals, as a nation, as a world, if we ever hope to get past the things that are dividing and killing us.

I have come to see that in pushing away from the seemingly myopic, limited, homogeneous, monocultural, working class town I was raised in – by learning Spanish, marrying an immigrant (refugee) from Guatemala, moving to California, becoming a bilingual teacher, and working in immigrant and refugee issues for my entire adult life – I was not just embracing new communities, I was running away from something in myself.

This is the kind of psychological splitting that I discussed here. Essentially, I created an “other” – the people from my family or community that I left behind. In “othering” them, I didn’t have to see things in myself that I did not want to see.  This involved some unspoken shame for whiteness of a working-class variety.

In fact, I carry the “limited, myopic, provincial, monocultural” community that I came from in me; it is not something I can run away from or leave behind.  I need to look at how it shaped me and own parts of myself for which I feel no pride.

But that community is perhaps not the things I have labeled it as, or certainly not just those things.  It is filled with loving, humble, good, if imperfect (like all of us) people, who have been shaped by their experiences in the world.  I carry them in me as well. Most importantly, I can choose the values I want to live by, not be bound by these aspects of my identity, and try to hold myself accountable to my values. This is the kind of healing work we need to do as individuals, as well as in the world.

I am attempting to name my experiences in this way, and connect more fully with all aspects of myself, not in order to “confess,” nor to elevate myself or my own experiences, but to seek lessons for healing in the larger body politics. I recognize that I have more work to do, as we do on the planet as well.


Talking about love in a time of vitriol


I haven’t written in this blog for almost a year.

I haven’t known what to say, so I’ve mostly been listening.

What words can I possibly offer to the world that will make any kind of difference in the state of affairs in which we find ourselves, as a nation and a world: the resurgence of overt forms of white nationalism, xenophobia, misogyny, racism, hatred and vitriol; violent expressions of rage and social unraveling such as was evident in the Las Vegas terrorist rampage;  regressive policies that undo gains made over the last eight (or fifty or more) years on the social, civic, environmental and other fronts; massive destructive impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations all around the world (Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, India, Bangladesh, West Africa); the renewed threat of nuclear war; growing social divisions of all kinds; and more?

How can I speak about the things I believe in, and want to build up: love, kindness, compassion, empathy, transcultural understanding, joy and play – without denying or ignoring the tremendous pain that reverberates around the world?

But I’m convinced that where our attention goes, energy flows, and what we resist or fight against directly, we make stronger. When we find openings and build on them we make stronger the things we want to see grow.

So I’m back to talking about LOVE in relation to education. FreeVector-Love-Graffiti-VectorI make a public plea in defense of love and education here:

In this blog, I’ll give a little more depth to these ideas.  But they are still very much thoughts-in-progress. I welcome dialogue. As Paolo Freire (1970) wrote: “Love is at the same time the foundation of dialogue and dialogue itself.”

Defining Love

How to define something that humans seem to understand in a way that surpasses words? I’m reminded of an image of graffiti on a New York subway wall: Love is Love.

In my writing about love to date – e.g., in my (2016) book, Immigrant Children in Transcultural Spaces: Language, Learning and Love – I have resisted extensive complexification of this phenomenon that is so fundamental to the human experience, and yet so elusive. I rather loosely defined love as a force that helps connect us with others and with the larger world; as a quality of being and moving in the world; as a stance that allows us to see potential more than obstacles; and a force that animates learning, from within. My aim was to show how, in the after school program that is the center of my praxis in Los Angeles, we use love for words, the world, and the people we are learning with and from as “animators” of learning, and to consider how participants respond and engage in this space.

But perhaps I can do a bit more here, and better connect with the ideas of others – the many philosophers, poets, theologians, musicians, revolutionaries, and social scientists of different stripes who have given homage to love. I will attempt to bring some of these ideas together, with a focus on love in relation to education and social transformation. Readers can decide just how helpful it is to try to pin love down in words; I’m certain I will not succeed in “getting the words just right,” and that there will be both more and less that could usefully be said. I hope readers will add to the conversation if you are moved to do so.

Love can be considered a fundamental human drive for connection to others (Maslow, 1970) and to the world (Freire, 1978), and an interactional disposition that can help us transcend barriers between the self and other (Badiou, 2017). It can be a force that helps calm the “monster” that the egoic drive to be “right” creates (echoes of Francisco Goya’s “el sueño de la razón crea monstrúos”), images-2and one that helps us get in touch with our feelings and spirits more than our minds, seeking “positivity resonance” (which Frederickson, 2013:10, defines as “micro-moment(s) of warmth and connection that you share with another living being”) over opposition.

Revolutionaries and critical social scientists have considered love as a driving force for social change. Love serves to re-humanize oppressed peoples whose humanity has been stripped from them by the larger society, and awaken critical consciousness. For Paolo Freire (1970) love was “an act of freedom” that should be used to propel other acts of freedom; it is “at the same time the foundation of dialogue and dialogue itself.” Chela Sandoval (2014) builds on the ideas of Freire as well as Che Gevara, Franz Fanon, Emma Pérez, Trinh Minh-ha, Cherrie Morega to posit love as a hermeneutic, a “decolonizing movida” to propel social change. Adopting loving orientations toward ourselves and others as a revolutionary practice helps us to seek out potential goodness and create hope.

images-3While most working from a left, progressive, “critical,” or revolutionary tradition have focused on love for and within oppressed populations, Sandoval (2014) suggests that love can help “transit all citizen-subjects, regardless of social class, toward a differential mode of consciousness.” James Baldwin (1963), as well, saw love as humanizing force for all people, including for oppressors who project their own unresolved pain onto the oppressed. James-A.-Baldwin-Quotes-3Baldwin saw the opposite of love  – hatred – as a force that does not just dehumanize the object of hatred, but that destroys as well the one who hates.

Transcending the Cartesian divide

One of my main aims in talking about “love” has been to challenge the Cartesian divide: the distinction between mind and body, spirit and intellect that was reinforced and developed in the European Enlightenment and the rise of what we know as Modernity. This is also a split that severs the body from culture and that privileges the masculine, narcissistic subject (Irigaray, 1996) (which is key to why love is seen as “soft” in the masculinist worlds of academia and politics). I am following a long line of philosophers and scholars who have called for a transcendence of dualistic thinking and reintegration of intuitive or non-rational dimensions of human understanding with the rational, linear, logocentric mind processes that assumed ascendency in the last few hundred years, as I detail briefly (without the depth t hese ideas deserve) here. This is not a call to abandon “scientific” (or masculinist, rational, mind-driven) ways of knowing, but to re-balance binaries that have gone awry.

Within the social sciences, theorists working loosely with these kinds of challenges to modernist rationalism include Gloria Anzaldúa (2009), Dolores Delgado Bernal (2006), Antonia Darder 2017), Norma González (2006), Laura Rendón 2014), Abhik Roy (2015), Chela Sandoval (2014), and of course Paolo Freire (1993). (Please contact me if you’d like a list of references.) I’m sure there are others, and again I hope readers will add to this list. In different ways, each of these scholars reminds us to attend to aesthetic and affective dimensions of learning and living, not just instrumental, structural, intellectual or cognitive concerns, and to transcend forces that divide humans from themselves, from others, and from the world. Norma González, for example, underscored the intimate (if fractured) connection between language, emotion and identity for Latinos in the U.S. in her beautiful ethnography,images-1 I Am My Language: Discourses of Women and Children in the Borderlands.. Laura Rendón builds on Eduardo Galeano’s idea of “sentipensante” – the marriage of thought and feeling – as a foundation for pedagogy, learning and teaching in her book, Sentipensante Pedagogy.  Sandoval (2014) writes about those aspects of human experience that “function outside of speech, outside of academic criticism” and that are not expressable in words. (Indeed, she speaks directly to the challenges I face in trying to pin love down in words here.)

Healing splits

Transcending the Cartesian divide involves a call to heal from the kind of psychological “splitting” that humans have done, both individually and collectively, in many different ways, across time and social contexts. Indeed, what has most propelled me to try to bring non-academic, non-rational (i.e. “spiritual,” for lack of a better word) ways of thinking into academia has been a conviction that there are limits to what we can understand and do with our rational minds, and that if we really want to effect fundamental change in the ways humans orient to the world and to each other, we need to identify ways of transcending or transforming the separating tendencies that seem to compel our species, again and again, to identify groups of “us” and “them,” creating scapegoats, and constructing dehumanized “others,” in-groups and out-groups based on race/ethnicity, religion, politics, national affiliation and more. 

 The philosopher Alain Badiou (2012) suggests that love is what facilitates this, because “in love the other tries to approach ‘the being of the other.’ In love the individual goes beyond himself, beyond the narcissistic…you go to take on the other, to make him or her exist with you, as he or she is.” (download-118)  Schwab (1988, in Uraña, 2017) sees love as a force that allows “coming to the other in recognition of the negative in the self.” Abhik Roy (n.d.) draws on Hindu spiritual traditions to call for “viewing ourselves in others” and engaging in authentic dialogue with strangers without either distancing ourselves from the other or objectifying them on the basis of their differences with us. It is this power of love for rising above differences – finding some measure of love for those whom we find hard to love – that interests me, in terms of how we can use this force in transcultural dialogues.

Of course this is challenging, and risky, especially when crossing lines of privilege and power. But lines of power in any social group are generally multiple, complex, variegated, overlapping, shifting, and fraught with tension. The aim does not have to be to resolve those tensions as much as to use the tension in generative ways. Irigary (1996)download-3 sees love as an “intermediary” that refigures Hegelian dialectical relations not by synthesizing them into a new whole (as Hegel would), but by serving as a passage between dialectical opposites without one side being sacrificed to the other. This involves defying binaries of either/or, us/them, true/false logics that undergird Western thought: challenging the ontologies that hold things apart.

This is not just a psychological or philosophical matter. As an educational researcher, I am interested in how to create spaces where “splitting” does not happen or is interrupted and transformed when it does.  Empirically, we might identify structures, politics, policies, and practices that either promote or mitigate against such splitting.

Tensions for education and social transformation

 How do we reconcile the idea of accepting others, as they are, with that of teaching, developing, socializing, re-socializing, emancipating, empowering, or decolonizing others…or changing the world?  This is a tension that is central to all educational and revolutionary work. What is the role of teachers, leaders, guides or mentors in leading others to freedom or growth?  Who decides just how individuals, groups, or society “should” change?  Are there loving ways to support others (and ourselves) in growing without imposing particular kinds of growth on anyone?

bell hooks (2000) argues that a loving approach to pedagogy does not mean accepting whatever people do or think. True love involves helping others to stretch and grow, even if that growth is at times uncomfortable.58eac09c852653be7d470352e0592a14--bell-hooks-quotes-hook-quotesImage result for hooks love image Freire (1978), in his “pedagogy of the heart,” doesn’t call on people to try to change people, exactly, but to use our wisdom, knowledge, skills and experience to help liberate others, to bring them to greater consciousness, and to support their full expansion as human beings. But again, who does the liberating, or helping, and who decides just how others “should” grow?  In educational work, it is difficult to escape the teleological position that presumes that some people are more fully conscious, more highly developed, or more advanced than others, and that it is the work of those greater experts to draw novices into a developmental path – even if, for Freire, the process should be

In an edited volume about love in relation to childhood, teaching, and learning, Gail M. Boldt and Paula M. Salvio (2016) explore the contradictions and tensions that are set up in non-dialogical approaches to education, when teachers are simultaneously expected to love their students, and to mold and shape them in particular ways. They argue that to really understand the dynamics of power in love, we need to consider psychodynamic processes, in which people (teachers, students, parents) project their own feelings of inadequacy, loss of control, frustration, confusion or pain onto students when students do not conform to their expectations or respond in the ways we think they should.

Putting these ideas together, as an educator, I am interested in what helps people to see others (truly and deeply), and supports them in growing, without trying to change them per se.  How do we support growth and learning (for ourselves and others), without creating resistance, projecting our own frustration or hurts onto others, and without presuming that any one of us knows exactly how to help others (or ourselves) to grow, or how to transform the world? As an ethnographer, I am interested in studying spaces and places where these things become (more) possible, and identifying factors and conditions that cultivate them.

Love as an impetus for change

Love and education do not substitute for social action and structural change, but an accompaniment to and motor for that action. Getting in touch with deep feelings of connection and empathy for other human beings may propel us to take action to reduce suffering. Certainly, love can go hand in hand with anger, rage and indignation. Indeed, a love that seeks to counter the forces that divide and oppress must allow room for such emotions to be expressed as well. The element of love is just that which helps us rise above the resistances and blocks that we put up to fully seeing others, and to supporting their growth.

Again, we can consider this an empirical question, not just a psychological or philosophical one.  What practices, processes, politics and pedagogies can help people to see themselves in others – e.g. the images that arise daily: those whose homes were flooded in the Caribbean, India, Bangladesh, Florida, and more, or burnt to the ground in California and the northwest; the young Black, Native and transgender people who have lost their lives at the hands of police officers; police officers who were themselves killed doing what they thought was their civic duty; those killed in mass shootings; and so much more random and patterned violence of all kinds?  Once people “see the other in themselves,” what actions are they willing to take, that they might not otherwise?  And, what gets in the way of empathy?

 Grounding the study of love

I am not a philosopher, psychologist or theologian, so I am undoubtedly out of my depth in conceptualizing love in these ways.  Professionally, my forays into “love” have been anchored in my work as a pedagogue, and an ethnographer of children’s experiences in homes, communities, classrooms and other contexts. This pushes me to take on a different kind of challenge: What does love have to do with ethnography, and how can we possibly “study” love on the ground?  I offer a few possibilities here – and once again, invite further conversation.

Love as a tool in ethnography

Ethnography at its best calls on us to see through the eyes of others, to adopt “emic” viewpoints, to understand local meanings, values, and ideologies.  Love as a force that helps us to suspect our own egos, let go of our need to be “right,” and see the other in ourselves, or ourselves in others, can serve as a useful tool to expand our ways of seeing ethnographically. Transcultural dialogue, grounded in a willingness to try to see how others see, and to move past lenses of separation, can assist in expanding our vision, and understanding better the lives of people we “study.”

In the ethnographic methods class that accompanies B-Club, we follow Sandra Harding’s (2016) calls for “creat(ing) missing diversity in research communities” in order to bring novel kinds of insights to research projects. In our classes and on our team, we try to work with the fact that we are people of different ages, genders, social positions, cultural, linguistic, racial/ethnic and social class backgrounds, who are therefore likely to see the world in different ways. We considered why one student highlighted gender issues, and another social class. We wrestle with how and why we each noticed what we noticed, missed what we missed, and interpreted things in particular ways. What was foregrounded? Backgrounded? Left out? Who did we see as the protagonists of actions, or the objects of them? How did we take the messiness of life and transform it into a neat narrative, with a beginning, middle, and end? What, to us, was the story? From what or whose perspective did we narrate the events? We aimed to learn from all of these ways of seeing in order to enrich our own, and to see collectively in more whole and complete ways.

Working with children offers us many opportunities to try to see the world with fresh eyes, and in our work at B-Club we continuously push against the “adult ideological viewpoint” as we try to see how children understand the world they are growing in to. This doesn’t mean abandoning the critical analyses we may bring based on our greater number of years on the planet; it just means holding them lightly, and seeing how they fit with children’s views of their worlds; considering that there can be different truths, or different ways of understanding the complexities of the world. Most importantly, we might learn from kids.

It was listening to children that most opened my mind to seeing possibility, not just problems, and to considering things that had never occurred to me before. The children of today are growing up in a reality that is different than any of us have experienced, and we can learn to see in new ways by attending to their views. As the Guatemalan poet Otto René Castillo wrote, “It is beautiful to love the world with the eyes of those not yet born” – which I take to mean seeing with the eyes of those who have not yet been damaged by the world we are bequeathing to them.

Seeing the affective/spiritual dimensions of human interaction on the ground

This is a slightly different way of approaching the study of “love” – trying to see affective dimensions of human experience in interactions on the ground. Let me suggest a few possibilities:

–Fred Erickson (personal communication) suggests that we look for where students’ eyes “light up” – that spark of enthusiasm that is an indicator of their inner engagement (or “animation”) with words, ideas, people. At B-Club we try to follow kids to see where they light up. Because kids have great freedom of movement in our club (unlike in most classrooms), we can see what they choose to do, who they choose to interact with, in what language, in what ways.  Where and how do they connect? Retreat? Withdraw? Move on?  This is a way of grounding our study of love, as in love for the things we are teaching and learning, and the people we are teaching and learning with.

–We can look at love as a quality of interaction, such as in the disposition to orient to others or not. We can consider the conditions that support people in stepping in to relationships, and crossing borders (linguistic, cultural, and more), as well as those that may keep them from doing so. Where, when and how are different kinds of borders policed? Where, when and how are they more safely crossed?

–We can look at this in relation to language: Where and how do people freely mix languages or language forms? Where and when do they cut off aspects of their own linguistic repertoires?  (See Orellana and Rodriguéz, 2016 for a discussion of how dominant language ideologies constrained the full deployment of linguistic repertoires at B-Club, even as participants displayed tremendous flexibility and versatility in reading both the word and the world.)

–We can look at overt and covert expressions of love, by children and adults.  In B-Club, we found that children very freely expressed love to adults, in both spoken and written words, and in physical gestures.  Adults, having been socialized not to cross lines of “inappropriate” adult-child school relations, seemed reluctant to speak the word “love.” Adults also tended to follow school rules of giving “sideways hugs” to avoid the sexual innuendos of direct body hugs. (This often resulted in some awkward maneuvers, as adults tried to pull away from children’s spontaneous hugs.)  But some people (especially undergraduate participants who may not see themselves as “adults”) kept “forgetting” these no-contact rules. So we can ask who expresses love/affection/caring to whom, in what ways, in what activities or contexts.

–What other emic ways of expressing care and concern are evident? For example, when and how do people attend to each other’s needs and interests? Share materials?  Offer assistance, with translation or other tasks?  We can identify moments of open disposition, especially those moments of spontaneous cultural or linguistic translation, as well as times when no such translation was offered, or requested.  Who notices when others are or are not included, and what actions are taken either to include or exclude?  Here, some attention to lines of power will undoubtedly become important, as we consider who gets included or excluded, and/or what new categories of power arise.


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