My studying abroad experience started five years ago. Five long, sometimes short years, depending on my challenges, studying the Spanish language and all its glory in Dallas, Texas–a city filled with Hispanic culture. I know it must seem surreal for someone to have never eaten a taco before, but my Chinese self had the experience first in Dallas, and even though I forgot when I first tried the foreign taste of Mexican food, I do remember how I first fell in love with the Spanish language and Hispanic culture. In 2017, I decided to pursue a Master’s in bilingual education to add a little extra to my curiosity, and of course, endless time given for research and analysis.
For the past year, Diverse Learner, taught by a teacher with an interesting background of community, religion, and race, developed a photovoice project to take picture-related topics of the city reflecting on the diversity in Dallas. I quickly realized from the instructions how powerful culture can stand out from anywhere; I did not have to travel to the country of origin for a sight of Hispanic culture—it was all around me. Furthermore, my realization taught me how passionate people can be about their cultural background, their history, origin, and culture. A certain pride away from negative connotation lives amidst a person who leaves a piece of his/her heart in the country of origin—I could relate.
Amongst various topics of diversity, I chose to focus on the language aspect because of my passion for learning Spanish. I drove through various places in the Dallas and made a stop at the Wyly theatre. I saw many children’s paintings on the sidewalk. I had never really looked at the street paintings as more than just a drive by splash of color on the sidewalk; however, this time, I stopped, read, analyzed, and thought of who might have been the artist of each drawing and in what stage of life were each in at the time. Amongst these paintings, the ones with both Spanish and English words caught my attention. The paintings made me think about the current demographic changes in school populations and the challenges within such changes.
In 2016, I had a class, which incorporated teaching practicum at an International Baccalaureate school in Dallas. I remember my professor saying how the population had changed due to many aspects, such as socioeconomic issues. Although I understood what she implied, I still lacked an understanding of how the changes pointed out for speculation truly influenced society and education. Later on, I gradually realized the demographic change was more than just changes about the food one eats, or the music one listens to, rather, it changes a city’s identity and influences how people perceive different identities as an unit to build a brighter society. Normally, schools will use the word “minority” to address English Language Learners, especially, students with Hispanic backgrounds. I did not realize how language meant different or “minority” in the eyes of people. I tried to forget thinking about the current demographics of a school because the painting about “familia and family” gives me another way of viewing our children and their identities. I do not want to distinguish which languages, Spanish or English, belong to the majority or minority of a school’s population because I want to view our children, regardless the language they speak, belong to one diverse community.
Referring back to the painting on the sidewalk, it can be hard to say because “familia” and “family” are equal in certain aspects. “Familia”, “family”, and “love”, as well as the painted heart on the sidewalk are different in appearance, but they all refer to the meaning of family and love. These two words appear to be different from their source but embrace the same inner identity and value. People may speak different languages, but they can refer to the same meaning or value. Lesli A. Maxwell used the term “Diverse Majority” in her article U.S. School Enrollment Hits Majority-Minority Milestone (2014), describing how today’s school demography regarding diversity is crucial to understand everyone is different. Students are diverse with unique physical features and backgrounds in today’s public schools.
I believe no matter the cultural backgrounds, all students wish to find love within their families. If the school is a community embracing different families with diverse backgrounds, the love within needs to be suitable for various needs. There is no single love which is suitable for all of the student population in a school because each student has different needs. Nevertheless, one aspect of such love is embracing a feeling of security. I remember once in our Diverse Learner course, our professor said “the beauty of education is to affirm who we are”. I wish our children can find or affirm “who they are” in school. If students in school can feel safe to be who they are, they will be confident about their identity and enjoy studying at school. Being confident of one’s own identity and respect for others is crucial to form a school community for such a large social group. To educate the need for understanding diversity in a healthy way should be the most important subject for students everywhere because it will help students, parents, and teachers form a united community.
A question I raised after taking the photo about this print was: are these two words written by two different people, who speak a different language, or only written by a person who is bilingual? I do not want to find the answer to my question. I hope to spread my wish to become the common wish for creating a community with acceptance of each distinct identity amongst the diverse school population. I found the family and love from the picture, but I want to find more in the future.
I revisited the Wyly theatre during a weekend in a Sunday morning. All paintings were gone, replaced by a blank canvas ready to be written on again. I am not sure when I can see these meaningful paintings again in front of the theatre, but I am sure the “familia” and “family” already gone somewhere.
Maxwell, L. A. (2017, March 10). U.S. School Enrollment Hits Majority-Minority Milestone. Retrieved October 28, 2017, from https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/08/20/ 01demographics.h34.html
Yu Zhou is an eighth grade English teacher in Dallas Texas who loves learning Spanish and is a big fan of Hispanic culture.