Monday, May 01, 2006

Notes from a panel discussion on Global Education
April 26, 2006

An Island Girl's Education: Felicity, Survival, Endurance, and Hope

The title of my talk is inspired by a book of poems titled Alchemies of Distance, by an SSU alumna who is not a prof at UH. Carolina Sinavaina Gabbard is a Samoan American poet, an Island girl. I would like to read an excerpt from the review of her book that I wrote for an online poetry review journal.
 Excerpt…

 Im glad to have this opportunity to look back and reflect on my global education at SSU in 1990 as a graduate student in the Interdisciplinary Studies program. The degree program that I created with the three faculty members who served on my committee (one of whom is Roshni) paved the way to a path of felicity, endurance, survival and hope (if this doesn’t become clear at the end of my talk, pls ask qs during q and a). My global education began with these 3 mentors here at SSU – some of them no longer here:

 Through Larry Shinagawa, I learned that, as an MA student, I could cross-enroll at UCBerkeley and take phd level courses in Ethnic Studies; he wrote letters of recommendation so I could study with Ron Takaki, Norma Alarcon, and Carlos Munoz. I also became his teaching assistant and which eventually led to my first teaching assignment: to teach a course on Asian American Women.

 Roshni Rustomji required/mandated that I submit a portfolio of my written work that has been published in the Phil and in the US. It never occurred to me that the journalistic writing I have done amounted to much or mattered to anyone but myself but putting together this portfolio was a very affirming process – as one who comes from an island nation that was under four centuries of colonial rule, this was the first step towards the process of decolonizing myself.

 My deep abiding relationship with Roshni has continued over the years. She introduced me to the world of mythology, specially to Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of Heaven and Earth, to the surrealist painter Remedios Varo, Mirrha Katarina, and to the power of dreaming and storytelling. One of the projects we worked on together was the first anthology about the inter-ethnic encounters of people of Asian descent in the Americas (Canada, US, Caribbean, Latin America). Roshni wanted to focus on the with other non-dominant groups – a departure from the usual anthologies about minority-majority (usually white) groups.

 Joyce Chong, the third person on my committee, invited me to work with her in developing modules for an intercultural communication workshop…which we conducted together for the nonprofit community in Sonoma County.

 Additionally, I also took advantage of the free counseling program and I benefited greatly from meeting with Joaquin Sanchez where most of the time we just talked about our shared colonial history and experience, curanderismo, and Carlos Castaneda’s advice on what it means to be impeccably responsible for one’s actions.

 All my mentors introduced me to other mentors, to new opportunities to get published in academic journals and books, to academic conferences, to community-based research, and community organizing. More importantly, I was initiated into alternative ways of constructing knowledge.

 Our shared vision, passion, and commitment to communities of color and their histories and experience in the global diaspora further enhanced my relationship with these mentors. These mentors helped me understand that by linking the empowerment of communities of color in the US to the public good and to civic life – we affirm the importance of working towards a more just and equitable world.

 When I began my doctoral program at USF, I continued to teach in the AMCS department. In 1996, after graduating from my doctoral program in International and Multicultural Education, I also began to teach in the Hutchins School…and later in the Hutchins degree completion program.

 I’m glad to have had the opportunity to teach in the Hutchins Degree Completion program because the course work is intentionally designed to reflect a global perspective. As part of the teaching cohort, I was challenged to expand the boundaries of my own discipline of ethnic studies. I learned to include perspectives from the environmental and ecology movement; learned about the corporate global economy’s effects on the global South; and the global South’s response to corporate globalization. The course also required students to read about Taoism, indigenous narratives, and texts on developing integral consciousness.

 This need to listen to the different perspectives of people around the world (especially to indigenous peoples, the fourth world and the third worlds and to non-western ways of thinking and perceiving), I believe, is important to the shaping of a truly global education. In my own education, I owe a debt of gratitude to: Christian Palestinian American Edward Said’s work on Orientalism, Chicano anthropologist Renato Rosaldo’s work on re-doing anthropology, Brazilian Educator Freire’s transformative pedagogy, Latin American writer Eduardo Galeano’s satirical look at the North, Chicana feminist Gloria Anzaldua’s work on mestizaje consciousness, Black British scholar Paul Gilroy’s work on postcolonial melancholia, and the many Filipino postcolonial and indigenization scholars –to name just a few of the teachers that helped me develop a critical consciousness, and a language thinking and writing about my experience as an Island girl transplanted in the North American continent.

 I am unapologetic in naming myself as a postcolonial subject even though I am equally aware that this label is more of a function of ideology than anything else, a strategic essentialism so to speak. However, postcolonial studies and related disciplines provide the dialectic reflection needed to balance the tendency of the US/West to dominate the conversation, the theorizing, and the dissemination of knowledge about the way things ought to be in the world.

 I am therefore interested in enlarging the spaces for dialogic imagination and reflection that might eventually lead us to moments of transcendence, of the loosening of rigid boundaries, and the embrace of otherness. I am interested in learning to listen to voices that I otherwise might not hear amidst the noise of advertising and of bombs falling. I am learning to be comfortable with difference and with the ability to hold the concept of ambiguity as an open-ended conversation.
 Stuart Hall, a respected media and cultural studies scholar, calls for a politics without guarantees (the way guarantees in the past have always led to the totalizing gaze, the way religion, science, and anthropology have been used to guarantee the certainty of western superiority). Hall says that in the midst of the lack of guarantees, we must practice a politics of critique informed by what is ethical and just.

 In my teaching and writing, I try to practice this advice…(end with excerpt from A Book of Her Own).

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