This is an interview by Camila Uribe-Rosales of BASICS with Oscar and R (who prefers to remain anonymous), two Latin American youth who migrated to Canada from El Salvador and Mexico, and their experiences in the Canadian education system.
O: I was born in El Salvador. My parents migrated here. I didn’t speak the language at all as a youngster, and I remember I was about 7 years old. You definitely feel outcasted. I remember feeling that the only people that really knew me and the only place where I felt safe was at home amongst my family. I would go to the classrooms. Kids would laugh at me.
R: The first school I went to, there was no ESL program at that school. There was one Latina. Actually she was from Spain, she wasn’t Latina, and she refused to speak to me. I remember very clearly that she said she would be considered low class if she was to speak Spanish to me.
O: There was one particular incident where there were these two girls that were speaking and they were talking about my skin colour. Something along the lines that “We shouldn’t judge him because of his skin colour, like it’s not his fault.” And I was like “Really? Like why is that even a problem?” I didn’t even know that that was an issue.
R: I remember being picked on a lot. People would come to me and sing Daddy Yankee songs, like that was cool or that I would feel at home or something, and people bullying me. It was very hostile. A lot of people tried to fight me and I didn’t really know why.
At one point, I went to Mexico to celebrate Christmas. And so when I came back, the teacher had a set-up with chunks of desks, like she had four here, four there, whatever. And when I came back, my desk was at the corner closest to the door. And everyone else’s was at the opposite corner, packed away from me. And so when I walk into the classroom the teacher says to me, “Look, we just really feel you shouldn’t be here, because you’re Mexican and we don’t want to catch swine flu. And so we wanna ask you not to come back to school.” I got completely bullied. I was harassed. People wrote this on my Facebook and made videos about it.
R: I got kicked out of the school because, well, I was in a classroom and the priest walked in and he started to ask people the commandments. And so I didn’t know them in English and so he threw a set of keys at me. And I picked them up and I walked to him and I gave them back to him in his hand. I mean, he was a priest and I was just coming from Mexico. And so he once more asks me for a commandment which I don’t know how to say. And so he throws the keys at me for the second time, and I pick up the keys and I throw them at him. And so I was like arrested [sic] by a teacher, and they took me to the office and they were just screaming at me. Like I understood what they were saying. They were saying I was stupid or I was gonna burn in hell, that Mexicans were violent, that it was all because I was Mexican. That Mexican people were horrible.
Then I arrived at Downsview which is where I completed my high school. There was a lot more Latinos at Downsview and things were a lot more enjoyable in the sense of students. I remember at one point we had a group of like 30 friends and we would help each other out. But as soon as I got there I was told by the principal that I would never be able to go to university, and that I would never achieve to graduate high school, because I would never be able to pass Grade 12 English.
And I was bashed out of many classrooms by teachers because I was called a communist, simply because I wanted to speak about things. I remember one time, this teacher wanted to give us a lot of homework for Thanksgiving. And I said to him, “No, this is a holiday.” And he started to argue to me and I said, “Look, this is not a dictatorship. You’re not an ultimate power. You are in a sense elected by somebody and if we all work as a collective and decide to walk out on you, you will be fired.” And he bashed me out of the classroom. He called me very nasty things and started to relate me to a lot of nasty characters in Latin American history. He started saying “Oh, don’t call Pablo Escobar on me,” and stupid things like that.
O: I remember this one professor, he was white, but I remember one of the first slides. He showed a little caricature, and he said, “Oh its scientifically been proven that those students that wear hats backwards, there is a correlation with lower grades.” So I purposely would bring in a cap. I wouldn’t always put it on backwards, but I would always bring it in, as a form of resistance. And you know, that’s bigotry right to the end because it’s based on absolutely nothing, and yet you’re claiming it to be scientific evidence, as a professor. I don’t know if he was joking but even if he was, like who jokes around about that? Why, out of everything, pick that? And I think that’s definitely targeting racialized groups. They don’t understand the culture that it even comes out of.
R: I was incarcerated [sic] by a principal. It was in high school and the teacher said we could do whatever we felt like doing, but our teacher had written on the board that we had to do a shitload of work, like a crazy amount of work. He had been absent and he hadn’t taught any of the material he wanted us to do, and so I was like “Wait a second, this guy never comes to class, never teaches the material and expects us to perform like a super student.” And so I said to the students “Look, if we all walk out of this classroom, the teacher can’t fail us all. If all of us get up and walk out right now, he’s screwed.” And so, we all got up… Well it took some convincing, took me a little more convincing. And so we all got up and started walking out, and the principal grabs me. Grabs me by the shoulders and yells, “Everybody get back into the classroom!” Everybody gets freaked out. Everybody started heading back in. And he says, “You’re coming to the office with me!” By the way, that class was very crucial to me. That was Grade 12 English and if I didn’t pass I wouldn’t graduate. And so he took me to the office and made me sit in a corner of his sketchy office. And so I said, “No, I’m an adult. You’re not gonna treat me like this. You’re not gonna segregate me, you’re not gonna outcast me because I was speaking about my rights.” And he was literally like, “Shut up, I don’t wanna hear you, go in your corner.” And so he locked the door and locked me in. And he left me in that office for two hours, just sitting there. And I remember kicking the doors and getting angry and screaming. I started writing step by step how I was segregated, and comparing it to acts of genocide which have happened in our society. Like I was locked in an office as a student for fighting for my rights! And I drafted this to the director of education. He looked at the paper and said, “Oh yeah, this is a good principal, don’t worry about it.”
At one point in my life, I was like, “Fuck this. These guys are all racist. I’m never gonna win against them. There’s no one like me. I’m a nobody. I’m not gonna go to university,” and I started believing it. And it’s really hard without teacher support, it’s really hard as a student. And it’s quite frustrating because you don’t have control over them. If a teacher wants to be racist to you, he will be racist to you. And to know that you can’t do anything about it, that you report it to the Director of Education and he does nothing about it. It’s frustrating. It’s heartbreaking.
You don’t feel like you belong in the school, all your teachers are white, and they talk about white behavior, and they’re all racist towards you, and it’s like well, what am I? A fucking alien? Am I the weird one? We talk about why there is so much violence in youth, why there is so much anger…fuck, what do you think this frustration builds to?
O: I feel like a lot of times we have to resort to those things [violence], or fit into the stereotype that was being projected onto me. As a young Latin American male, you’re like cholo, gangster, like you have to do that. You have to be a drug dealer, beat people up, treat women like shit, be a scumbag, machista. Even with all the bullshit that we have to go through, I imagine it’s much, much more difficult for a Latina.
R: My girlfriend was told to take parenting classes five times because she was told by a guidance counselor that all she needed to do was go to university to find a husband. And that once she found a husband that what she would do for the rest of her life was be a mom, so she might as well take a lot of parenting courses. And so it took her two extra years to graduate high school because of that, because the courses she was supposed to take were not given to her because she didn’t need to be smart. All she needed was to find a good husband, so she was given almost a semester and a half of the same subject. Just because she was Latina.
R: There was definitely a lot of pride in the land where we came from and I never wanted to turn my back on mi gente and my community. I was blown away by the lack of community that I experienced here. Coming from a little colonia back home, it was all like one family and that was something that I lost. Every time you try to explain to people who we are as Latin Americans, we aren’t listened to. Like I feel that we are a minority and not even recognized…things like the constant need to remind people that we’re not Spanish but Latin American, and the constant need to remind people that we’re not all Mexican. We’re not all the same. It’s important for us to come together; I remember one of the chants in El Salvador that is used all over Latin America. “El Pueblo unido jamás será vencido” [The people, united, will never be defeated] and I truly believe that.
by BASICS Team Kitchener-Waterloo
On Jan 3, 2014, the Kitchener-Waterloo Spot Collective announced the relaunching and professionalising of their people’s programs.
The people’s programs, which include the serving of free food, programs for those dealing with addiction, and literacy programs, have come out of the need to deal with the problems the community faces by mobilising the community, says organizer Amber Sinson.
“Our children need food, warm winter clothing and basic needs that are not provided by the state,” Amber continues. “It’s obvious that we must rely on ourselves to solve our own problems.”
The Spot Collective, created in 1998 by street youth and socialist students looking for for solutions to the problems they were facing, has always focused on balancing the immediate needs of the community with solving the root causes of poverty by attacking systemic problems, according to Sinson. The relaunching of the people’s programs is a continuation of this combined approach.
When asked about food banks and other social agencies that provide such services she replied, “They humiliate you and make you feel like garbage, and that it’s your fault you’re poor. They also do nothing to address the issues behind poverty.”
Wesley Gibbons, a person who uses the peoples programs, also added, “You can only get one or two boxes a month from the food bank and most of the stuff is expired.”
Those interested in participating are invited to come out to meetings Wednesday nights at 6pm at 43 Queen St., after the free food servings. Contact: 226-289-2559.
by Sadia Khan & Noaman G. Ali
Please see full article: Education inequality shocks Thorncliffe Park residents.
To get involved or to learn more about Thorncliffe Reach-Out Teach-In (TRT)’s community organizing efforts to challenge these inequalities, e-mail email@example.com, or visit the Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/ThorncliffeRT/
Community seeks to organize against inequality
by Noaman G. Ali
“It’s shocking! I am shocked!” said a parent attending a community meeting in Thorncliffe Park held last Sunday, December 22.
She was responding to a presentation by Sadia Khan, a teacher and community organizer, about educational inequality between public schools in Thorncliffe Park and those in neighbouring Leaside—schools that are about ten minutes apart by car.
Over 30 parents, students and other community members attended the meeting, organized by Thorncliffe Reach-Out Teach-In (TRT), about the causes of educational inequality and building community power through solidarity in order to address the issues that face the community.
by Steve da Silva
After decades of under-funding to First Nations schools – with high dropout rates and an epidemic of youth suicide that can’t be disassociated with the situation in schools – last Tuesday, October 22, the Federal government tabled their First Nations Education Act that will give it more direct control over about 515 reserve schools under its control.
Under the draft legislation, band councils would be allowed to operate schools directly – as many already do – or purchase services from regional or provincial school boards or the private sector. First Nations could also form education authorities that would oversee one or more schools in a region.
However, under the new legislation it would be the federal government that would set and enforce standards for schools on reserves (with the exception of Onkwehon:we nations that have established self-government agreements that cover education). The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development will retain the power to take over a school or if an inspector finds problems.
What the draft legislation is not clear about are the funding levels that fall far below funding provided to provincial schools. Funding short-falls have been a principal factor in keeping the standards in First Nations schools far below provincially-funded schools.
A piece of Canada’s Economic Action Plan, the Federal Conservative government claims their aim to be “improving graduation rates for First Nations students,” but First Nations (Indian Act) leaders are already decrying it as a renewal of the colonial legacy, by giving the Feds more control with no guarantee of the desperately needed funding increases.
In an October 25 press release, Chief Patrick Madahbee of the Union of Ontario Indians said that “The proposed First Nations Education Act (FNEA) is about control and false accountability,” says Madahbee. ”It is a colonial document and makes no attempt to close the gap on inequality in education.”
“Firstly, it gives our citizens, parents and students no say in their own education… This is the same mentality as the government-run residential school disaster that had a history littered with genocide and acts of inhumanity.
“Secondly, it ignores curriculum needs that experts agree are essential to the academic success of First Nations learners – curriculum that talks about our culture and beliefs, and an accurate account of our historical contributions.
“And thirdly, this government starts their so-called educational reform with a threat to First Nations that if they don’t meet Canadian standards they will be put under third-party management, despite the fact that First Nation schools are largely underfunded and are unlikely to meet standards set by other, better funded schools, for example, the school in Biinjitiwaabik Zaaging Anishinaabek (Rocky Bay First Nation) receives $4781 less per student than nearby provincially-funded Upsala School in the Keewatin Patricia District School Board.”
Final legislation is anticipated before the year’s end after “consultation” with First Nations (Indian Act) authorities.
By J. Lapierre
The right to education for children without status in Quebec comes with a $5,000 price tag.
This past July, the Quebec government shared a set of guidelines with Quebec school boards for dealing with children with precarious immigration status. While the guidelines expanded the number of children who could access free education, students without status are forced to pay $5,000 to $6,000 in school fees.
“The situation isn’t complicated” Jaggi Singh from Solidarity Across Borders told the crowd of people who had gathered outside an elementary school where a Montreal school board was holding one of its meetings.
“We want children to be able to access education no matter what their status is.”
It was the seventh time people had come to demand that the school board allow children without immigration status to be able to attend public school.
Some school boards have refused students entry if they do not pay the fees upfront.
“There’s a family with two kids in a school board in the east end. They tried to go to school, but they were refused. The same thing happened twice with families in a school board in the south shore.” said Singh.
Other school boards seem content to simply send a bill.
One of the speakers relayed that one of the commissioners at the meeting told her that “the parents can simply rip up the bill.” However, receiving the bills in the first place is unsettling for parents.
The group Solidarity Across Borders has encouraged parents to register their children and has offered to support who want to challenge paying the fees.
As the group of people outside began to discuss how to pressure the school boards and the minister of education, a representative from the board was sent to meet with the crowd. He quickly became upset seeing that people are organizing and he pleaded with the group to “wait for the results of the board meeting.”
“It’s been two years!” someone from the crowd shouted.
The Quebec government has been particularly slow on this question. Both the United States and the Ontario government were forced to confirm the rights of children without status to free public school education in the 1980s.
Solidarity Across Borders has been campaigning for over two years now. And parents began organizing many years before that.
Charging parents without immigration status, most of whom are working low wage, insecure jobs because of their lack of documentation, for the education of their child is outrageous and inhumane. This is just another example of governments in Canada and Quebec attempting to squeeze working people, especially those who are most vulnerable.
In this show we reflect on Sept. 11th and how imperialism has used it to propel war on the people around the Globe.
In our feature interview, we focus on the ‘Defederation Campaign’ and how and why students are organizing to defederate from the Canadian Federation of Student. Through our conversation with Ashleigh Ingle, Ontario Spokesperson, we explore why.
Radio Basics is the radio wing of BASICS Community News Service, a working-class community-based newspaper in Toronto and throughout other parts of Canada, serving the people in their struggles.
You can listen to us Live EVERY Monday 8 – 9 pm on CHRY 105.50 fm in Toronto, and for listeners outside Toronto, tune in at chry.fm; and every Friday, 4 – 5 pm, in Waterloo on Sound FM CKMS 100.3.
by Nicole Oliver (photos by Alex Felipe)
“Detachment is not indifference. It is the prerequisite for effective involvement. Often what we think is best for others is distorted by our attachments to our opinions. We want others to be happy in the way we think they should be happy. It is only when we want nothing for ourselves that we are able to see clearly into others needs and understand how to serve them.” – Ghandi
As a participant on the Biimadasahwin – ILPS Indigenous Commission cabin build project this quotation from Ghandi often enters my mind as I move from active participant in the building process to at times reflective observer of others and myself. Biimadasahwin means “life” in Ojibway. It is the name that Darlene Necan, a grassroots leader from the Ojibway Nation of Saugeen, has given to the project. This project has brought together community members from the Saugeen and individuals from various ILPS-Canada organizations such as Barrio Nuevo, Bayan, Basics, Binnadang-Migrante, CUPE 3903, and the Revolutionary Women’s Collective. For many of us, myself included, engaging in grassroots work that combines intense physical labor, roughing it in the wilderness, and cross-cultural exposure to the Anishinaabe way of life definitely pushes our personal boundaries, taking us away from familiar understandings and ways of being. At times our patient and wise leader Darlene expresses frustrations with us as we try our best to learn and adapt.
Sometimes as organizers, and I do not exclude myself here, we begin to think of ourselves as experts or as persons with particularized knowledge and lose sight of the fact that the community members whom we are working with are the experts in their own lives and communities. As community organizers in particular contexts our decision-making skills and responses to the challenges we face improve with experience. Due to the nature of our work many of these skills translate well into organizing in different contexts, but it is still necessary to recognize our boundaries and areas for growth as organizers when working in a new context, much like the cabin build project demands. Being overly confident in ourselves, our abilities, making assumptions, and not checking in with Darlene or the other Ojibway community members helping with the build while in the bush has resulted in setbacks and misunderstandings. For instance, one of the roles that I have been sharing responsibility for is that of cooking. Admittedly, there have been a few meals that I that I cooked a little too much to my taste regarding spice and heat. Upon reflection had I checked in with others regarding what they liked, especially given that food has both personal, cultural, and social elements attached to it, I would have been able to provide a meal that all could enjoy without wincing at the spice level. Thus, the bush and this type of work for myself reminds me to be humble, to check in with others, to respect the power of mother nature, and to listen to those who have walked these particular woods since they have taken their first steps.
So often as community organizers we are required to be active doers, leaders, initiators, and voices shouting to be heard. As we grow into the role of active doer and as our responsibilities increase with the demands of being an organizer, perhaps not enough space or time is dedicated to reflecting on our practices and our ways of being in community. Other times we dedicate too much time to conducting lengthy meetings, email exchanges, strategic planning, evaluations, and assessments; sitting around a table like a bunch of talking heads.
These issues in community organizing have also crept their way into the bush. One morning Darlene expressed impatience with us as our morning tasking meeting was pushing past brief. The other day when I showed Darlene my interview grid for an upcoming article that I wish to write about the trip, she exclaimed, “oh you people, why must you evaluate, assess, and dissect every little thing in such a way?” I think she was referring to how western academia has trained me to be so critical of every little thing, to overly categorize lived-experience into very structured and logical sequences, even that which is experiential and qualitative.
Prior trip departure, there has been a lot of time invested in planning, rapport building, fundraising, education, logistics and putting together a well-coordinated group of committed individuals. Given that much work went into the trip ahead of time persons most certainly arrived with opinions, personal expectations, goals, expected outcomes, and next steps. However, important preparation and planning are while engaging in the cabin build related work the need to be present, truly present in the experience should not be undervalued. Being truly present requires active listening and taking in the experience for just that, an experience in and of itself free of value judgments.
The need to be present and to actively listen in the bush can mean life and death. Time and again, as I work along side Darlene she points out the dangers of precariously hanging fallen trees, how to handle our tools, how to work together so we will not strain our backs, how to prepare the camp so that we will not be attacked by bears and other wildlife with which we share this environment. At times these constant reminders and Darlene’s mother-like watchfulness does cause some mild internal conflict for me as her directions collide with my own sense of self-sufficiency. When this happens respectfully I take a deep breath, actively listen and put my own sense of pride aside as her warnings come from a place of rich experience, deep care, and concern for those she is working with.
Being in the bush with Darlene on her family’s trap-line has taken many of us as organizers out of our comfort zones and away from the communities in which we typically organize. The transition from being a leader to being lead, from being a teacher to being a student, from being a voice to the active listener, I think is something that perhaps each of us at some point on this trip has had to confront. For some more than others being able to take a step back and to be open to being lead, to be open to being taught another way of doing and being has not been easy.
Much like the Ghandi quotation expresses there is much need here on the cabin build trip and in community organizing in general to put aside our own attachments, our own egos, our own desires, and needs to honor the needs of others. Despite knowledge and insights gained through our experiences as organizers we must allow ourselves to be humble and open-hearted to understand that people know their conditions, their lived experiences, their needs best and it is for us to listen to these needs and collectively organize around them.
by Julian Ichim
On May 15th, people gathered at the Queen St. Commons to participate in a popular education workshop on Venezuela.
The workshop started with Santiago Escobar of the Popular Front Hugo Chavez Network discussing the history of Venezuela’s struggle against imperialism. He then went on to discuss the role of corporate media in working to undermine the people’s struggle, and the role of people’s media as an alternative to inform people of the realities of Venezuela.
He also talked about the current attempts by the United States and Canada to undermine the election of President Maduro of the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela by supporting attempts by the opposition to destabilize the country. He ended his presentation by discussing the role of people’s media in giving the people of Venezuela means to inform themselves and mobilize in defense of the revolution.
The workshop ended with people creating a magazine in support of Venezuela and against imperialism and corporate media. We divided into groups and each created several pages. The event was informative and fun and we all agreed we would like to do more popular media and support to support Venezuela.
by Shahzali Samah
The Transitional Year Program (TYP) at the University of Toronto (U of T) St.George Campus is a historically significant program in education. TYP has the distinction of being the first full time access and equity program in the University of Toronto. For the past 43 years, TYP has worked to make U of T more accessible and equitable for Africans, First Nations, working class, LGBTQ, sole support parents and other marginalized, under-represented communities. The major accomplishment of TYP is that it proved that when educational and financial barriers are removed, students from marginalized backgrounds can succeed at University. TYP represents social justice in the education system and instills hope for marginalized groups.
In spite of TYP proving its worth in the face of many struggles and challenges since its inception, TYP is under attack by the U of T’s Central Administration. Although no one spoke in favor of eliminating TYP, the actions of the Central Administration will ultimately destroy TYP’s capacity and stability.
In essence, TYP will be starved out of existence.
Reducing the number of staff and faculty, restricting funding, and taking away TYP’s autonomy are not the actions of an administration that is dedicated to the work that TYP does and communities that it serves. TYP will be unable to continue to provide its mandate and support its students under the proposed changes. Reducing staff, faculty and funding, limits the ability of the program to meet the needs of its students.
Taking away our space by amalgamating TYP into Woodsworth College, U of T further marginalizes TYP. Under the proposal, the TYP Director will report to the Principal of Woodsworth, who reports to the Dean of Arts and Science, who reports to the Provost. This new reporting relationship places TYP where it will be subject to greater interference and struggle for scarce resources. Moreover, as per the proposal, Woodsworth Council will be the authority on all decisions relating to curricula and the needs of the program, eroding the democratic, self governing nature of TYP. This reduces TYP’s ability to assist students who have experienced challenges and barriers to education.
The funding restriction translates into TYP unable to replace retirees, cutting their faculty in half. TYP has been told there will be no continuing appointments and no sessional appointment and our current budget cannot support any more hiring. This effectively means that our entire part time teaching faculty (which includes two limited term appointments and three sessional appointments) will be axed. These are teachers who teach Aboriginal Studies, World Literature, Sociology, and Equity Studies. In real terms the TYP program in its current form will no longer exists. The staff and faculty is the heart and soul of TYP and their contribution past and present is immeasurable.
How does this indicate the University’s commitment to access and equity, inclusiveness? If the University is striving for commitment to access and equity in university, U of T needs to initiate an all-inclusive access and equity strategy. This is done, in part, by solidifying access as a financial priority.
We understand the University is an evolving entity that must adapt to changing circumstances. However, the central administration should work alongside TYP as a partner to ensure U of T continues to foster and promote access and equity in education. Access and equity is interconnected; one is not recognized without the other. They are principles embedded in social justice and respect for all peoples in a democratic society, for education is a human right. U of T should reconsider the destructive actions it is currently undertaking. As long as the challenges of oppression have not been met, access and equity programs such as TYP should not only go on but also expanded to serve marginalized communities.