Jewishness and Ethnic Studies

Part 2: Zionism and “The Jewish Question”

This blog post is a continuation of the dialogue between WAESN Executive Director, Tracy Castro-Gill, and Educator/Librarian, Jeff Treistman. The first installment tried to answer the question, “Are Jews white?” This installment explains Zionism and tries to answer the questions, “Are Jews indigenous to Israel?” and “What is ‘The Jewish Question’?”

We enter into this dialogue because some conservative, white Jews argue that the focus on indigeneity in ethnic studies is intentionally antisemitic and is used to consider Israel a settler-colonial state. Some Jews believe all Jews are indigenous to Israel and have a right to take the land back from Palestinians. While Jeff and I may not entirely agree on the term, “settler-colonial,” we do agree that the actions of the Israeli State are crimes against humanity.

Ultimately, the concepts of indigeneity and Zionism are being used to fuel the attacks on ethnic studies scholars of color and shut down ethnic studies across the country. The infringement on ethnic studies by conservative, white Jews insisting on addressing “The Jewish Question” in spaces that are meant to center people of color is also interrupting our movement.

What are Zionists and how are they influencing ethnic studies movements?



Tracy: Now may be a good time to introduce the difference between “Jewish” and “Zionist.” Much of the push-back against ethnic studies from Jewish people has come from some Jewish folks who may more accurately be described as Zionists. I read a tweet recently from a Zionist suggesting that ethnic studies’ focus on indigeneity and indigenous epistemologies is harmful to the State of Israel and is the basis for why we consider the modern State of Israel a settler-colonial state. From my understanding, Zionists believe all Jewish people are indigenous to Israel, but is that true? 

What are Zionists and is the modern State of Israel the indigenous homeland of all Jews across the globe?

Jeff: Personally, I’d prefer you to just call them Zionists. Again, the number of Christian Zionists far outnumbers the total number of Jews in the world but I don’t know in what way Christians may factor into that argument against Ethnic Studies. MLK considered himself a supporter of Israel and even a Zionist, so there are clearly nuances.

Indigeneity is yet another complex topic. I am Jewish but I don’t claim indigeneity to the land of Israel/Palestine. In my understanding indigeneity has to do with the formation of a people-hood. In that sense I have a better claim to indigeneity in Eastern Europe because that is where the people-hood of Ashkenazi formed. I could successfully apply for a Polish passport because I can prove my grandfather’s birth in Warsaw and locate the graves of my great grandparents who are both buried in Warsaw. The Palestinians are indigenous to Israel/Palestine because their people-hood formed there. I don’t think anyone can dispute that. But there is another legalistic category that needs to be highlighted, that of aboriginal rights. Aboriginal rights are granted to the first peoples of a land who have created cultural ties to a land that has been uninterrupted  at least since prehistoric times. In that sense Jews have the right of entry, sojourn and settlement in Israel/Palestine, especially in the Judean Hills where Jerusalem is located.

Current Israeli State and Palestinian territories

When it comes to the modern State of Israel, my focus goes to the concept of Statehood. Jewish anti Zionists in the 19th century and first half of the 20th century were opposed because they were opposed to Nationalism which was surging in Europe. Jewish Anarchists, of which there were hundreds of thousands, opposed the state, any state, outright. They saw the state as the dominant force of the oppression of all peoples. The State of Israel oppresses Palestinians and violates their indigenous rights and for that reason it is criminal. I don’t understand how Zionists can claim indigenous rights while disallowing the rights of Palestinians, it just isn’t logical. And aboriginal rights do not grant the right to statehood.

I don’t really buy the settler/colonial argument but I do buy the anti-imperialist argument. In my view the Global Imperialists weaponized the Jewish question and made Israel into a proxy state for the prosecution of the Cold War and its proximity to oil resources. This does not excuse individual Jews who embraced the power of the state for their own purposes. In my mind Netanyahu is a criminal and I hope he sees jail time but most people are just trying to survive and get by. That is why I blame the state and not the people.

Tracy: Thank you for clarifying that Zionism isn’t limited to Jewish folks. 

I think in these discussions of systemic power it is essential to differentiate between the system – in this case the State of Israel – and individuals. I’m not sure how you can distinguish between settler-colonialism and imperialism, though. Colonization is establishing control over land and its resources and people. It becomes settler-colonialism when the colonizers choose to live on the land they’ve colonized. Who are the “Global Imperialists”you mention that weaponized the Jewish question? If they aren’t the Jews themselves, are they the same Europeans who colonized the rest of the world? 

In our previous discussions, you mentioned the connection between the modern State of Israel and a European movement called Protestant Nationalism which aimed to expel Jews from Europe into Israel. This wouldn’t be the only example of Europeans being settler-colonists by proxy. After the successful revolution carried out by enslaved Africans in Haiti, British colonists brought Chinese folks into their colonies in the West Indies to,“provide a security,”against revolts. While the Chinese may not have been the colonizers, the West Indies were still settler-colonies. Couldn’t the same be said of the modern State of Israel?

This brings me to another question I kept asking Emily in her interview. She kept referring to the,“Jewish question,”as you did in your last response, and I kept asking her why it’s a,“Jewish question?”There are so many parallels white Jews and people of the global majority could be making instead of making it all about the,“Jewish question.”Why do some white Jews, in particular, insist that their experiences with oppression and genocide are somehow unique? There are far more examples of genocide among people of the global majority than white Jews. Each racial and ethnic group has stereotypes they face that can also be amplified by interrogating how they benefit from them. One notable example is the model minority myth about Asians. The myth that Asians excel at all things math and science related is harmful to both Asians and non-Asian people of color, and we have to explore and dissect it to understand how it perpetuates anti-Blackness no matter how much Asian people are discomforted by it.

Thank you to reader, Deepa, for reminding us of James Baldwins’ thoughts on Jewish anti-Blackness.

That was a lot, so let me repeat my questions: How might the modern State of Israel be a settler-colonial state even if Jews, themselves, aren’t the colonists (using the West Indies as an example)? If Jews want to be part of an ethnic studies curriculum, they can’t try to be excused from having their identity pulled apart and examined for how it is used to oppress others, so why do white Jews, specifically, continue to insist there is a “Jewish question,” that is somehow different, or outside of other questions about identity, power, and oppression?

“If it weren’t a question, this piece we are working on would not exist.”

Jeff Treistman

Jeff: Yeah, “Global Imperialist” is pretty vague. I apologize for reverting back to the 70’s rhetoric; this is a term I used to use with Black and White members of the Revolutionary Student Brigades when I was in college. It refers to US and British governmental and business interests. When the State of Israel was established it meant the beginning of the end for the libertarian socialists who settled in Israel/Palestine on communes that were committed to living side by side with the Palestinians and other ethnic groups who were already living there. These folks did not bring a lot of capital with them and were dedicated to hard work to make a living. It wasn’t easy but it was better than trying to survive the pogroms that raged in Eastern Europe in the last part of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Then Hitler happened and post-WWII sympathy allowed the creation of the State of Israel and the course was set for where we are today. The left in Israel lost favor and power over several decades as capital flowed into Israel. Other factors like the influx of Jews indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA) and later, in the 90s, with the influx of Jews from Russia and Ukraine, Israeli politics significantly changed. But there are still Israeli Anarchists today advocating for a “no state solution.”

If you read the linked article on Jewish aboriginal rights, it makes a compelling argument for the Jewish rights of entry, sojourn and settlement. Even though this argument is being used by Zionists, I find the preponderance of evidence makes an irrefutable case for the connection that almost all Jews have to the land of Israel/Palestine. Based on that I think the use of the word “colonist” is incorrect. European colonies were settled by people with no connection to the land at all. I won’t repeat all of the arguments in the article but I will point out that ancient biblical text and extra-biblical text, Greek and Roman history, archaeological findings, genetic sequencing, the continuous presence of Jews in the territory (mostly as third class citizens), and the 2000 years of Jewish diasporic yearning for a return, all play a part for me in feeling the connection. This is probably an area where we will have disagreements but there it is. We do agree that Israel is acting like an apartheid state today.

apartheid – any system or practice that separates and politically and economically oppresses people according to color, ethnicity, caste, etc.

In 1843 Bruno Bauer wrote The Jewish Question. The following year Karl Marx wrote a response, On the Jewish Question. This was the beginning of a wide ranging debate in 19th and 20th century European society that pertained to the appropriate status and treatment of Jews. It was also called the Jewish Problem which fed into the Final Solution of the Nazis. Earlier I referenced a book called The Finkler Question, whose title is a play on this. It is frequently used in-group in the Jewish community. If it weren’t a question, this piece we are working on would not exist.

Humanistic Jews do not use the word unique when talking about the “Jewish Question”, preferring to use the word “particular”. All peoples are unique and using it to exclusively talk about Jews is contrary to our concept of Humanism. There have been many genocides in world history but the one particular to Jews is called the Shoah or the Holocaust. There are many diasporic people in the world as a result of various horrible situations but the ones particular to Jews are the Babylonian exile in 600 BCE, the Roman dispersion of Jews after the destruction of the second Temple in 70 CE, and the Spanish Expulsion in 1492. Something else particular to Jews are the continuous persecutions over the last 2600 years.    


As for the white Jews who want to be part of the Ethnic Studies curriculum, I suggest that they start by welcoming Jews of Color (JOC) into the big tent of Judaism and learn about their struggles to be accepted as Jews by the Jewish mainstream. And I suggest that WAESN partner with JOC to illuminate the racism they experience in too many Jewish spaces. Studying How Jews became White Folks should be a prerequisite for white Jews to see how Jewish complicity with whiteness has been harmful. When I say this, I am expressing my solidarity with Jews, Jewish culture and Jewish history, warts and all, because many Jews have also been stalwart supporters of and activists in racial justice, social justice, labor rights, immigrant rights and the separation of church and state. 



Reflection

How can we hold multiple truths about who has historical claims to the land of Israel/Palestine?

What are some examples of a government acting out of alignment with the values of its people?

How do we discuss the oppression various groups experience without minimizing each group’s particular experiences?

Why is it important to understand and critique positionality in ethnic studies discourse, especially in terms of identity?

Jewishness and Ethnic Studies

A conversation between WAESN Executive Director, Tracy Castro-Gill  and Educator/Librarian, Jeff Treistman

My former colleague and current friend and co-conspirator, Jeff Treistman, and I sat down to discuss the tension between ethnic studies and Jewishness. What we produced is a lengthy dialogue about some of the largest points of contention. This is the first installment of three. Each installment will end with some reflection questions for readers, especially educators.

This first installment centers around the identity of Jewish folks. Are Jews white?



Hello! I am Tracy Castro-Gill. My pronouns are they/them and I identify as Xicanx. I’m a mom, grandmother, and friend. I’m also a racial justice advocate, former middle school educator, and education scholar. I’m one of the co-founders of Washington Ethnic Studies Now and serve as the Executive Director.

Hi, I’m Jeff Treistman. My pronouns are he/him and I identify as a white Jew (or Ashkenazi). I live with my wife of 40 years, have an adult daughter and sustain many friendships. I’ve worked as a musician, a chef, a wine merchant, an educator and as a school librarian. I’m a long time member and in the leadership program with the Society for Humanistic Judaism.

Tracy: So, for some context, this blog post is being written as a conversation between myself and Jeff in response to some criticism I’ve received from some Jewish folks recently over my insistence that most Jews are white, my view of Israel as a settler-colonial state, and my support of Palestinian Studies in ethnic studies programs. I’ve also raised concern over the Washington State’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s (OSPI) actions in the development of the state’s ethnic studies framework that included granting white, Jewish organizations and individuals the authority to vet and veto the work of people of color.

As a non-Jewish person, I want to be sure I’m not missing anything, and that I’m listening to reasonable Jewish people with a deep understanding of Jewish history and contemporary concerns about the recent rise in antisemitism. I say, “reasonable,”because there is a trend of white Zionists shutting down and working against anti-racist scholars of color. Members of California’s Jewish legislative caucus penned a letter denouncing the work of ethnic studies scholars of color saying, “We cannot support a curriculum that erases the American Jewish experience, fails to discuss antisemitism, reinforces negative stereotypes about Jews, singles out Israel for criticism, and would institutionalize the teaching of antisemitic stereotypes in our public schools.”The thing is, ethnic studies, historically, has never been about Jewish Studies. The focus has always been on racially minoritized groups. Also historically, there are four races: European, Asian, American (including all of the Americas, not just the USA), and African. Oceanian was recently added as a fifth race. Ethnic studies has always been about Black, Latinx, American Indian, and Asian experiences. European Jews don’t fall into these categories. 

Emily Alhadeff, a Jewish blog author, asked to interview me about the work being done in Washington State on ethnic studies. I agreed, but recorded the interview because I was afraid she’d misrepresent my view – which she did. In her piece, she claims I bullied a Jewish member of the state workgroup on ethnic studies simply because she was white and Jewish. The fact is, the member in question, Linda Clifton, repeatedly admitted her ignorance of ethnic studies. Alhadeff says, “Clifton challenged the use of the term ‘Indigenous epistemologies,’”because Clifton admitted she doesn’t know what it means. Indigenous epistemologies are the foundation of all ethnic studies curriculum. Why was she on a committee to create a curriculum she knew nothing about? I was told it was to, “make sure we didn’t have another ‘California’.”

original recording of interview used in The Cholent by Emily Alhadeff

White Jewish people insisting on being included in a curriculum that has never been about them reeks of white privilege, and when I say that, Jewish folks come back with something along the lines of, “Well, Jewish identity is complicated.”Aren’t all identities? The fact that Linda Clifton and the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle were given a kind of supervisory role over educators and scholars of color also smells bad. And still, as a person who considers themselves a critical learner, I want to learn more.

My first question to you, Jeff, is, “Are Jews white?”

Jeff: Yes, except for when they aren’t. If we are just talking about the United States, out of a population of approximately 6 million US Jews, 300,000 identify as Jews of Color. Most US Jews are Ashkenazic descendants of the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe. In Israel/Palestine Ashkenazi Jews make up about 45% of the Jewish population with Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews making up another 45%. Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews) make up 3% and the last 7% are various mixes of the first three. (You can learn about differences and similarities here.)

Jews were accepted in the United States as white from the very beginning when the Constitution guaranteed the free exercise of religion and gave Jews rights they never had anywhere else before. Jews were full citizens, not ⅗ for Africans or barred outright like Asians. During the colonial period it was different. Jews were banned in most colonies except in the settlements of New York City, NY, Newport, RI, Savannah, GA, Charleston, SC and Philadelphia, PA. Even with legal acceptance Jews have always been “othered” and the privileges that come with whiteness were slow to materialize. Many non-WASP whites in the US see the post WWII period as when they “became” white, in other words, when they started to lose the stigmas that came with their ethnic backgrounds. In addition to Jews, Southern and Eastern Europeans, Middle Easterners and even the Irish can trace a history of discrimination that their families experienced.

Tracy: I love that you brought African and Asian experiences into this conversation, and I will add that Indigenous people in the Americas were victims of genocide, excluded from human rights, and considered sub-human. Race and power, of course, are all relative. I also appreciate the article you shared with me by David Schraub, “White Jews: An intersectional approach.” I often tell people that ethnic studies doesn’t exclude Jewish identity, but takes an intersectional approach to it. I appreciate how Schraub complicates Whiteness in Jewish identity and asks, “What does Whiteness do to Jewishness?” As I read it, though, it felt like he was talking to white readers. I understand his point about how Whiteness amplifies stereotypes of Jewish people, especially stereotypes of power hoarding, but it would be interesting to understand how people of color see Jewishness. His analysis lacks a deeper discussion of the positionality of white Jews in relationship to folks of color. Do folks of color see white Jews as white and Jewish, or just white? ← Rhetorical question. I personally can’t discern white folks from white Jewish folks unless there’s an obviously Jewish name. For example, I did not know Alhadeff is a Jewish name. I guessed Treistman was a Jewish name when we met because of the ‘man’ suffix. I didn’t know Linda Clifton was Jewish until she told me.

Schraub suggests that one thing Whiteness does to Jewishness is amplify the stereotype that Jews have some kind of superhuman power over all things and all people. How, then, do we critique the privileges Whiteness confers on white people  – a central topic of ethnic studies,  including white Jews, without getting caught up in antisimetic tropes?

Most Jews take a yearly reckoning of their actions during the high holidays and should be encouraged to include the costs of Whiteness in their personal reckoning.

Jeff Treistman

Jeff: Very carefully. Antisemitism is a mine field. Not even Jews are immune to accusations of self-hatred and antisemitism from other Jews. Witness the mainstream Jewish organizations that give Bernie Sanders grief over his assertion that Palestinians have rights. I’m sure I will get grief from some quarter just for discussing this openly with you. There is a brutal dialectic that exists between Jewishness and antisemitism. In his Man Booker award winning novel The Finkler Question, Howard Jacobson posits the idea that Jews and antisemitism are co-dependent. Many Jews like to say that God, Torah, and Israel unite all Jews but the reality is that those three topics spur endless debates and rare unity among Jews. But antisemitism does bring unity to Jews.

Anyone critiquing Jews for any reason at all should demonstrate an awareness and understanding of Jewish history. That is why I think you are taking a much needed step. Most people are ignorant of Jewish history because it is not taught in public schools and that is why Jewish Studies is such an important topic on the university level. Many Jews try to give their children some Jewish education both in religious and secular schools and don’t rely on public school for that part of their education. Even so, many Jews have only limited knowledge of their own cultural history.

Most American Jews are unaffiliated and this is something that undermines much of the propaganda that comes from the Jewish mainstream. According to the most recent Pew research reports on religion in America, the trend toward secularism is only growing more significant, this in spite of the rise of Evangelical Christianity. Jews constitute the most secular religious group in America. Younger Jews of today are challenging many of the assumptions about Israel/Palestine and other topics that have been pumped out by the older, established Jewish organizations while at the same time forming new groups.

I have been teaching in a non-theistic, secular Jewish Sunday school for ten years, so I have experience with Jewish education. I do teach about antisemitism and the Holocaust but that is no where near all there is to learn about in Jewish Studies. I think we can start finding some answers to your questions within Jewish Studies.
First off, Jews are no strangers to Socialism, Communism and Anarchism. Those of us, like myself, who identify with leftist ideologies, criticize the conservative elements that come along with white privilege. So I think a class analysis is very appropriate. Secondly, most Jews subscribe to the value of Tikkun Olam, which is the idea that the world is not perfect, in many places it is broken and needs repair. If you are not using your privilege to try to accomplish repair, you are not fulfilling your obligations of Jewishness, so there is a moral core that can be activated. Thirdly, most Jews take a yearly reckoning of their actions during the high holidays and should be encouraged to include the costs of Whiteness in their personal reckoning. I would also suggest that the Talmudic debate between Hillel and Shammai is relevant because even though the more liberal Hillel is acknowledged as having the correct opinion, Shammai was not erased. It is said that Hillel was correct in the world we live in but Shammai would be correct in Paradise.



Reflection

What does it mean to be white in the U.S. and how may centering Jewishness in ethnic studies detract from the stories of people and communities of color that created ethnic studies?

How would de-centering Whiteness in public education allow for a richer understanding of Jewishness?

In what ways can people be simultaneously the target of oppression and the perpetrator of oppression?

What is the importance of considering intersectionality, a tenet of Critical Race Theory, in discussions of identity?

Petition: Support RRHS BSU Students and Educators

What follows is a letter drafted by the River Ridge High School (RRHS) BSU outlining their current experiences and demands. It was sent to Superintendent Reykdal who has yet to respond as of March 3, 2022, the date of this publication.

You can support the BSU by signing this petition, which will send a letter in support of their below demands to Superintendent Reykdal and the administrators of NTPS and RRHS, and by donating to their legal fund.

Support the River Ridge High School BSU

Superintendent Reykdal, NTPS Administrators, and RRHS Administrators,

I am signing this petition in support of the River Ridge High School BSU And Educators. I support their demands outlined below and ask that you meet each one without delay or retaliation against the members and educators of the BSU.

Students participating in the strike must receive accommodations and/or modifications to make-up work missed in their classes With the understanding now that the district was in direct violation of their own policies, all participants in the student strike should receive full credit for engaging in their civic duty to exercise their 1st amendment rights in protest of violations by district officials, school administrators, and staff that disproportionately harmed students from BIPOC and other marginalized communities. These students should not only receive credit for civics and other social studies courses, they should be awarded credits towards graduation for other social studies credits, leadership, CTE, art, ELA, etc.

Students and staff participating in the strike will not be retaliated against.

Any teacher, staff, and/or student peer that is proven to have acted in retaliation towards students on strike will be disciplined, provided with equity training, and/or suspended or terminated from the district.

An agreement to negotiation/planning with BSU students and students who have experienced sexual trauma at schools and stakeholders to plan stop “business as usual” schooling for students involved in the strike for the duration of the year 1-2 weeks during the month of February to address major student concerns at our schools and to plan school-wide/district-wide trainings. Students are not just learning Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetics. There is a 4th R and a 5th R that are silent. NTPS needs to make a commitment to end Racism and Rape culture in schooling. We demand that a commitment is made to dedicate space, money, time, and effort so that all students, staff, and stakeholders can address these community issues so that we can collaborate on community solutions. Outside professional organizations specializing in these issues should be hired with the consent of students. Stakeholders engaging in the process should be compensated (school credit, volunteer hours, a stipend, etc.) if this is not part of curriculum and made to be extracurricular.

Students involved in the strike will be provided with the theater commons area or the auxiliary gym at RRHS for the remainder of the school year as their safe place.

They will also be reporting to this safe place for every Advisory/Study Hall between 2nd and 3rd period to meet, build community, disseminate information, organize, plan, receive mental health support, etc.

Students from North Thurston High School and Timberline High School who were involved in their school walk-out and have allied with RRHS BSU will also receive the same opportunities and be transported/allowed to be transported to RRHS to collaborate on community solutions.

Policies are updated in the students' rights and responsibilities handbook to reflect district policies.

Long-term Goals we are still pursuing:

A full investigation conducted by the Washington State Department of Justice, The Office of Civil Rights, and/or The Human Rights Commission, of the current and historical issues and management of incidents of racism and sexual harassment at NTPS with the understanding that the failures of this district are failures that are state-wide.

Accountability measures for racial equity, LGBTQIA+, and social justice training for all staff in every NTPS Position.

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247 signatures

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To Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal, and members of the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction,

We are the Black Student Union (BSU) of North Thurston Public Schools (NTPS). Our BSU advocates for the collective interest and rights of Black students, and by extension the rights of all students participating in the institution of public education. We are writing to you not only on behalf of our BSU members, but also in an effort to protect the rights of students who have been targets of sexual violence in our schools, including female-identifying, transgender, and non-binary students. We are uniting in a collective effort to ensure that students’ rights are protected, regardless of sex, gender presentation, or sexuality, and that all students have access to a safe and inclusive school environment free from sexual violence, racism, harassment, intimidation, and bullying. 

Students from a variety of backgrounds and identities reported multiple experiences of discrimination and injustice when filing incidents of racism and sexual harassment to administrators and/or district level officials. This is not acceptable. We must act in our own best interests to secure our rights under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in public schools because of race, color, or national origin. Public schools include elementary schools, secondary schools, public colleges, and universities. We must act to hold institutions of public education accountable to the Title IX Constitutional Amendment of 1972 that prohibits sex discrimination (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity) in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. 

Our previous and ongoing attempts to work “within the system” have resulted in re-traumatization, gaslighting, and repeated instances of our concerns being dismissed and/or minimized further compounding our trauma. Despite attempts to follow outlined procedures in our student handbook and make reports to the powers that be, we have not been protected from racial abuse, sexual trauma, and retaliation inflicted on us by peers and even staff. Administrators and district officials have proven unable to provide us with a safe learning environment and, conversely, have created a hostile environment for students who were involved in our strike against racism and rape culture in schools.  

Because of these shortcomings, it is now our responsibility to cultivate change and secure justice for ourselves.

We spent over 5 months from September 2021 into March 2022 meeting with supportive teachers, in small groups, and eventually formed alliances with larger groups of students to analyze our circumstances and how the systems in our schools have failed to protect us. We met with caregivers/parents in December of 2021 to raise awareness of our lived experiences as students in NTPS.  As a result of these meetings, we created a list of short-term goals and long-term goals that would serve to improve the educational experiences of BIPOC and other marginalized students. We began to implement changes on our own but were denied the opportunity to even have a student advocate in our meetings with administrators.

Our circumstances progressively became worse with mounting incidents of racism and sexual violence and as we continued to advocate for ourselves. It was necessary to take more drastic measures. We held a second meeting with students experiencing sexual violence on campus. On Saturday, January 29th, BSU leaders and our advisors, student representatives for those experiencing sexual violence, caregivers/parents of the Black Student Union from the 3 high schools in NTPS, and concerned community leaders gathered for a presentation by the BSU Coalition.  All high school level administrators were invited but only Angela Lee-Pope, the Vice Principal from River Ridge, attended with the District’s Director of Equity, Dr. Antonio Sandifer.  At this meeting, we established a foundational understanding of the harm that we have had to endure from administrators and district officials who have treated students from BIPOC and marginalized communities inequitably.  We announced our strike and that the timeline would be for as long as is necessary to get our demand met from school leadership.  We received overwhelming caregiver and community support. 

At this point, however, we did not know that the demands we created were already written into the district’s governance policies on Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying in some form years before.  These were not detailed on page 17 of the HIB section of the Student’s Rights and Responsibilities Handbook.  We only discovered this after we met with the Nisqually Tribal Council who recommended creating a fact sheet in which NTPS policies and state RCWs were reviewed for violations.  Upon researching these policies during the last full week of February, we were astonished to find out that not only were our demands already in district policies, but that district officials, administrators, and staff operated while uninformed of these policies and that they repeatedly acted in violation to those policies over the course of this school year and countless others serving to harm generations of students.

We are acting as a collective body to ensure that our most vulnerable populations and future generations are safe from harm at schools by holding NTPS accountable. The dehumanization of students will continue to occur, as well as systemic racism and rape culture, if we do not unite for change. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, we believe, is ultimately responsible for ensuring the rights of faculty members as well as students in reporting government abuse.  We are aware that OSPI and NTPS have been in contact regarding these matters.  You must act to support students and staff as we continue to fight for our rights. We want our schools and this district to do better so that we don’t have to endure suffering just to receive an education. We ask that you:  

bear witness to our stories; 

use your resources and connections to raise awareness about the abuses and exploitation of BIPOC labor while on strike and in negotiation meetings in which we are doing the work to ensure the district’s compliance with Title VI and Title IX statutes without proper compensation, credits towards graduation, or even positive acknowledgment of the work we are doing while having to be burdened with making up any in-class work missed;

protect us from further harm and retaliation by asserting pressure on agencies/those with the power and authority to terminating the employment and revoking the certification of district level officials as well as administrators at NTPS that are criminally negligent in being uninformed of their own policies and violating policies to the detriment of students;

protect us from further harm and retaliation by asserting pressure on agencies/those with the power and authority to remove from office the school board members who have demonstrated complicity over multiple years in criminal negligence in being uninformed of their own district policies and not holding the superintendent, her cabinet, other district officials, and school administrators accountable; and

donate to our legal defense fund as we pursue a class-action and individual lawsuits https://waethnicstudies.com/donations/rrhs-bsu-legal-fund/   

We have been intimidated, coerced, and forced to abide by demands dictated to us by administrators against our own self-interest. There is an imbalance of power corrupting our public schools particularly when it comes to reporting traumatic experiences that needs to be amended. When we are forced to be silent and to bear the burden of being harmed through race-based and gender-based violence, we internalize feelings of anger, sadness, and confusion. This negatively impacts our attendance, motivation, academic outcomes, mental health, and more. When students come to school, they need to feel safe and secure enough to communicate with our mandated reporters about the traumatic experiences students go through. So, consider this trauma as causing students in the strike to be “further impacted by significant disruption to their education,” a circumstance that allows for credits to be waived for graduating seniors, in addition to the strain put on us from the COVID pandemic with buses that don’t show up, substitutes in multiple classes, and our own absences due to quarantine and/or mental health circumstances. 

The student strike (long-term, disruption of schooling) was not a one-day walk out. It was 8 days of protesting where we were repeatedly dehumanized by district officials.  The following is a short and incomplete list of what we experienced.  We were:  

refused the use of restrooms;

left unsheltered in rain and below 40 degree temperatures for hours even when shelter was requested due to inclement weather;

threatened with suspension and the ability to walk during graduation;

unprotected from a hostile parent that made threats as well as racist and lewd comments to strike participants while the SRO and district officials failed to intervene (videos available on social media);

continuously mischaracterized as an unruly, aggressive, disruptive “mob” without apologies or corrections to misleading emails sent to the public;

obstructed in our progress with negotiated demands as district officials continuously failed to communicate with counselors and ALL other staff the terms of negotiations causing confusion and frustration among staff and students;  

treated with malicious retaliation before and during the strike;

treated with discrimination even after returning to classes;

told our signs that we put up during Black Lives Matter in Schools Week/Black History Month that quoted Dr. King and represented the legacy of resistance against Black-oppression were unauthorized and were ordered by the Vice Principal to be taken down.  The custodian who took down the signs also crumpled up the signs, tore the only sign that said Black Lives Matter, and threw them in the trash.  We were not allowed to see footage in its entirety from surveillance cameras;

denied our 1st amendment rights when NTPS officials manipulated the public into believing that our strike particularly impacted students served in the Life Skills program at River Ridge.  The district has yet to retract any of their deleterious emails regarding the students on strike nor have they released the email from all 3 Life Skills teachers defending the BSU students on strike and decrying the use of students in the Life Skills program as an excuse to violate the rights of the student on strike;

subjected to negotiations with district officials that were combative in nature and demoralizing to students.  Abusive administrators continually denied, questioned, minimized, and, in one unfortunate event, the RRHS Vice Principal/Interim Principal Lee-Pope laughed at a student’s claims causing that student severe emotional distress; and

endangered by school and district officials who failed to communicate to the public and to the school community that a threat was made to protestors by a peer that filmed the strike and imported the footage into a first person shooter video encouraging other students to “get a couple m82s and shoot up the protesters like that one part in cod.” The following day at the strike, students saw and reported the same threatening video to adult supporters, unaware that administrators knew of and “addressed” the incident the afternoon before. Adults at the strike took the necessary safety precautions to protect students while a report was being made to authorities. Ultimately, due to lack of communication by administrators and district officials, chaos and harm towards students ensued. Two students had anxiety attacks and were treated by medical staff.  Others were crying and afraid.  The entire group of students and caregivers were traumatized.  The evidence collected from the lockdown supports the above claims.

Here is a breakdown of the District’s response to strike demands with edits, updates, and descriptions in red of other treatment we’ve had to endure:  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1JQhmIWVo292ZrG2ZdVSqbvbW7fEpmwI6Vgc8KO-vmOo/edit   

We demanded that our schools agree to the following Short-Term Achievable Goals that can begin to build trust and healing before we return to schooling. However, with the recent discovery that our Short-Term Achievable Goals are already written into district policies in some form, our demands evolved.  The district and their representatives have been criminally negligent in abiding by their own governance policies and Washington State RCWs and have been harming students for generations.  Currently, we demand:   

Students participating in the strike must receive accommodations and/or modifications to make-up work missed in their classes With the understanding now that the district was in direct violation of their own policies, all participants in the student strike should receive full credit for engaging in their civic duty to exercise their 1st amendment rights in protest of violations by district officials, school administrators, and staff that disproportionately harmed students from BIPOC and other marginalized communities.  These students should not only receive credit for civics and other social studies courses, they should be awarded credits towards graduation for other social studies credits, leadership, CTE, art, ELA, etc. ;

students and staff participating in the strike will not be retaliated against;  

any teacher, staff, and/or student peer that is proven to have acted in retaliation towards students on strike will be disciplined, provided with equity training, and/or suspended or terminated from the district; 

an agreement to negotiation/planning with BSU students and students who have experienced sexual trauma at schools and stakeholders to plan stop “business as usual” schooling for students involved in the strike for the duration of the year  1-2 weeks during the month of February to address major student concerns at our schools and to plan school-wide/district-wide trainings. Students are not just learning Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetics. There is a 4th R and a 5th R that are silent. NTPS needs to make a commitment to end Racism and Rape culture in schooling. We demand that a commitment is made to dedicate space, money, time, and effort so that all students, staff, and stakeholders can address these community issues so that we can collaborate on community solutions. Outside professional organizations specializing in these issues should be hired with the consent of students. Stakeholders engaging in the process should be compensated (school credit, volunteer hours, a stipend, etc.) if this is not part of curriculum and made to be extracurricular;

students involved in the strike will be provided with the theater commons area or the auxiliary gym at RRHS for the remainder of the school year as their safe place;

they will also be reporting to this safe place for every Advisory/Study Hall between 2nd and 3rd period to meet, build community, disseminate information, organize, plan, receive mental health support, etc.;

students from North Thurston High School and Timberline High School who were involved in their school walk-out and have allied with RRHS BSU will also receive the same opportunities and be transported/allowed to be transported to RRHS  to collaborate on community solutions; and

policies are updated in the students’ rights and responsibilities handbook to reflect district policies.

Long-term Goals we are still pursuing:

A full investigation conducted by the Washington State Department of Justice, The Office of Civil Rights, and/or The Human Rights Commission, of the current and historical issues and management of incidents of racism and sexual harassment at NTPS with the understanding that the failures of this district are failures that are state-wide; and

accountability measures for racial equity, LGBTQIA+, and social justice training for all staff in every NTPS Position. 

Please contact us with your questions, comments, and concerns.   

In Solidarity,     

NTPS BSU members/students impacted by race-based trauma and sexual violence

Support the River Ridge High School BSU

Superintendent Reykdal, NTPS Administrators, and RRHS Administrators,

I am signing this petition in support of the River Ridge High School BSU And Educators. I support their demands outlined below and ask that you meet each one without delay or retaliation against the members and educators of the BSU.

Students participating in the strike must receive accommodations and/or modifications to make-up work missed in their classes With the understanding now that the district was in direct violation of their own policies, all participants in the student strike should receive full credit for engaging in their civic duty to exercise their 1st amendment rights in protest of violations by district officials, school administrators, and staff that disproportionately harmed students from BIPOC and other marginalized communities. These students should not only receive credit for civics and other social studies courses, they should be awarded credits towards graduation for other social studies credits, leadership, CTE, art, ELA, etc.

Students and staff participating in the strike will not be retaliated against.

Any teacher, staff, and/or student peer that is proven to have acted in retaliation towards students on strike will be disciplined, provided with equity training, and/or suspended or terminated from the district.

An agreement to negotiation/planning with BSU students and students who have experienced sexual trauma at schools and stakeholders to plan stop “business as usual” schooling for students involved in the strike for the duration of the year 1-2 weeks during the month of February to address major student concerns at our schools and to plan school-wide/district-wide trainings. Students are not just learning Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetics. There is a 4th R and a 5th R that are silent. NTPS needs to make a commitment to end Racism and Rape culture in schooling. We demand that a commitment is made to dedicate space, money, time, and effort so that all students, staff, and stakeholders can address these community issues so that we can collaborate on community solutions. Outside professional organizations specializing in these issues should be hired with the consent of students. Stakeholders engaging in the process should be compensated (school credit, volunteer hours, a stipend, etc.) if this is not part of curriculum and made to be extracurricular.

Students involved in the strike will be provided with the theater commons area or the auxiliary gym at RRHS for the remainder of the school year as their safe place.

They will also be reporting to this safe place for every Advisory/Study Hall between 2nd and 3rd period to meet, build community, disseminate information, organize, plan, receive mental health support, etc.

Students from North Thurston High School and Timberline High School who were involved in their school walk-out and have allied with RRHS BSU will also receive the same opportunities and be transported/allowed to be transported to RRHS to collaborate on community solutions.

Policies are updated in the students' rights and responsibilities handbook to reflect district policies.

Long-term Goals we are still pursuing:

A full investigation conducted by the Washington State Department of Justice, The Office of Civil Rights, and/or The Human Rights Commission, of the current and historical issues and management of incidents of racism and sexual harassment at NTPS with the understanding that the failures of this district are failures that are state-wide.

Accountability measures for racial equity, LGBTQIA+, and social justice training for all staff in every NTPS Position.

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Who Controls Education in Washington State? Part 2; This is not a “Culture War.”

Liberals and progressives who tell you this is a Culture War are co-opting and virtue signaling for their own personal gain.

In part 2 of the series we’ll be looking at who controls education by controlling the narrative around anti-CRT movements. Some have tried to change the narrative by calling it a “Republican war on teachers,” but Republicans aren’t the only antagonists. In a blue state, passive progressive liberals reign supreme.

Culture War” has been used as a rhetorical weapon in American political discourse since the 1920s. Its emergence in the heightened inequality following the Gilded Age is no coincidence, as liberals and conservatives had to respond to the growing momentum of multiracial working class communities calling for racial and economic liberation. In a 21st Century America riddled with under-funded schools, unsupported educators, and austerity budgets closing schools in cities like in Oakland, you might wonder, “Why we are still using a term like ‘culture wars’?”

Diving deeper into the CRT “Culture War” debate, we are able to see how the duopoly of our political discourse between liberals and conservatives limits and shapes what we think of as possible changes to our education system. Conservatives, on the one hand, scream “Communists!” while liberals repeat, “Nothing to see here. We don’t teach CRT.” Each reaction to CRT is a side on the same coin. That is why we are here to unpack how the liberal and conservative framing of CRT as a “Culture War” about curriculum is a distraction from revolutionizing our unjust school system beginning with fully funding our schools, supporting our teachers, and centering the needs and cultures of our most marginalized communities. 



Who’s fighting this so-called “Culture War”?

The reality for many activists and scholars is that Republicans are only one barrier to racial justice; progressive liberals, in trying to appease conservatives, have watered down the intent of CRT, and therefore, ethnic studies. When reading the liberal and progressive headlines, one can easily be convinced CRT is either for white folks to learn how to talk about race or for Black folks to see themselves in the books they read. While these are essential components of CRT, they barely scrape the surface of the changes we at WAESN know our schools need. Liberals and progressives who tell you this is a culture war co-opt our material and historical struggle for liberation

Instead of defending the framework of CRT, liberals want you to think this war is one of promoting multicultural “diversity” or fighting individual acts of bigotry and racism. These corporate-sponsored liberal headlines framing our education crisis as a CRT “Culture War” erase, abstract, and appropriate the demands of families, youth, and educator organizers. They silence us and our ancestors in the generations-long fight for liberation. For racial justice and economic liberation, we must make radical changes to our school funding programs, implement restorative justice, and collaborate for cultural restoration. But before we get into our solutions, we first must disrupt the looping rhetoric of the ruling elite and their control over the two parties. 

Origins of the Anti-CRT Movement in Washington State

Washington State plays a unique role in this national and generational crisis. The New Yorker claims Gig Harbor resident and conservative journalist, Christopher Rufo, is responsible for inventing the CRT “Culture War” in 2019, arguably starting with attacks against WAESN Executive Director, Tracy Castro-Gill. After leaking a City of Seattle “anti-racism” training and making his way onto Tucker Carlson in 2020, CRT made its way to Trump’s attention. For Rufo, CRT was the perfect term to attack because its foundations were rooted in the Marxist tradition of the 1960s. Rufo, unfortunately, was right that red-baiting and pandering to white fragility would work to spread anti-CRT sentiment and outrage. In response to the conservative weaponization of CRT, liberals have fallen prey to playing defense for something they fundamentally are at odds with, but this is not new. CRT is not a culture war, but a revolutionary framework that we at WAESN reclaim as a part of our project of Ethnic Studies. 

Rufo tweets admission of Southern Strategy tactics in attacking CRT

CRT is a framework to critique inequitable funding systems, misrepresentative and white-washed colonizer histories, individualistic capitalist values, and the disciplinary systems that disproportionately punish our students of color. Talking white male heads, including Luke Rosiak, Ben Shapiro, and other, local pundits have turned their strategies from broad attacks on scholarship to baseless personal attacks on leading education advocates in the state, including Tracy Castro Gill, the Executive Director of Washington Ethnic Studies Now (WAESN). 

Unfortunately, for activists and organizers like Tracy, personal attacks, like those launched by Luke Rosiak and Ben Shapiro, have become a rite of passage, a necessary evil to being a political agitator. It comes at a deep emotional and psychological cost for activists, including death threats. Luke Rosiak tried to discredit Tracy by attacking their dead husband and accusing them of child abuse for supporting their trans child. Tracy’s response to these attacks can be read here. Tracy isn’t the only CRT advocate receiving threats and attacks here in Washington State. Jesse Hagopian, member of Black Lives Matter at School and a national advocate for education reform and racial equity, has been subjected to countless attacks and death threats. These attacks are aimed to sabotage the stability and momentum of the work to bring justice to our schools and our society.

While liberals play the role of political pundits in this “Culture War” from the comfort of their armchairs, educators doing the work are waging what can often feel like an actual war with violence ranging from the threat of losing jobs to physical and emotional violence or death. Counter-narrative is a crucial tenant of CRT and ethnic studies, so WAESN is here to set the story straight and shift the narrative from the “Culture Wars” to the ongoing struggle against political systemic racial and economic oppression.

Local Media’s Liberal and Progressive Co-optation

Today’s mainstream journalists stand in the long tradition of liberal Americans who, as James Baldwin warned us, “have the most remarkable ability to alchemize all bitter truths into an innocuous but piquant confection and to transform their moral contradictions, or public discussion of such contradictions, into a proud decoration, such as are given for heroism on the field of battle.” The liberal outrage at banning To Kill a Mockingbird is the best encapsulation of white liberals turning their political discourse into a self-serving woke-badge of honor. James Baldwin’s writings, too often co-opted by liberals, warned us of the complacency of these liberals who argue that “as long as such books are being published…everything will be alright” in America. The current incarnation of Baldwin’s liberal is, “So long as we have POC representation, everything will seem alright.”

Despite countless local leaders making huge waves in the national struggle for liberation in our school systems, the Seattle Times continues to engage in this ideologically obstructionist discourse. Naomi Ishisaka’s Seattle Times article from August 2021 frames the struggle for CRT within the #TeachTruth action that took place at Yesler Terrace park to oppose anti-CRT bills as a part of a national day of action organized by the Zinn Education Project. Ishisaka’s detailing of the action highlights messages only favorable to the liberal framing of CRT. For example, several radical Black femmes, including WAESN’s Alexis Mburu, organized and spoke at this event, but were ignored in Ishisaka’s article. Her quotes of Jesse Hagopian were cherry-picked and among the more palatable quotes, thus erasing other radical organizers of the event from WAESN, Democratic Socialists of America, and the WA NAACP Youth Council. We believe watering down this story is the product of The Seattle Times’ conservative bent, but Ishisaka’s summary of the demands on the street were: curriculum reform. Our response: Um, no. If we are truly using CRT as a framework for rebuilding our education system, there needs to be a revolution of our school funding system, our punitive justice system, our tax code, and the fundamental values of our society. If we continue to allow liberals and conservatives to frame the political discourse as a “Cultural War,” we will continue to allow the ruling class to abstract our material conditions from the conversation. 

In stark contrast to the Seattle Times, the South Seattle Emerald does important work by amplifying often overlooked stories, not unlike this one. For example, the South Seattle Emerald (SSE) recently published an article by the National Liberated Ethnic Studies Coalition that declared that the time for ethnic studies organizing is now. SSE is the most pro-ethnic studies, pro-communities of color news outlet in the state and has published over a dozen articles on the positive work and impact of ethnic studies.

WAESN is in full support of SSE and its founder, Marcus Harrison Green, and his February 8th article published in the Seattle Times deserves what Dr. Django Paris calls a loving critique. In the piece, Green begins to ask an important question that progressives have been asking since the CRT “Culture War” exploded in the wake of 2020’s uprisings: “Do you know what critical race theory Is?” Green’s article does not answer this question, but it does answer what CRT is not. We agree with Green that CRT is not just a culturally inclusive and responsive curriculum. This is where our focus on the definition of CRT and that of Green differs. Green focuses on conservative attacks on “truth” like HB1807 which, as he highlights, “specifically names The 1619 Project and How to be an Antiracist as books that could effectively only be taught alongside ‘opposing’ literature.”

Green’s progressive framing of CRT as “teaching truth” also wrongly names Representative Tomiko Santos as the legislator challenging Conservative bill sponsor, Rep. Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen). It was Representative Monica Stonier who actually served him the tea during the House Education Committee hearing on the bill. Representative Tomiko Santos is quite possibly the most passive progressive liberal in the Washington State legislature. She is well-known in grassroots organizing as a gatekeeper to transformational change, insisting on “bipartisan wins.” Suggesting that she is somehow radical – or even supports radical change – causes harm to radical movements. 

Representative Stonier questions Representative Walsh’s sources at a House Education Committee hearing on SB 1807

Journalists asking questions in mainstream media outlets trying to define the “real CRT” should not spotlight progressives who dunk on Washington State conservatives. Instead, we should be asking why our systems, including education, continue to not only perpetuate racial injustice, but also reproduce class disparities. Green, however, does point in the right direction for who we should be listening to when it comes to defining CRT: local youth organizers, families, and community organizations. If we listen to the voices of those fighting for CRT, we learn that these grassroots efforts are being attacked from all sides. 

WAESN Under Attack

Educator organizers in Washington State like Tracy Castro-Gill, Michale Peña, Rita Green, Bruce Jackson, Fernell Miller, Nikkita Oliver, Wayne Au, Jesse Hagopian, Darrin Hoop, Sebrena and RenaMateja Burr, Marquita Prinzing, Jon Greenberg, Alexis Mburu, and countless youth organizers from WA NAACP Youth Council, The Root of our Youth, and WAESN have been fighting on multiple fronts to bring racial justice and ethnic studies to our schools. In 2019, many ethnic studies advocates’ work came to fruition after building the movement behind SB5023, which entrusted the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to “identify and make available” ethnic studies materials and resources to 7-12 educators. It was later extended to grades K-6 with SB6066. WAESN has played a fundamental role in creating the materials and resources provided by OSPI. However, WAESN’s advocacy efforts agitated the progressive and liberal policy makers attempting to win woke points with legislation that has little accountability, zero funding, and superficial community support. This agitation has fueled the liberals’ attacks on WAESN and made it easier to erase our work from the narrative. 

WAESN recently acquired emails between Jerry Price, OSPI social studies lead charged with developing the ethnic studies framework, and several, white, Zionist educators working to undermine the progress made by femmes of color. David Witus admits to filing a complaint because WAESN condemns Israel’s ongoing attacks on Palestine and because WAESN’s executive director frequently reminds white Jewish people they are, in fact, white no matter how much they tan. It worked, because OSPI removed WAESN from a list of PD providers in the ethnic studies framework, proving once again that our greatest detractors from liberation are passive progressive liberals, this time those liberals in OSPI who favored the feelings of white men over the work of femme educators of color.

WAESN was only re-listed as a PD provider after involving lawyers and sending daily emails to Superintendent Reykdal. Instead of building our coalition, connecting with educators and families, WAESN is forced to be on the defense from both sides of the political spectrum. This is why WAESN is fighting on multiple fronts; both conservatives and liberals want to reframe the education reform discussion to focus on the “cultural” aspects of CRT, when in reality they all fear the growing dissatisfaction with the racial and economic realities of our school system, one limited by the state of austerity and scarcity fabricated by the ruling elite. 

The everyday violence of underfunded, over-policed, and racist schools gets scapegoated as a red-state Republican “Culture War” issue while in reality, Washington schools face a continued crisis fueled by a defunct, do-nothing Democratic controlled state legislature. In a state with a Democratic controlled legislature, we have no excuses, no Trumps to blame, so we must face the fact that perhaps it’s time for us to rethink our allegiance to the Democratic Party. Democrats and “progressives” will not save us. We will save us.

Columbo and Me…oh, and Just One More Thing!

Peter Falk as Lieutenant Columbo on the left, me in my thrift-sourced Columbo outfit on the right.

By Alex Ng

An Elder Millennial’s Journey to Ethnic Studies & Visual Arts, Part 3

This multipart journal is where I am documenting my thoughts as I embark on the journey of revising all of my classes from decent Visual Arts curriculum with some Ethnic Studies themes and content integrated throughout, to true Ethnic Studies Visual Arts at all levels: curriculum, pedagogy, and classroom culture.

Part 3 gives up on any notion of this journal being sequential in nature and instead is hyper-focused on a single aspect of my pedagogy: my obsession with Columbo and its impact on my teaching.

A thorough look at how America’s favorite rumpled TV detective has influenced my teaching

My memory is very shaky on when I first started watching Columbo. Oh, I’m sure I caught a peek or two at some point in my childhood with reruns on some retro TV Land channel, and I may have even watched a scene on ABC during the show’s 1990’s revival and decided it wasn’t worth my time. But I didn’t actually watch Columbo until some time in the mid-2010’s. I believe it was roughly 2015 or so when I decided to give this quirky murder mystery show from America’s television past a shot, back when the entire original 1970’s run was still on Netflix. At the time, I was interested in all manner of mystery shows including the recent BBC Sherlock, Poirot, Nero Wolfe, and the like. I don’t recall doing any research into Columbo; I think the show must have appeared in the “more like this” tab on Netflix. 

Little did I know then how swift and utterly complete the show’s takeover of my life would be. I was initially hooked by the novel format, something that has since been used in many other programs: we watch the murderer commit the murder first, then spend the rest of the show watching Lieutenant Columbo play a skillful game of cat and mouse until a final scene where the murderer is exposed. So, Columbo isn’t your run-of-the-mill whodunit, instead it’s a howcatchem. What’s great fun about everything that unfolds between the murder and finale is how the murderer so often underestimates the bumbling, shabbily dressed Columbo, and think they themselves are the cat, stringing along the mouse-detective only to find out at the last moment that they were the mouse all along. 

To say I am a Columbo fan would be an understatement. I own a Columbo mug, a Columbo t-shirt, and numerous Columbo books. I have watched and rewatched episodes, analyzed them, proselytized them to friends, colleagues, students, strangers on a train, and all across the world wide web (as I am doing at this very moment). I watch Columbo retrospectives on Youtube, seek out Columbo podcasts, and read every Columbo article written during the ongoing COVID pandemic. You might be surprised to learn that Columbo was a bonafide quarantine hit. The same lovable qualities of the character that captured my attention in 2015 fascinated bored binge-watchers in 2020.

My growing Columbo book collection

One such quality that sets Lieutenant Columbo apart from his TV detective peers is his unfailing politeness towards suspects and murderers. Through his unfailing politeness he gives murderers endless opportunities to dig their own graves. In the classroom, through my (mostly) unfailing politeness, I give students endless opportunities to dig their own graves. Just joking! Through my politeness, I hope to give students endless opportunities to be successful in class, to make better choices, to develop a positive relationship to learning. 

Politeness, though, doesn’t capture the full extent of Columbo’s nature. At his core, he is humble, and his humility creates opportunities for him to learn about and from suspects and murderers. Through his humility Columbo learns all about wine in the episode Any Old Port in a Storm, the sport and culture of bullfighting in A Matter of Honor, and stage magic in Now You See Him. Because of his genuine humility, Columbo is open and eager to learn from those he meets in the course of his work. Much in the same way, I believe an ethnic studies educator must approach the work of teaching with great humility and an openness and eagerness to learn from those around them, especially their students. In my classroom, I work to create a consistent feedback loop where students help me grow as an educator and bring knowledge into the classroom that I do not possess. I acknowledge that I don’t have all the answers and hope students will learn as much from each other as they do from me… if not more. As Columbo learns from the people he crosses paths with in his work, I strive to learn from my students and colleagues. 

I believe it is the responsibility of an ethnic studies educator to effectively disperse power and authority throughout the classroom, to let go of outdated notions of the authoritarian teacher, and to welcome into the classroom students’ personal agency while guiding them towards learning. Watching Columbo, I see how the Lieutenant effectively masks his own authority in deference to the will and personality of the murderer. While pursuing very different aims, I have consciously and unconsciously borrowed many of Columbo’s techniques to shift power dynamics and notions of authority in my classroom in a way that invites students to let their guard down and allow more of themselves to enter the classroom space.

Some of my Columbo sketches

There is great debate in the Columbo fandom about how much of the good Lieutenant’s persona is a guise, a well-honed performance to achieve his aim of catching murderers. Much in the same way, I will acknowledge that a healthy dose of my teaching is performance. I have developed routines, language, and mannerisms that are a part of my teaching, honed to achieve my aim of building positive relationships with students and making them feel seen and valued. At times, I have questioned the authenticity of my own performance just as Columbo fans question the authenticity of his. One day, while pondering Columbo’s persona (which happens most days if I’m being honest), I realized something important: although the Lieutenant is undeniably putting on a performance, the performance is absolutely an extension of his real personality. Put another way, Columbo’s Lieutenant persona is an honest reflection of his authentic self. Reflecting on my own teaching, I find the same to be true. Although years of applying my craft has resulted in a certain predictability in my routines, turns of phrase, and mannerisms, they are honest reflections of who I am as a person. In fact, I have worked hard to make sure this is true. I believe the more closely aligned my teaching and identity are, the more sustainable my career in teaching will be. Not having to put up a facade to step in front of students and teach makes doing my job much more satisfying. Although I take comfort in this realization, what I did not expect were the ways in which Columbo’s performance would influence my own.

Columbo raises his hand during a publicity shoot for the show

Take for example Columbo’s classic gesture of raising his hand above his head when he wants to ask someone a question. Columbo will raise his hand up and keep it there while he walks over to the person he wants to talk to. It’s an unusual gesture and something of a trademark for the character. I didn’t realize until earlier this school year that I use the very same gesture. With no conscious thought and no intention of mimicking Columbo, I noticed that when students raised their hands for my attention, I had a habit of raising my own hand in response and keeping it up while I walked over to their table to assist them. Realizing this, I decided to add a new component to this habit: now, when a student raises their hand for my attention, and I raise my hand in return while walking over to them, I complete the routine with a high five, pushing my raised hand into their raised hand before turning my attention to whatever the student called me over for.

Columbo approaches his work with absolute dedication to curiosity, a need to find answers to all the questions that bother him. The Lieutenant carries around a small notebook, writes down details and questions that bother him, and will pursue them until he can connect the dots and find answers. When I encounter a problem in teaching, I write them down on sticky notes, on a small notepad I keep on my desk, and in a note taking app on my phone. I will revisit my notes again and again until I can cross them off, marking each curiosity as resolved. With all of his paraphernalia, Columbo inevitably forgets where he put what: in which pocket is his pencil, his notepad, his cigar? On a daily basis I carry with me a pen, pencil, clicker, and my phone while teaching. And it’s anyone’s guess which pocket each item is in. Just as Columbo often fumbles through his pockets looking for the item he needs, I will often stand in the front of class, fumbling through my pockets to find my clicker to advance the lesson or my phone to pause the music. I become a Columbo parody without even meaning to!

Columbo’s curiosity extends well beyond the details of each individual case; he’s also deeply curious about the people he meets in the course of his investigations. He wants to see the good in people, even in the people he has to put away. Being a homicide detective brings him into contact with people from all walks of life, and he is curious about all of them. As a teacher, I adopt a similar approach. I am curious about my students. I make time to get to know them and for them to get to know each other. I try to center my own and my students’ humanity in class: to see the good in them, especially in those I struggle with.

“There’s niceness in everyone, a little bit anyhow.” – Lieutenant Columbo

These similarities are fun to muse over, but the deepest affinity I feel with Columbo is with his work ethic: Columbo is dogged. He never gives up. His bag of tricks is deep and when he exhausts those, he will come up with new ones. I admire his unending dedication to his work. And even more than that, I love that he loves what he does. Strange as it may sound for a homicide detective, Columbo loves his work.

“All my life I kept running into smart people…In school there were lots of smarter kids…but I figured, if I worked harder than they did, put in more time, read the books, kept my eyes open, maybe I could make it happen. And I did…and I really love my work, sir.”

– Lieutenant Columbo

Many times I have exhausted my own bag of tricks and will sit in my classroom or on the train thinking up new approaches to the problems I face. And as exhausting and frustrating as the work can be from time to time, I never stop loving teaching. If you love what you do, then the burden you live with is the drive to always do better. When I watch Columbo contemplate the sticking points of a case while hunched over a bowl of chili, I see a reflection of myself and my relationship to teaching.

Student artwork of Columbo for my study hall pass

Just One More Thing!

In venerating the character of Lieutenant Columbo, I would be remiss to not discuss the real-life person who played him. A core belief in ethnic studies is centering humanity in teaching and learning: to recognize the people we learn from and with. Peter Falk was not the first actor to play Columbo. That honor belongs to American actor Bert Freed who debuted the character on Enough Rope: a live TV movie on an episode of the Chevy Mystery Show in 1960. Two years later, a stage adaptation of Enough Rope was performed across the country under the new title Prescription Murder with veteran character actor Thomas Mitchell in the Lieutenant Columbo role. But Peter Falk was the actor who made the character a television icon that has endured in the public consciousness to this day. Having seen Bert Freed’s performance on Youtube and watched and read many interviews with the original creators of the character and show, William Link and Richard Levinson, I can confidently say that Falk brought so much to the character that wasn’t written on the page. He improvised many of Columbo’s numerous stories of cousins and nephews (most of whom are surely invented), Mrs. Columbo’s wide variety of interests that somehow always seem to relate to the profession of the murderer (most of them surely exaggerated, if not completely invented), and his bumbling behavior (surely an act to encourage the murderer to dismiss his immense intellect). Falk breathed life into the character of Columbo, gave him his quirks, his richness, and his glass eye. What was that about a glass eye, you ask? Well, Peter Falk’s right eye was surgically removed when he was just three years old due to a rare form of cancer that grows in the retina. From then on, he used a glass eye. Once again, there has been much debate in the niche Columbo fandom about the Lieutenant’s right eye. Yes, Peter Falk has a glass eye, but does Columbo? This question has been much debated but truly keen fans would know the answer. In season 10, episode 11 (according to the Peacock designation) A Trace of Murder, Columbo says to an LAPD forensics specialist “three eyes are better than one” referring to the forensic specialist’s two eyes and Columbo’s own one good eye.

A drawing of Columbo by Peter Falk who was also a very talented visual artist.

I have learned much from Peter Falk through his portrayal of Columbo, but I would not be writing these words, would not consider myself an ethnic studies educator, would not have the courage nor desire to share my thoughts and learning with others, were it not for another teacher of mine: WAESN executive director, Tracy Castro-Gill. I would know nothing of ethnic studies were it not for Tracy. Their unyielding passion and determination to make ethnic studies a reality in Washington has impacted my life, my teaching, and my teaching life in ways I cannot begin to measure. To this day, I continue to learn from Tracy and the beautiful WAESN community they have fostered. Tracy’s teaching of ethnic studies has given me the lens I needed to reflect critically on my own teaching, to more closely wed my identity and my work, and to pursue this admittedly silly endeavor of tracing the connections between my teaching and my love of Columbo. For this and much more, I am eternally grateful.

With all this said, I suppose I should go back and correct the subhead of this journal entry. Columbo hasn’t just “influenced my teaching”, he continues to and likely forever will influence my teaching, even in ways I have not yet realized.

Columbo embroidery stitched by a parent of a former student based on a sketch I drew. Gifted to me for teacher appreciation week 2021.

A Statement from WAESN Executive Director

In response to the hit piece written by Luke Rosiak in the Daily Wire:

I am unsurprised that my work and my personal life have come under attack by the likes of Luke Rosiak and Ben Shapiro. It is only evidence that the work I do and the life I live are important and full of good deeds. I thank them for the affirmation. In regards to the content of the piece, almost all of it, unsurprisingly, is false.

First, my ex husband, Ron Hammond, is an abusive narcissist who is angry that he can’t persuade me to go back to him after 14 years of divorce. He lost custody of our youngest child due to severely neglecting their educational and social-emotional needs. Contributing to this hit piece is simply a continuation of his decades-long emotional and psychological abuse. His claims would be laughable if they did not cause emotional harm to our child for several years prior to this piece.

My father, Richard Castro, is a deeply troubled, ultra conservative, conspiracy theorist and doomsday prepper. He is driven by his need to assimilate into the dominant culture and is convinced that the government and “liberals,” most notably Black Americans, are out to get him. He equates poverty with being a bad father, and is angry that I told the world we were poor growing up. Through no fault of his own, my Mexican-American father was not able to provide a steady income for our family until he took advantage of affirmative action laws in California in the late 80’s. He’s nothing if he’s not a hard worker. The six figure income stated in the piece, however, didn’t manifest until I was an adult with a family of my own.

I left my ex-husband in 2008. I left California in 2010 because there was nothing there for me but abuse and psychological instability from those around me. I married my late husband in 2012 and lost him to heart disease in 2018.

As for my late husband, Brian Gill, the claims of his past are true. He committed a horrific, inexcusable crime in 1982. It was his first and last crime of any type in his life. He did prison time and was rehabilitated. After being released from prison, he learned a trade, bought a home, and cared for his late partner, her two children, and two grandchildren, the latter of whom vouched for him in the custody case between myself and my ex-husband. The court ruled that my child was better off in our custody than with their biological father even with Brian’s past conviction. That says more about my ex-husband than my late husband. I am a better person for knowing and loving Brian Gill.

This most recent attack relies on the thoughts and perspectives of individuals that do not and have not been in relationship with me for years, exposing the desperation of conservative pundits to undermine my anti-racist work. I am currently exploring legal remedies to this personal attack full of lies and misinformation. I’m working closely with my professional partners who fully support me. I appreciate those of you who have reached out publicly and privately to offer your support.

Onward.

Ethnic Studies in K-5 with Concord International Elementary School

This post is a follow up to Puma Poetry Slam. WAESN’s Executive Director, Tracy Castro-Gill, sat down with 5 K-5 educators from Concord International Elementary School in Seattle, WA, to discuss what it takes to create culturally sustaining, liberatory spaces where students value their identities, cultures, and languages.

You can find the transcript of this recording and a copy of the self-assessment rubric used for the poetry slam here.

WAESN would like to thank the educators, Carly Groszhans, Jessica Staire, Celina Martinez, Maggie Dunphy, and Cinthia Sarahi, for sharing their expertise and experiences with ethnic studies in elementary school. We are also grateful for the Xicanx Institute for Teaching and Organizing (XITO) for their contributions to the learning of the Concord educators and the staff of WAESN.

OSPI Exploitation – Erasure, Whitewashing, and Fakequity

A guest blog by Dr. Verónica N. Vélez

As a facilitator of and contributor to the OSPI Ethnic Studies framework that was released in October 2021, I was shocked and deeply disappointed to receive the news that WAESN had been removed from the list of professional development providers for educators. As someone who was invited to co-facilitate OSPI’s Ethnic Studies Advisory Committee (ESAC) and assisted in the development of the OSPI’s Ethnic Studies framework, I would like to offer a bit of history as to how the current framework being promoted by OSPI came about.

In December 2020, I was invited to join efforts with a small team of educators and OSPI staff to support what had become a challenging process in bringing together the interests and ideas of ESAC members into a cohesive K-12 Ethnic Studies guiding framework. We had only a few months to meet the legislative deadline. I raised concerns that we needed guidance from collectives that held deep expertise in K-12 Ethnic Studies and were mobilizing in real time to consider the complexity of current Ethnic Studies movements and the challenges facing Ethnic Studies teachers in politically hostile environments at multiple scales. Another facilitator who had ties to WAESN suggested we connect with Tracy Castro-Gill. From our first conversation, I was left in awe of what Tracy and WAESN were making possible to ensure an Ethnic Studies future in Washington public schools (and beyond). Though I was aware of numerous efforts throughout the country, WAESN had taken on the enormous task of reconsidering Ethnic Studies beyond an elective course, seeking instead to reimagine a range of curriculum and instructional approaches through an Ethnic Studies lens. Moreover, WAESN was deeply responsive to local communities in Washington State in their development, reminding us that to teach Ethnic Studies we must live Ethnic Studies by insisting on movement-building in our own backyard.

After that first meeting with Tracy, it became clear that only path forward in building OSPI’s Ethnic Studies framework was in partnership with WAESN. The core facilitation team, including myself, began meeting regularly with Tracy and other members of WAESN to assess the work of ESAC and think through next steps in framework development. Each meeting (often late at night) with WAESN provided relief that we could achieve an Ethnic Studies future we all needed and deserved. In the end, the framework that OSPI now celebrates on its website would have not been possible without the committed efforts and leadership of WAESN. In fact, it was Tracy who first suggested we pursue a pedagogical framework with three parts: 1) anti-racist teaching; 2) culturally responsive and sustaining pedagogies; and 3) community responsive pedagogies. Thus, the pedagogical direction of OSPI’s Ethnic Studies framework came directly from Tracy.

While the attacks on Ethnic Studies have been numerous – so much so that I shouldn’t be shocked anymore regardless of the source – the recent decision by Superintendent Chris Reykdal to remove WAESN from the list of professional development providers felt particularly acute. My investment in helping to lead OSPI’s development of an Ethnic Studies framework was done with the best of intentions, maybe largely naïve that a critical approach to Ethnic Studies could be possible in efforts to institutionalize it within public schools. Superintendent Reykdal’s argument that WAESN “targeted” educational leaders and organizations fails to understand that every movement to advance Ethnic Studies must reckon with the ways in which white supremacy manifests, even in spaces that claim “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” To remain silent threatens to bankrupt Ethnic Studies, turning it into some multicultural fantasy that satisfies white consumption and comfort. The concerns raised by WAESN are concerns shared by all of us who remain committed to a vision of Ethnic Studies that refuses to be whitewashed. Pursuing Ethnic Studies means heeding these concerns as an invitation to minimize the harm that would undoubtedly be caused if white supremacy is left unchecked. The decision to remove WAESN from the list of professional development providers is yet another example of how racial justice movements broadly, and Ethnic Studies specifically, become co-opted and de-radicalized. Watching OSPI celebrate the launch of its Ethnic Studies framework while removing the very organization that made that framework possible was insult to injury.

As I share this experience – the joy and hope cultivated by collaborating with WAESN and the frustration at their erasure by OSPI – esteemed feminist cultural critic and poet, bell hooks, has passed. As an avid reader and admirer of her work, which I teach each quarter to students at Western Washington University, I can’t help but think about her advice in times like these:

“Dominator culture has tried to keep us all afraid, to make us choose safety instead of risk, sameness instead of diversity. Moving through that fear, finding out what connects us . . . this is the process that brings us closer.”

-Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope, 2003

“All our silences in the face of racist assault are acts of complicity.”

-Killing Rage: Ending Racism, 1998

“Sometimes people try to destroy you, precisely because they recognize your power – not because they don’t see it, but because they see it and they don’t want it to exist.” 

With bell guiding us, we continue our fight for Ethnic Studies.


Help us fight by emailing the following individuals demanding WAESN be relisted as a PD resource on the OSPI Ethnic Studies Framework.

Superintendent Chris Reykdal – Chris.Reykdal@k12.wa.us

Assistant Superintendent of Learning and Teaching, Kathe Taylor – Kathe.Taylor@k12.wa.us

OSPI Social Studies Lead, Jerry Price – Jerry.Price@k12.wa.us

ACTION NEEDED: OSPI Retaliates Against WAESN

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) recently removed WAESN from a list of ethnic studies professional development (PD) resources published in their new ethnic studies framework. WAESN and several members of WAESN are cited as authors and contributors of this framework, yet when some fragile people filed complaints about the political nature of WAESN, OSPI listened and removed WAESN.

Above is the original list from when the framework was initially published in the first week of October, 2021. According to an email from Superintendent Reykdal, WAESN was removed from the list because, “Several groups have raised concerns about the nature of [WAESN].” He went on to explain that OSPI, ” . . . received complaints regarding content posted by WAESN that was offensive, inflammatory, and targeted at education partners.” He identified two of these “partners” as Seattle Public Schools and the EOGOAC.

While Superintendent Reykdal has taken the position that OSPI is not obligated to post links to resources outside of OSPI, it is clear to WAESN that OSPI and Superintendent Reykdal are taking the complaints of folks opposed to authentic ethnic studies and anti-racism and elevating them above the needs of students, educators, and families of color. Additionally, this action feels like retaliation and a violation of WAESN’s 1st Amendment rights. WAESN is a 501(c)(4) organization, and as such, has a legal right to engage in political activism and speech as a non-profit organization.

No member of WAESN has been compensated for the work we did on OSPI’s ethnic studies framework, nor did WAESN have a contract with OSPI to engage in this work. We saw it as part of our advocacy work; however, to erase the only* organization on the list of recommended PD providers that contributed to the final product is unethical. It’s further evidence of the education system’s penchant for exploiting the emotional and intellectual labor of individuals and organizations of color for their own political gain.

screenshot from OSPI’s ethnic studies framework report
*XITO did not contribute to the final framework’s contents.

Since this action was taken, WAESN’s Executive Director, Tracy Castro-Gill, has started a daily email campaign to Superintendent Reykdal with evidence of WAESN’s positive impact on students, educators, and families. Below are some screenshots that have been shared. Each email contains the question, “Who is OSPI harming by removing WAESN from the list of PD providers?”

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We are starting a social media and email writing campaign asking you all to write similar emails weekly to Superintendent Reykdal. We will be creating various questions each week for you to ask of OSPI in your emails. We are also asking that you share your testimonios about how WAESN has positively impacted you or your community. We have to be louder than the voices who would destroy our progress!

This week, we are starting off by asking Superintendent Reykdal, “How do you propose to end racial injustice in OSPI by holding anti-racist leaders accountable to ‘professional conduct standards‘ steeped in White Supremacy Culture?”

Keep an eye on our social media channels for new questions each week. Send your emails to:

Superintendent Chris Reykdal – Chris.Reykdal@k12.wa.us

Assistant Superintendent of Learning and Teaching, Kathe Taylor – Kathe.Taylor@k12.wa.us

OSPI Social Studies Lead, Jerry Price – Jerry.Price@k12.wa.us

Puma Poetry Slam – fruits of Ethnic Studies in elementary school

Concord International Elementary School (CIES) is situated in the South Park neighborhood of Seattle, WA. South Park is home to the largest group of Spanish speaking people in the city, which is one reason CIES was chosen as a dual language immersion school. Students have the opportunity to learn core subjects like math and literacy in Spanish.

Over the summer, the entire staff of CIES completed the WAESN professional development (PD) series. One educator, who had completed the series on her own prior to the school-wide PD, was already incorporating her learning from the WAESN PD into her plans for the 2021/22 school year. Carly Groszhans also completed PD with the Xicanx Institute for Teaching and Organizing (XITO), which focuses on Indigenous Mexican epistemology. Below are the poems students created using concepts from WAESN’s K-5 Ethnic Studies Framework and the PD from XITO.

I was honored to be invited and watch the students perform their pieces. The community that existed among the students was apparent. The students congratulated one another, gave each other appreciations for supporting one another, and were very expressive about the piece of poetry that most influenced their work, Oral Traditions. In fact, one of the authors of the piece, William Nu’utupu Giles, was in attendence, and the students were over the moon about that!

Next month’s blog post will be an interview with Carly about her process, including how she incorporated her learning and her thoughts on Ethnic Studies in grades K-5. It will include the rubric Carly made for students to self-assess their work! In the meantime, please check out the resources and professional development provided on translanguaging and language acquisition offered by Acosta Educational Partnership.

I did my best to accurately type the text next to the image, but some languages I’m not familiar with. Please let me know in the comments if I need to change anything!


David

My family is like going to the store. My language is like a tree. In the mirror I see me happy. From that I feel calm. Cuando hablo mis palabras son arboles suenan como mi corazon. Mi verbo es corriendo. Me siento feliz. I am a kid. Yo soy valiente. My strength is running. Mi poder es soy fuerte.

Raizo

My family is like fire. My language is like a big culture. In the mirror I see a park. From that I feel calm. Cuando hablo mis palabras son estrellas sueno como truenos. Verbo amabilidad. Me siento feliz. I am a boy. Yo soy kind. My strength is doing. Mi poder is kindness.

Malleka

My family is like a breeze. In the mirror I see a star in the sunshine as I fly through the clouds. From that I feel confident. I am enough. Yo soy powerful. My strength is all. Mi poder es myself suenan como tough. My language is a wave . . .

Izzy

I’m Cambodian – also known as Asian. I would like pho on a Friday morning with socks on my feet. While my grandma was in the war screaming in fear, she was screaming for help but she was crying, running away from the people she called bombers. They tried to take her culture away. While she was running she saw her husband. He was scared to death. While she was with her husband she found her mom. She was running. She heard the bombs. Once she arrived to Seattle, she was scared but she knew how to stand up for herself. A couple years later she had a house and kids. She was happy again! One day while she was at the bank a white lady behind her said, “Go back where you came from!” She stood up for herself and said, “I can’t. You bombed where I came from!” And that’s why I’m proud to be Cambodian.

My eyes are like the dragons breathing out tacos. My words are like dragon tacos. My culture is like dragon soup. My soul is like raining kids eating yummy tacos. My world is like dragons. Now see you later alligator.

Carlos

My family is like the stars. My language is like the trees. In the mirror I see fire. From that I feel good. Cuando hablo mis palabras como aquila suenan como fuego silencia. Mi siento como hielo. I am big. Yo soy como el delfin. My strength is like buffalo. Mi poder es como el leon.

Kris

My family is like love. My language is mi cultura. In the mirror I see myself. From that I feel fuerte. Cuando hablo mis palabras son agua suenan como la lluvia. I run como una cheetah. Me siento grande. I am a shark. Yo soy un salmon. My strength is big. Mi poder es como una oreja.

Brandon

My family is like me. My language is like a wind. In the mirror I see the sun. From that I feel happy. Cuando hablo mis palabras son grandes suenan como un tigre. Verbo cantando. Me siento feliz. I am different. Yo soy diferente. My strength is happy. Mi poder es sonrisas.

Duncan

My family is like an adventure. In the mirror I see a game. From that I feel good. I am water. My strength is food.

Princessa

My family is like a 1001000 tacos. My language is like a 1,000 tacos. In the mirror I see tacos. From that I feel joyful. Hablo mis palabras son mis palabras. Me siento calma. I am a taco. Yo soy tacos. My strength is cool. Mi poder es pigs because I like pigs. The end.

Jason

My family is my culture. My family is my strength. My family is like me. My family is me in the mirror. I see myself. From that I feel me. Cuando hablo mis palabras son español and English suenan como amor. I’m like a guinea pig. Me siento happy. I am a guinea pig. Yo soy me. My strength is me. Mi poder es everything.

Kailey

When I run through the fields I feel my heart pounding like a drum. When I get home I still feel it. I feel the rhythm. I can’t help myself. I start moving my legs. In my head I hear a voice. It says, “Let it out! Let it out. Let it out.” Dance like no one is watching. Don’t feel embarrassed. Even if you are going through a hard time it’ll make you feel better. Break the chains that are keeping the emotions that are locked inside. Let it out. Be free as a bird. Campos guallavas al rancho de tata los pagaros cantan. Nana y tata la granja de vacas el frio viene. Las nubes ya vienen es el otoño ya hay nuevos colores. El color del sol esta por la casa. Los animales se miran como maiz. Listos para ser palomitas y dormir como la bella dormiente. Las nubes cain se hace blanco. En la mañana te leventes con el sol en tu caro. Thank you. Gracias.

Wren + Taya

Latkes so savory they make me want to cry. I love to dip them in applesauce so let me take you for a ride to my side of town. Shalom is what I say. Shalom is how I feel. So to you I say Shalom. Shalom means peace or hello in Hebrew. Hanukah also known as festival of lights is the miracle of oil lasting 8 days and that is why there are 8 candles on the menorah. Latkes are like hash browns with veggies in them. Latkes are like a hash brown cooked in oil. Passover is like a holiday that celebrates people that have died because they were slaves. We are going to talk about holidays like Passover.

Taya

My family is like a star burning through my past and mistakes. My language is like music and no one can silence it. In the mirror I see a girl born to make mistakes and that is good. From that I feel like me. When you talk it is like music to my ears. I dream to be generous. I feel calm. I am me. Soy yo. My strength is pain. Mi poder es daño.

Wren

A manatee with no natural enemies. Calmer than the calmest sea. I wish we could all be like manatees.

Jesus

My family is like chicken nuggets and fries. My language is like an identity. In the mirror I see myself and my grandpa. From that I feel sad. Cuando hablo mis palabras son mi identidad suenan como tiburon. Bailo como un mono. Me siento feliz. I am a boy. Yo soy un niño. My strength is a sharks teeth. Mi poder es dientes de tiburon.

Jasmyn

My language is my life. If my language is gone my life too then. So fine. The key to get me out of the ocean with the black bears.

Mia

My family is like power. My language is like a rain. In the mirror I see my language. From that I feel calm. Cuando hablo mis palabras son safe suena como tormenta corro como agua. Me siento feliz. I am fire. Yo soy un relampago. My strength is powerful. Mi poder es el sol.

Nasreen

My name is Nasreen. I was born in 2012. In my family I was the first girl to walk, but the food I eat is buur and I speak Somali too. I love myself and my family too. The end.

My life is a xiddiga. My qoyska a wadnaha. My friends are the ugufilcan. My heart loves me but when I get mad I can down. I love myself as my heart pumps. I love myself more. The end.

Lillian

My words hide like stolen talk. My words act new, as though I never learned this language. My words are for everyone. My words are strong.

Mis palabras son de diferentes lenguajes. Mis palabras son mis palabras. Mos palabras son solamentes saltando. Mis palabras son historia.

My words are mine. Mis palabras son mios. I will learn other languages. Yo aprendi otros lenguajes.

Sophia

Feel the breeze blowing in your hair. Feel the light shining a new hope. Feel the freedom like you just got out of a cage. Feel the hate washing away. Feel you coming from the tide. Feel your spirit in your veins. Feel your life coming to an end and a new story is born. Feel your culture spreading like the roots of a tree. Feel your heart pounding as loud as a drum. Feel your words as strong as stone. You will always be there to keep the Indigenous high in the sky.

Ariana

My culture is big. My words are big. Black people are important. We aren’t dangerous. We have to stop this. This isn’t funny. Black people are dying. Are you laughing now? If you still think this is a joke, just wow. How could you laugh at a time like this? This is racism in action. How could it be funny that policemen are killing instead of saving? Why? Just tell me why people are being racist? Do they think this is fun? Fun is hanging out with the people you love or taking a walk in the park with your friends, not being racist.I am not judging off what I hear. I am judging off of experience from my dark skinned best friend.

Grace

My family is like a tree, it grows through my mistakes, my hopes and my joys. My language is like music, so powerful it can’t be silenced! That makes me feel strong. People might fight against your culture but it doesn’t mean you can’t fight back! Just because I’m white doesn’t mean I can’t fight for the Black, Latinx, Cuban, Indigenous and the world!

Each petal of your identity is a hidden power. Those petals will start to create your flower! Your flower will bloom with strengths and beauty, and may make you feel joyful or moody. Your identity will grow throughout your heart, and will reveal many different parts that make you who you are!

Daniella

Did u know that the world we’re on is taken? U need to appreciate what they have done for you cus there are so many people that don’t appreciate what their ancestors have given them. Some people don’t like who they are but little do they know they’re perfect the way they are. U don’t need to change who you are. All people matter. All languages matter. Please stop racism. Stop this nonsense. I’m not trying to be mean but u guys are stupider than jupeder for what u have done and now look. U got what u wanted. What else do u want? Please. I look like I’m ok but I’m hurting inside. It hurts so much I just wanna break free but I just can’t.

David

You don’t know what’s going on. Languages locked away not spoken of much. All you want is to pelear pelear pelear que no te derrotar en la pelea del racismo. The path to victory is poetry. Poetry is like a forest and racism is like a forest fire trying to burn it down. Our words are seeds that grow and rain is language.

Ximena

My family is like a miracle. My language is like a gift. In the mirror I see my face. From that I feel happy. Cuando hablo mis palabras son magicas suenan como algo diferente. Mi verbo es leer como un perezoso. I am creative. Yo soy poderoso. My strength is language. Mi poder es languaje. El fin. The end.

Illy

My soul is the soul of the American flag blowing in the air as it rises. My soul is the soul as my heart seeks friendship from deep below. My soul is the soul of family generations from generations. My language is English but I still speak two. Spanish is one I’m still learning to. My heart pounds when I speak to you. It won’t stop until my life’s through. I speak my words and I won’t stop. I’m saying this for the Indigenous who couldn’t talk. I want to join the resistance. Their words matter. Mine too but whose words matter more? Me or you? I feel like there is a safe of identity locked away that I can’t find. The key keeps moving and these are the thoughts of a mixed girl every day. Although I can ask you really don’t know me. I like to say there is a story behind each person and don’t judge till you’ve been in their shoes.

Daphne + Wren

I feel a hope. A light as I dive into a new day. I see a new me. A better me as I jump through the door.

Sophia

As the wind blows it gets colder and colder. Soon it’s as cold as winter. As the sun rises it’s getting warmer and warmer. Soon it’s as warm as a fire. De réir mar a shëtdeann an ghaoth. Éiríonn se níos fuaire abus nios fuaire go luath tá sé chomh. Fuar leis an ghein hreadn. De réir mar a éiríonh an ghrian éiríonh se níos teo agus níos teo. Go lauth tá sé chomh te le tine.