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    Time to Cross Borders

    By Lyndsey Schlax–

    (Editor’s Note: Teacher Lyndsey Schlax of the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts launched the nation’s first on-site high school LGBT course in 2015. She still offers that groundbreaking class, but is now teaching Ethnic Studies this semester. The two subjects often intersect, so in this column her students share their thoughts about both Ethnic Studies and LGBT-related matters, including their concerns, what they have learned in class and more. All of the below pieces were written by students in Grade 12.)


    For the past several weeks our LGBTQ+ class has been transitioning into Ethnic Studies. For our introduction to this subject, our teacher asked us to read the book The Hate U Give (THUG) by Angie Thomas. This book is focused on the character Starr, who is a young black woman attending a private, mostly white, school in the suburbs.

    Throughout this book she is fighting for her friend who was killed unrightfully. This book has brought my thoughts back to the LGBTQ+ community and how many people of color not only struggle with discrimination due to race but also based on their gender identity. Before fully focusing on Ethnic Studies, our class watched Paris Is Burning, which really connected both themes and the heartfelt events and struggles that have targeted the community overall.

    Although most of our focus this semester will be on the history about the world and all of its colors, I believe that both histories go hand in hand since the color of one’s skin is also an identity that individuals may find themselves struggling with. I strongly recommend T.H.U.G. since it is an eye-opening reminder of how blessed we are as a class to be taught about the importance about all histories, communities, and identities.

    Time to Cross Borders

    Do you know that there are different types of borders that hold us back from the truth, or an obstacle? In a piece I read in Ethnic Studies called The Historian as Curandera by Aurora Levins Morales, she explained the steps that are needed to help break theses boundaries. Before I tell you what she discussed, I have to tell you why it is time to cross borders. We must cross borders to break the cycle of power being abused on those who are oppressed, and the only way that can happen is if we are reminded of our history, geography, and time.

    Morales talks a lot about the dominant narrative, which is the story that makes the world perceive people of culture in the way that is told by those of power. There are instances in Morales’ work where she gives us examples of what boundaries look like. They can be physical walls, such as the border that keeps us as people separated from each other based off of ethnicity or even boundaries that lower the interest of those who want to learn about the truth.

    I think that Morales is right about crossing borders, and I can also say that I do every day. At my school Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, I am a World Dancer. You’re probably asking, “What is a World Dancer?” Well, for myself it is someone who studies different forms and styles of dance from different parts of the world and who learns about the cultures as well. For example, my dance instructor teaches a Global Perspectives class where we discuss the history behind a dance that we are learning. This is important in the art community, to learn about the origins of the art that they study and also to recognize who the creators of these wonderful things are. It is time for us to stand up to those who exert power on us, but we have to be willing to cross into territory of the full truth to respect ourselves.

    Rethinking History

    History should be healing. We live in a world where history often leaves behind those who did not have the power to be visible. Farmworkers, immigrants, factory workers, people of the LGBTQ community, women, and people of color are just a few of the groups that have been left out of the master narrative taught in these classes.

    The only way I was able to learn about my own history was through the lyrics of old folk songs and stories that have been passed down many generations. There were a few sentences in my seventh-grade history book about the Potato Famine in Ireland. It was framed as though the Irish were just a group of helpless farmers when, in fact, the English laid out the farmland in such a way that it caused the fungus on the potatoes to spread much more quickly.

    Native Americans receive a few sentences as well, and then just disappear after the Trail of Tears, when in actuality there were hundreds of tribes in North America, each with their unique culture and customs. When they are mentioned, it is usually in regard to their violent nature and how they attacked settlers.

    The stories of LGBTQ people usually receive no mention at all. Students who are part of these communities therefore have nothing to relate to, and become disconnected from their culture. My connection to my family’s history is mostly stories about my ancestors’ experiences, and things that I have had to figure out on my own, from learning how to play the songs that they might have heard.

    Students will actually want to learn history if those that they are learning about look like them.

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