4 Documentaries Every (Person) Educator Should Watch

Many activists and educators are demanding for a public school curriculum  that produces a critical and relevant education, especially for those students who have historically been marginalized within the school system. For those of us who are disrupting the systemic failings of public schools and challenging the normalization of pushing students of color out of a high school(/higher) education, it is important to look for every available resource that might develop a more inclusive and engaging environment for learning. Whether through mentorship, teaching, or expanding your own cultural consciousness the following documentary trailers should serve useful in your effort towards unpacking privilege and understanding the strict binary systems of race, gender, and sexual orientation that exist in (settler) society, as well as within the classroom.

1. Precious Knowledge

Truly a remarkable film about the end of the Mexican American Studies programs in Arizona. This film reveals how politics shape the classroom, how history and literature are not neutral subjects, and how students can become empowered through education.

2. Under the Bridge

Under the Bridge is a powerful documentary about the struggle for the creation of Chicano Park in San Diego, CA. Throughout are history lessons in the Chican@ Movement, decolonial practice, protest, and a revelation in the need for space in order for culture to thrive. Under the Bridge presents a beautiful lesson in using art as a decolonial methodology as Chican@s reclaimed land, placing artistic cultural symbols that laid claim to the stone pillars and walls that have been erected by colonization and capitalism.

3. Two Spirits

An extremely moving and sorrowful story about the horrific murder of Frank Martinez. However, the valuable lesson in Two Spirited people provides an interesting commentary on the false gender-binary established by colonization. One of the most important films in regards to the intersectionality of race and (trans)gender.

4. Miss Representation

Miss Representation should be seen by young women and men alike. It critiques the sexism and misogyny within the American patriarchy by critically examining the media’s role in consistently disseminating sexualized images of women. Kwame Appiah’s discussion of ascription comes to mind, as these limited scripts presented in media provide young women with limited views of their own future, not to mention the limited perspective that men have of women after constantly seeing women through sexist prism.



A Recipe Towards Decolonization

(Decolonization is the act of disrupting  the various systems of oppression and repression. It is the dismantling not only of the legal and physical barriers that limit colonized peoples, but also it is the radical process of removing those ideological and mental barricades that continue to colonize our thoughts. Mental decolonial praxis demands that individuals and whole groups of people participate in the reclamation of history and cultural traditions. It necessitates the disruption of historical and cultural colonization, which has displaced peoples from knowing their ancestry. This post is in honor of those who cry out, “¡Ya Basta!” as they seek the knowledge, wisdom, and practices of their elders.)


“The recovery of the people is tied to the recovery of food, since food itself is medicine: not only for the body, but for the soul, for the spiritual connection to history, ancestors, and the land.”

-Winona La Duke

I recently stumbled upon  Luz Calvo and Catriona R. Esquibel’s  “Decolonize Your Diet,” on Mujeres Talk. They believe there is a need for radical decolonization in the way in which we think about food. According to Calvo and Esquibel,  “personal food choices…[are] political acts” and as such, we must “[r]esist cultural imperialism by reclaiming ancestral foods.” This is imperative due to the historically exploitative practices of the American agriculture industry, the cancerous chemicals that migrant farm workers are exposed to (many of which are  Mexican@), the reality of GMO’s and the diseases perpetuated by the American food industry, as well as the displacement of cultural knowledge by depending upon corporations for growing and supplying food. What’s more, Calvo and Esquibel problematize the argument that health is linked to income by stating:

there is one notable exception to the equation of poverty = poor health—public health scholars have found that recent immigrants from Mexico have very low rates of mortality, infant mortality, and illness compared to other groups. Public health scholars have dubbed this phenomenon “The Latino/a Paradox.”(1) Recent Latino/a immigrants, mainly from Mexico and Central America, have better health than Latinos and Latinas who were born in the US. The health of recent immigrants rivals the health of the [w]healthiest Americans!

This presents a rather perplexing issue within our health care system, as the United States views health through a capitalist lens wherein wealth equates to a healthier lifestyle as well as the ability to afford better health care. But what the above quote truly reveals is the way in which indigenous and decolonized diets work as preventive care. It also underscores how the Mexican@s/Chican@s/ Xican@s/Latin@s living in the United States have a larger chance of having health issues stemming from colonized food industries.

For instance, people of color are transformed into diabetics through the food industry in the United States, not through pure genetics. has a pretty concise summary of Michael Montoya’s Making the Mexican Diabetic: Race, Science, and the Genetics of Inequality.

This book is a phenomenal read that explores how diabetes is constructed through other factors rather than simple genetics.

This book is a phenomenal read that explores how diabetes is constructed through other factors rather than simple genetics.

Accordimg to Ameliamontes:

“Genes do not cause chronic disease,” Montoya writes.  “Genes in certain bodies under certain conditions contribute to disease susceptibility” (187).  This may explain why in a family of 3 children, two have diabetes and one will not develop the disease.  It is not simply about blood but about a number of other factors (diet, exercise, living conditions, etc.) having to do with societal and political constructions.

Montoya’s book which was just published (University of California Press) is an excellent study in how our society is creating a population highly susceptible to chronic disease– whether or not you are of Mexican or Indian descent!
Making the Mexican Diabetic provides excellent arguments that point towards decolonizing our diets for our own health, but also in understanding how colonization has clearly led to the creation of health problems in our people. By returning to diets that do not contain high-fructose corn syrup, GMO’s, and heavy pesticides (among other things) we can begin to unravel the dependence upon a food system that does not have health in mind. It is also the first step in reclaiming our peoples health by participating in traditional food preparation–a holistic approach to decolonizing our minds, bodies, and souls.
(if you’re interested check out the decolonize your diet Facebook page to try delicious and healthy decolonized food)


Fall Reads: 6 books to decolonize your mind

In that practice of striving to disrupt oppressive-repressive discourses and decolonize the mind, I’ve decided to post 6 books that changed my life–some of these are banned from being read by high school students in Arizona. I realize many of these are pretty much a no-brainer for those of us who are already attempting decolonial praxis in our daily struggle, but nevertheless I feel deeply indebted to these authors for impacting my life with their radical words, ideas, and their overall activist approach towards writing.


Drink Cultura: Chicanismo by Jose Antonio Burciaga

This is probably the least difficult and fastest read on this list. Funny and informative, Burciaga’s autobiographical essays explain Chicanismo and Chicano identity through his eyes. This is important because too often we get history and stories told about us by the colonizer, so it’s always good to find books that explain through their own voice.


Queer Latinidad: Identity Practices, Discursive Spaces by Juana Maria Rodriguez

Rodriguez complicates what ethnic/racial/gender/sexual identity is by analyzing how it is constructed in various social settings and how it is reinforced by these spaces, as well as how we maintain identit(ies) through performance. Her case studies are extremely informative and worth a read!


Living for the Revolution: Black Feminist Organizations, 1968-1980 by Kimberly Springer

Inspirational work that details the inner-workings of Black Feminist Organizations. Springer lays out the rise and fall of these important groups, such as the Combahee River Collective. This book serves as a blueprint for organizing and is especially important to those of us interested in building coalition and consciousness raising groups to enact change within our communities.


Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity by Chandra Mohanty

Mohanty is amazing! By combining feminism and decolonial theory we are given a third world feminism that challenges the hegemonic whiteness that is found within feminist thought. Essential decolonial reading for all–including men.


Disrupting Savagism: Intersecting Chicana/o, Mexican Immigrant, and Native American Struggles for Self-Representation by Arturo Aldama

Aldama’s work broadens the understanding of Chicana/o identity, situating it within the context of indigenous experience. By beginning with the colonial power structure defining indigenous people’s as savage, either noble or fierce, we are given a deeper understanding of how conversations in the media today develop a binary of white superiority and Chicana/o inferiority. Aldama’s book is extremely refreshing when we consider how compartmentalized Chicana/o and Native American scholars/studies can be. Definitely worth reading if you’re interested in the intersection of Chicana/o and Indigenous identities, histories, and shared realities.


Borderland/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldua

Such an important foundational text on Chicana feminism and border studies. Anzaldua speaks to the experience of countless Chicanas and those of us living in-between society’s strictly defined boundaries of race, (trans)gender, and sexual orientation. If you haven’t read it yet all I can say is, “JUST READ IT!”

(In)Appropriation: Disney’s Failed Attempt to Trademark Dia de Los Muertos


By now most of us are aware of Disney’s failed attempt to trademark Dia de Los Muertos for their upcoming animated film, but if by some small chance you didn’t hear about this check out for  more info.

images-7There certainly was an amount of anxiety that many of us had as we  first discovered that a corporation was trying to profit over  Mexican culture. In the most direct way of saying it: Disney’s failed attempt was done out of an ignorance of the history of colonization and how legal structures worked to disconnect indigenous, Mexicans, and Chicanas/os from culture by stealing the material (land) and immaterial (culture). I don’t desire to write a dissertation in the wee hours of the morning, so I’ll keep the philosophical lamenting brief and concise. When I refer to culture as immaterial I am not implying that culture does not produce material items, decorations and symbols come to mind. However, culture is very much an immaterial subject that occurs, first in foremost, in the hearts and minds of communities.


Culture produces symbols and traditions

Sugar skulls

Cultural Production: Sugar skulls

Land on the other hand is material and can produce both material (resources/goods) and immaterial (culture). While Disney’s trademark-gate is an attempt at appropriating the immaterial (culture) in order to produce material goods from cultural productions based upon likely misinterpreted representations of Mexican cultural symbols, the event also falls in line with the larger historical context of colonization robbing our people of the material.

With that said, the history of colonization has been one of stealing the material to create wealth for the settler culture. The land issues in indigenous, Mexican, and Chicana/o cultures are undeniable.  For the colonizer, it has been a way to accumulate vast amounts of wealth as they were/are able to take land, commodify the resources, and transform them into products. In order to do so, legal structures were created and enforced allowing for the privatization of land in cultures that historically believed in communal use and responsibility to land–watch the The Demarest Factor for more info on how this continues today in Oaxaca, Mexico.

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Colonizer laws provided legal barriers to blockade indigenous people from using the land that was always  part of their heritage. This created not only a physical disconnect from land and resources, but also a destabilization of cultural connection. Land has many uses, the heritage and culture associated with particular sites present another way that the appropriation of the material can also rob people of the immaterial.

What Disney neglected to understand is the similarities between creating legal barriers to cut people off from their land, as well as the heritage and cultural connection to this land, and the trademarking (legal barriers) of culture. In terms of the latter, it would have it difficult to participate in said culture. According to the LatinTimes:

“Among the trademark applications that The Walt Disney Company has filed for, are education and entertainment services, confectionery, cosmetics, transmission or reproduction of sound or images, computer programs, accessories, jewelry, paper articles, luggage, and more.”

Had this worked, Disney would have legal rights to the name, Dia de Los Muertos, and the images associated with their interpretations and representations of Mexican culture. This images would undoubtedly use traditional cultural productions that would be re-visioned in a stylized manner, but in the above quote we also see “education…services” as part of their trademark. Would this have hindered culturally relevant education that incorporated Dia de Los Muertos (the holiday, not the film)? In all likelihood it would have at the very least complicated any possibility for educators to talk about the subject and showcase the images of Mexican culture.


Regarding the legacy of colonization, the line between stealing the material and immaterial through the colonizers legal structures are pretty clear. Both effectively disconnect people from culture in a variety of ways.  I believe the actions of Disney, whether intentional or not, was a continuation of this process.

Xican@ Graffiti: The Art of Decolonization

The other day I was having a conversation with a co-worker about an article I’ve been working on for the upcoming, Encyclopedia of Latino Culture, Volume 3: From Calaveras to Quinceañeras (available 11/30/13). I revealed the topic I was writing on was  Graffiti within Xican@ and Latin@ culture, which sparked a mild sense of hostility on the part of my colleague, as he believed my article to be promoting gang activity and vandalism. While it is undeniable that these elements do exist within the graff writing scene, I strongly believe arguments like this are oversimplifications of an otherwise fascinating subject matter. Beyond the deep historical connections between Xican@ culture and graffiti, the areas that I found to be most interesting are the ways in which this art form can be used in the frame work of decolonization.

For many artists, graffiti is not merely a way to get one’s voice and name up on a wall. It also provides an avenue for Xican@ graffiti writers to make their culture visible. This is an extremely important point, especially if we’re to consider how colonization has worked to eradicate entire civilizations in the Americas. We also cannot forget the long standing practice of eliminating culture— boarding schools that sought to “kill the indian and save the man” come to mind. Not to mention the countless ways in which colonized peoples are inferiorized and made invisible within the dominant (settler) culture. With that said, by incorporating elements of indigenous and cultural symbolism into their work, Xican@ graffiti artists are participating in a form of decolonization.

Indigenous symbolism in graffiti works to publicly display a connection between Xican@ culture and Indigeneity.


Indigenous Symbolism: Aztec Glyphs can be seen in this piece. (Artist Unknown)


(Artist Unknown)

Aztec Calendar Mural Graffiti

Indigenous Symbolism: Aztec Calendar (Artist Unknown)


This piece not only incorporate indigenous symbolism but also a historical reference to colonization as “1492” is visible next to a mound of skulls (Artist Unknown)


Indigenous Symbolism: Aztec Glyphs are found throughout this piece as well (Artist Unknown)

The influence of the Chicano Movement and the rise of cultural nationalism in the 1970s can also be seen within Xican@ graffiti.

The graffiti writer in the above clip explains the connection between his work and his culture by including a skeleton. By doing so he is drawing a direct  link to Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and his art. We also can see him drawing a “stylized eagle with wings shaped like an inverted Aztec pyramid”—the same symbol used by César Chavez and Dolores Huerte’s United Farm Workers organization. By the artist using these cultural elements he is tying this piece not only to his cultural roots but also to el movimiento.

Guisela Latorre’s, Walls of Empowerment: Chicana/o Indigenist Murals of California, provides an additional way to comprehend how Xican@ graffiti acts as a decolonial practice:

With graffiti Text, where readability is often secondary to visual impact and design, we witness a writing system that seeks to either return to an imagelike state or just undermine the distinction between the two. Ivor Miller contends that graffiti writers’ manipulation of words represented “the resistance by colonized people to redefine themselves by manipulating the rules and logic of the colonizer’s language.” Joe Austin maintains that “the twisted, fractured or crumbled letters” of graffiti make the Western alphabet come alive and disintegrate at the same time… (108)

Graffiti, within the context of Xican@ culture, can act as a means for marginalized peoples, who have been rendered invisible within the dominant culture, to construct a visible identity within a public space by deconstructing the colonizers own language.  For instance, many Xican@s have been disconnected from their cultural tongues as a result of being forced to speak and write in English while in the k-12 school system. By not allowing bilingual education to exist and inferiorizing non-English languages generations of Xican@s were pressured into believing that the only way to be seen as part of American culture was by erasing elements of their Xican@ heritage (this happened to my family as well). By challenging this reality, Xican@ graffiti artists are participating in a very public artistic decolonial performance.


Indigenous and cultural symbolism combined with the warping of the English language (Artist Unknown)

Contrary to what my co-worker would have you believe, the use of indigenous and cultural symbolism along side the deconstruction of the English language moves Xican@ graffiti out of the space of mere vandalism and an art form unique to gang culture. What we can see is graffiti within Xican@ culture is an art form that borders into the process of decolonization and reclamation of cultural identity, not to mention the reclamation of voice in the public arena.