Sunday, May 30, 2021

On My Bookshelf: May

The last few months of any school year are usually hectic. May is always a mad dash to the finish. And this year with the pandemic? I am in a swirl of masks, planning, and grading. There is a finish line at the end and I need to finish everything in order to start my summer. With all the festivities with seniors, I’m excited but tired already.

But it’s so important that I still find time for myself to read! My nightstand is once again filled with a stack of books. Sometimes I’ll see one on sale at the bookstore, and others are gifts. I try not to keep too many unread for long, but it’s hard when they start to stack up. May especially is difficult because I am constantly running to different places to complete some tasks.

May is just a series of side quests for this hero!

                                                                        1. Elantris

By Brandon Sanderson

I’m not typically a fan of the high fantasy genre. There are a few exceptions, but more often than not I lean towards dystopian. This book was recommended by my awesome fiance since he tends to consume more science fiction than I. He’s the one who first introduced me to the Firefly series, so he’s not steered me wrong yet!

The plot of Elantris follows a world of warring countries and religions. There are the tyrannical Derethi people hell-bent on taking over because of their religious beliefs. A magical plague strikes at random, and a princess from another land tries to save Arelon before a fanatical priest stirs up revolution. I enjoyed the storyline immensely but had such a problem with the language choices. The book was in English, but the author attempted to create another that just didn’t make sense. Some of the names were too similar, the grammar not matching though they were supposedly from the same language. I had to take too many linguistic courses in Spanish to tolerate that! From what I understand, this was one of the author’s earlier books, so I may go and try another from his later series. I’d recommend it to people who like fantasy novels.

2. Mexicans and Mexican Americans in Michigan

By Rudolph V. Alvarado and Sonya Yvette Alvarado

I’ve heard stories about the Mexican side of my family my entire life. My Grandma came to the US when she was a little girl, my Grandpa when he was older. They met, fell in love, and created the family I know and love today. There are some interesting chapters in the story, like the fact that my infant Mom was in the hospital during the riots in Detroit. Theirs is a story of immigrating to a new land, a new language, a new way of life. I’ll always admire how they made everything work for us.

This book dives in a bit deeper and has led to me having some good conversations with my Grandparents, which I think will be its own blog post in the future. I’ve discovered how the Mexican populations have shifted over the past century, and interestingly enough, my family fits directly into it. We’re a “Ford Family,” and back in the day, he was one of the few employers that hired Mexicans at the time. My great grandfather and grandfather worked for the company, and even today I lean more towards Ford vehicles. 

I understand how problematic Ford is. I haven’t researched fully into his policies, though I do know racism and xenophobia existed in his mindset. Still, it’s odd to know that, then hear my Grandpa say such good things about him, and the authors have a similar view. I learned quite a bit from this book, and it’s helping me dive in more with research about my family history. If you’re from Michigan, this is a great place to start learning more about our state’s history!    

3. A Passion for China

By Molly Hitch

I’m going to be honest, I REALLY loved the picture of the plate on the front cover. It reminds me of a cup and saucer my Grandma Dolly gave me years ago as a graduation present. There’s something so simple and elegant about the design, and I have it tucked away on a shelf even today.

I love the author’s approach to this book, a sort of autobiographical look at the cups and plates and bowls that make up her experiences and family history. There’s also a deeper look into each and how that design fits into a specific moment. She gives wonderful historic context for each. While this book was very different from my other readings, it gave me some serious nostalgia for my Grandma Dolly, and I imagine she would have loved reading it with me! :)

4. They All Want Magic: Curanderas and Folk Healing
By Elizabeth de la Portilla

This book was another recommendation for people researching el curanderismo. I had the opportunity to read others that made me more interested in the folk medicine practiced by my ancestors in Mexico. It’s interesting how folk medicine gets such a negative reputation. Considering the fact that my fiance is a medical professional, it is probably odd that I’m so interested! We are a household of science and evidence-based action. But here I am still digging into any book I can get my hands on.

It’s more of an anthropological look at curanderismo, and I’m loving how the author inserts her role in the Latinx community as part of her research. I decided to ask my own grandparents about the practice, and it was fascinating. First, my Grandma dismissed it, saying that we are Catholic and don’t practice such superstitious things. But then my Grandpa jumped in, talking about the old remedies, such as egg cleansings and herbs. This was the main form of medicine practiced in his village when he was young since they did not have much money and doctors were scarce. Personally, I remember chamomile from my childhood, as well as a mix of herbs in soups when I was sick.* So a bit of family history, with a mix of cultural study!

*My Aunt Sandy made me that very soup when I had COVID! And though I couldn't taste a whole lot, there was something particularly healing about it.

5. Bridgerton: The Duke and I
By Julia Quinn

I regret nothing. This has been on my watch list for so long, and I finally had a chance to read it! I've read more than my fair share of historical romance novels, and that's exactly what this was. Enjoy with a glass of wine! In the next few weeks, I'll be watching the series on Netflix...


Thursday, May 27, 2021

Teaching about Flint Part 1

One of the perks of being a teacher is that my entire job is centered around learning. I LOVE learning new things, in so many different subjects. One thing I’ve been passionate about for years is the topic of environmental injustice, and I’ve been lucky enough to share that with my students.

As a native Michigander (?) I’ve always been surrounded by industrialization. When we lived in Lincoln Park, we were practically a stone’s throw away from dozens of factories, spewing out puffs of smoke into the air against a city skyline. Eventually, we moved to the suburbs, but there were still traces of the industries, with places named after Henry Ford or Sebastian Kresge. 

I didn’t learn about the implications of those puffs of smoke until much later in life, even after college. A coworker brought up the idea of superfund sites while we were reading a book about water pollution in the Great Lakes. A whole world of pollution, government ignorance, and downright capitalist manipulation opened up before me. And of course, the environmental racism is more clear than a block of fresh, Northern Michigan ice.

Over the years I’ve fine-tuned a class that puts the environment here in Michigan at the center. Students learn about the logging industry, read ads from chemical companies, and even look at government documents concerning chemicals in the water. It’s horrific that I had so much to work with in terms of authentic materials. There are several superfund sites (aka, areas of ridiculous pollution) within a short distance of the building where I teach.

The Flint Water Crisis didn’t start until about four years into my teaching career. It was and continues to be a story of governmental ignorance and a lack of respect for human life. At the time I watched as a city only a half-hour to the north struggled for even the most basic right for clean water.

There were of course water bottle drives and all sorts of “aid” sent in from the predominantly white suburbs surrounding the area once Governor Snyder finally declared an emergency for the city. While it’s nice to offer the aid, I couldn’t help but think of it as a band-aid. So many people considered this to be a big “accident,” but it definitely wasn’t. I decided my students should have firsthand experience in researching an event as it unfolded.

As a teacher, we look for what we consider “authentic learning experiences.” These are moments where students look beyond a piece of literature (Oh Shakespeare, I despise thee!) or well-scripted lesson plans and see the reality of the world around them. Artifacts of authentic learning can be a newspaper in Spanish for a foreign language class or learning how a water filter works by having a specialist meet with students. 

For the Flint Water Crisis, there were dozens of articles, interviews, and short videos from the activities. There are reports from the government claiming there are no issues with lead whatsoever. They understated the long-term effects, sometimes making up numbers or misleading the public with stats that didn’t make sense. Workers who came to test the water in houses flushed it first by letting it run for a little while, another tactic to misrepresent the lead amounts. The amount found in some of these houses was toxic. They found lead in the schools, and the hospitals switched to bottled water only.

My students heard and read everything with a critical eye. They examined reports and put them up against the crisis timeline. We watched the press conferences in horror because we had the facts opened up neatly in front of us. The magnitude of the crisis was almost incomprehensible because we will never know just how much damage it has done. People died from Legionnaire's Disease, women suffered miscarriages, children may be affected with brain damage for the rest of their lives.

At the end of the semester, my students will do a final project and share their findings of Flint with their classmates. It’s beyond affirming to see a group of teenagers get interested in activism, and I like to think that they leave my class with more awareness of their space in this world. My bare minimum is that they learn to ask questions, to always question if something does not look right.

I’ve taught this class many times with varying results. Sometimes the makeup of students in that class is quieter, and in other semesters I found myself working hard to keep them engaged with the content. As a teacher, it’s my responsibility to always fine-tune my craft, so I’ve never taught this class the same way twice. There’s always something to add, a new resource, a different way to teach this. I’m lucky to be in an environment where I have the ability to be flexible with my students.

When I started teaching about the Flint Water Crisis this year, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I was still recovering from COVID, many of my students were not in the building, and the pandemic still raged on. Considering that I couldn’t even talk for more than a few minutes at a time without gasping for air, planning, and execution of lessons was difficult. I did my best, always wishing that I could do more. 

Turns out that I COULD do more, but it would take some emails, schedule wrangling, and a bit of creativity!

Considering the length of this post, I think I’m going to do a second part! Stay tuned!


Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Sign This Petition!

For the past year, I've written about and discussed how the reenacting community can create a better, more inclusive environment. While my focus tends to lean towards Michigan reenacting, the Dickens Fair is an incredibly important event for the costuming community as a whole. 

LaToya is an amazing person; she and her organization deserve 100% support from all communities, historical costuming and otherwise. Please take the time to sign the petition, as well as contact the Dickens leadership. There is also contact information to send support to the black affinity group.

Sign the Petition

If you need help constructing a letter/email, let me know. It would also be awesome if you can share the petition online and encourage others to do so. If we want the reenacting/costuming community to be better, we need to put in some work to make it happen.


On My Bookshelf: December

December has been a really rough month. Between what happened in Oxford (not far from where I live...) and just the general pandemic issues,...