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Building Bridges

Added: Tuesday, November 24th 2015 at 2:04am by cmcbryde

Last semester, my first here at Chico State, I had a revelation while in my Intro to Literacy class. My instructor was talking about literacy sponsorship, and it hit me; I realized that Orientalism, a topic of discussion in my Philosophy of Race class, was a perfect example of the cause and effect of literacy sponsorship. It was an “ah ha” moment for me, I was able to make a connection, which symbolized my comprehension of the material of both classes. As a future teacher, I hope to be able to give my students that same kind of experience. I want my students to have a deeper understanding of the literature they read, make connections between what they are learning in my class and the world they live in, and to be able to have those “ah ha” moments. As their teacher, I will be a major sponsor of their literacy, a huge responsibility that I will not take lightly.

This semester, I find myself making connections again, and growing in my understanding of sponsorship. In my Teaching Multicultural Literature class we are building on the knowledge that I acquired last semester. Our reading assignments have included books authored by people of many different cultures and backgrounds, the latest being Disconnect/Desencuentro, by Cuban writer Nancy Alonso. Through a collection of short stories, Alonso invites readers to discover hidden meanings woven within narratives about every day life, transcending the American perspective of her country. The main catalyst that brought this book from Cuba to our classroom, was the hard work and perseverance of Dr. Sara Cooper, a Professor here at ChicoState,and founder of Cubanabooks, a small, independent press dedicated to publishing books by Cuban women. According to the Cubanabooks website,their main goal is to bring“first-class literature from Cuban women to a United States audience as well as to a global English and Spanish-speaking public”. Our class was fortunate enough to have a visit from Dr. Cooper, and our question and answer session was both informative and inspiring.


This video is in Spanish, Dr. Sara Cooper interviewing Nancy Alonzo.

Dr. Cooper teaches Contemporary Latin American, Latina/o and Chicana/o cultural production and Gender/Queer Studies. One of the topics she touched on was how she incorporates Cuban literature into her classroom, which, as a future teacher, I found very insightful. For example, with Disconnect/Desencuentro, she has her students, look at the stories that took place in Ethiopia, read an article about Cuban internationalism, which put it in context, and then read the author’s personal experience. She then asks students to question why the author chose to write a particular story, and how it relates to that author’s life. This approach immerses students in the story, allowing for critical thinking and those “ah ha” moments of understanding. 

 As with any endeavor, Dr. Cooper encounters many challenges as a book publisher, and I appreciated how she was candid with both the obstacles she has faced, and how she was able to overcome them. For instance, she had to figure out how to make her vision of Cubanabooks a reality. By teaching extra classes, taking on the roles of editor, public relations expert, and marketing director, and a Go Fund Me account, she was able to make it happen. It is now a non-profit organization under the fiscal sponsorship of the North Valley Community Foundation. Another problem that Cubanabooks faces is the difficult nature of the process of translating. For instance, she has learned through experience, that what is gained or lost in translation, depends on who is translating or editing the piece. I found it so interesting to reflect on the difficulty of translating ambiance, tone,pointofview,and context from one culture to another. The story behind the successful launch of Cubanabooks illustrates that, with enough passion and drive, a person can make a real difference in the world. I think that this will be a good story to tell my students, because it is a great example of what a person can accomplish through perseverance. 

It was clear from our discussion with Dr. Cooper that she is driven by a desire to build a bridge between Americans and Cubans, and she accomplishes this by bringing Cuban literature to an American audience. She stated that as educators, we need to choose text that include more various portrayals, which, ultimately, illustrate the connectedness instead of the differences. After class, as I was walking to the library, I found myself thinking about some research I did for one of my classes last semester, and to the Ted Talk by Nigerian author, Chimamanda Adichie, entitled, “The Danger of the Single Story,” that it led me to. She recounts her experience growing up in Nigeria with access to only British and American literature, and how that framed her idea of what literature was. The "danger," was not being able to see herself in the books she was reading, and how that influenced hersenseofidentity. Furthermore, when she came to study in America, she was subjected to our misconceptions of her culture and country. Similarly, Americans have had limited access to literature about and from Cuba, and therefore we have had to form our ideas of that part of the world based on images and stories propagated by the American media. These depictions usually allude to a country whose people are oppressed, and under the strict control of Communism. Having access to stories by Cuban authors, like Alonso, help to break down these misconceptions.Thanks to Dr. Cooper, a champion in the fight against the “single story”, we have that access. This class, and Dr. Cooper’s visit, brought on another “ah ha” moment for me, and a deeper understanding of the sponsorship of literacy.



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