by Mike Sonksen
As the American presidency transitions from Barack Obama to Donald Trump, there are countless questions emerging. I have heard many of them first hand over the last two months as an 11th and 12th grade English teacher. Most of my students are from South Los Angeles, Inglewood, Hawthorne, and the South Bay and they are very curious to see what Trump is going to be doing about immigration, health care, freedom of speech, and everything else. Though my students and much of the school faculty seemed to be distraught by the election results, I have recently seen signs of hope in both my student’s response to Trump, and in a slew of literary, theatrical, and musical events across Los Angeles promoting resistance and creative expression. The legions of students and creative individuals using this time to protest and dream up an alternative reality they would like to see is a reminder that not only will America survive Trump, but eventually, after his reign is over, better days will arrive because most American people do not support racism, sexism, and other similar policies that Trump has espoused in his rise to power.
Creating the Country They Want to Live In
In the days following the election, I, too, found myself with many questions and a lingering sense of uncertainty. Amid not knowing quite what to do or how to answer my students’ questions, I found myself taking solace in literature and seeking wisdom from great authors and thinkers like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, and, at the end of last week, Martin Luther King Jr. Reading these texts reminded me that the xenophobia of Trump is not new. Perhaps more importantly, though, is the inspiration and empowerment that these writers gave to my students. The response writing that my students have been producing reflects their desire to improve America and create the country that they want to live in.
After watching a documentary about Walt Whitman and discussing his poem “Song of Myself” in class, my students wrote response poems using a few of Whitman’s lines as a starting point. I did not specify exactly what they should write, but I told them to use the spirit of Whitman to go in any direction they felt that would connect to their own life and how they feel in this moment. 11th grader Adriana Arroyo started her poem using Whitman’s phrase: “It is time to explain myself — let us stand up.” The next nine lines of her piece exclaim, “I am a woman, fighting for equality/We are women screaming to be recognized/This may be the 21st century — but it sure doesn’t feel like it/We’re forced to think all you can amount to is a mother/Well I think otherwise/We can be business women, teachers, doctors, lawyers/Anything you’ve ever dreamt to be/It’s time for gender equality/It’s time for the end of misogyny.” The piece went further on this theme and reflected her strong perspective. After reading her piece aloud in class and everyone applauding her poem, she told us that she wrote it after thinking about Trump’s ongoing comments about women and how she does not subscribe to that vision.
I have seen several other examples of similar empowering and thoughtful works in class not only on women’s issues, but addressing racism and people of color. Another one is from 12th grader Camille Jacome. In her poem “Skin,” she writes, “These ‘minorities’ you look down upon are in actuality the underdog contributors/Food recipes, music genres, artists, architecture; can’t name just one thing in particular/Think twice before you segregate based on skin color, an accent, or the way someone’s dressed/Keep in mind, we’re supposed to be the land of opportunity, not the land of the oppressed.” I have been very impressed by all my students taking on these issues in their work. Read Rest of Article Here