CCTE 2016: Carmen Tafoya

Carmen Tafoya spoke on the exclusion of students from learning from her own experience.

Teacher couldn’t say her name. Finally, “Carmen Tortilla”

didn’t fit what standard textbooks
didn’t include us
We were invisible.
Cops were scared to go into. City Council said we didn’t need a library, because we didn’t even read English.
We were searched everyday—and at lunch—for knives.

Loved literature. Loved books. Loved reading. Loved anything that had to do with story.
Where was I going to get books to read?
Finally got a library on our side of town. (Buena Vista Street)
My mom said she’d take me once a week. 2 mile walk both ways.
Got my five books. Read them all. Couldn’t go back till the next Tuesday.
Learned (by reading the boring pages) that all books come from New York.

Wanted to be a writer. If books are from NY, I need to write about NY.
So I wrote about New York… I had no clue what it looked like or what you could do there. I was stuck.

I had nothing to write about, because our stories weren’t published.

When students say “have to read for class,” they haven’t read the right book yet.

We were hungry for our culture, for a reflection that looked like us.
Mirror of society—don’t see themselves on television or in books.
We grew up so hungry for something that had to do with us.

I made good use of the library. Looked for Mexican-American. Nothing. Looked for stuff on Mexico. Haciendas… Read about Spain. Then France, because next door to Spain. Took French, because it was related.
I kept reading and reading and searching and searching until I found it.

The traditional canon was not made for us.
… made for a very small percentage of the world’s people.
… lied. It told us that we were all separate.

Poem that people can see themselves joining in it.
“This River Here”
full of me and mine, you and yours
right here, or maybe a little farther down
my great-grandmother washed the dirt
my grampa washed the sins out of his congregation’s souls
“I see Indians! I see Indians!” he threw pebbles at her. One day she got mad and threw them back. … After they got married…
right here we pour out picnics
weeping lady haunting the river—“I need my children.” ??
stories haunt us… scrapes in different places… married you and I …
It was right here and right here we stand. …or maybe a little farther down.

All from one skin
All from one little country
95% male
women props to be added when needed

Women have been keeping us alive.
Even the act of feeding someone becomes a statement of culture and civilization.

What is the canon?

Canon = teaching people how to stay alive
Survival instructions
How to deal with depression and loss
How to saunter sassy

Traditional canon beautiful.

Tell the stories of men in difficult situations.
Rich. Brilliant.
Excluded works.
World literature in our canon.

Her writings include
“Feeding You”
“Tortilleria”

I purchased one of her books and enjoy it immensely.

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