Getting down to work

For wonderful images, see ProEIBAndes.org. I do not have a good internet connection to upload photos at this time.

(¡Manos a la obra!)

I’m well aware that my blog has not reflected my work activities at all yet. Reading it, you might think that I am exclusively here visiting friends, but that is the tip of the iceberg. For the past two weeks I’ve been working intensively at the ProEIBAndes (graduate program in Intercultural Bilingual Education) at the Universidad Mayor San Simón in Cochabamba.

Why have I delayed blogging about it? – Two reasons: blogging requires thinking in English and explaining experiences to an outside audience. As I plunge into these activities, I am thinking less and less in English and even less thinking from an outside perspective. I have been invited to participate as an insider, and I have given that my full attention.

I am honored to be treated as visiting faculty at the ProEIB. I have been given a desk and computer, a voice at meetings, a role as mentor and guest speaker, and my work is being incorporated into the curriculum. I’ve already participated in intense debates over aspects of the proposed doctoral program and about the use of in-house vs. internationally accepted formatting for citation within student work. The content of these conversations goes to the heart of positioning this program and maintaining its identity as a unique place in the Americas where indigenous people come to build an academic identity without sacrificing their cultural and linguistic values.

This past Monday, 30 new master’s students came together to introduce themselves to each other and to the program. Many wore traditional dress, played instruments, showed slides and videos of significant activities within their home communities in Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and Mexico. The students bring an impressive array of life experience. Some are recent college graduates, but most have already worked extensively as educators, interpreters, advocates, census takers, activists, spiritual guides, policy makers. There are two strands of study within the program: Intercultural Bilingual Eduaction (EIB) and Sociolinguistics.

The faculty also offers a wealth of experience. Three have been part of the program since its inception 18 years ago. Two are native speakers and accomplished linguists of Quechua and Aymara. Several have backgrounds in the social sciences, and are graduates of the program themselves; several have spoken and published internationally in their areas, although publishing is emphasized much less in the Andes than it is in the States. It is a joy and a pleasure to have lunch and conversation with these folks on a daily basis, and to read and discuss each other’s work.

For three days last week, students engaged in a process of writing their autobiographies. Yesterday I listened for several hours as each student commented on this process and what it brought to light for them. Many emotions were expressed by both men and women: rage and indignation over discrimination and violence they have experienced as native peoples in colonized/conquered terrain; indignation, humiliation, sadness. There was also laughter, pride, defiance and a sense of incredible wealth. It is this wealth of knowledge, of intuition, of heart, that is already growing within the group by being shared.

On Monday it will be my turn to speak. Students will have introductory classes in the morning with Professor Pedro Plaza on the topic of research in the social sciences. They’ll complete readings and a first stab at fieldwork in the afternoons. From 5-6:30 they’ll come to hear me speak.

Here are my topics:

Monday – an introduction to ethical relationships among researchers and rural communities

Tuesday – video and audio recording techniques for language documentation

Wednesday – research design and interviewing techniques, with hands on application (students record interviews in small groups!)

Thursday- data management, archiving and community access for the purpose of language revitalization

All of this is merely part of the preparation for the master’s program to begin.

Let the good times roll!

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