Rates of Exchange: Team-Teaching a Latino/a Literature Course from Two Theoretical Views

Article excerpt

Within the United States, Latinos--peoples of Puerto Rican, Chicano/Chicana, Dominican-American, Cuban-American, and others of the Latin American diaspora--are defined against the dominant culture as distinct because they share a common language, and certain groupings of nations enjoy similar foods, music, and other cultural sensibilities. Yet, Latinos/Latinas comprise members of different ethnic, racial, class, sexuality, and religious groups. Many Chicano/Chicanas understand themselves as an indigenous group expelled from the U.S.; numerous Puerto Ricans, particularly activists, understand themselves as Africans colonized by the U.S.; and still other groups--from the Caribbean and the Latin American diaspora--identify themselves as immigrants with differing degrees of acculturation to the U.S. At the same time, however, these same subsets of the larger "Latino" group share intersections of a common history, language, and similar cultural traits.

LaGuardia Community College, as part of the City University of New York, is an institution diverse in races, ethnicities, nationalities, religions, genders, economic classes, and sexual orientations. Currently, the Latino/a student population is 35% of the overall student body; these students identify as Puerto Rican, Dominican, Mexican, Ecuadorian, Colombian, Salvadorian, Uruguayan, and others. Consequently, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to create a semester-long Latino/a literature course that would not exclude any of the representative nationalities within our college. How do we best serve our students in making text selections amid this diverse student body with different and sometimes conflicting cultural, class, and political interests? How can a course address the significant cultural, economic, racial, and other divides while also purporting to address a unified ethnic identity within the U.S. that addresses common issues and concerns? For radicals interested in moving beyond the ease of multiculturalism toward larger questions of social and political equity, the very notion of a "Latino Literature Course" presents a radical as well as a practical problem. This was not a course in reading literature and eating tacos or platanos.

When we came together at the Ford Foundation/Vassar College Exploring Transfer Program, we were given the opportunity to create a team-taught syllabus to bring back to our local college. The seminar was designed to bring community college professors from across disciplines together to observe and then recreate the team-teaching pedagogies used by joint community college and Vassar faculty teams in their summer program for students to prepare to transfer. While other teams in our two-week seminar were interdisciplinary, we faced the challenge of coming from the same field with radically different perspectives; Carlos had a more Marxist-ethnic perspective on the field, while Liz had a materialist-feminist approach. While we both agree on the importance of class as an identity marker, particularly within a Hyper-Capitalistic society such as the United States, Carlos further believes that race should supercede discussions of gender while Liz privileges gender in her courses and scholarship. The challenge was to identify our biases and to compromise to create a better syllabus that would allow us to show students our different perspectives.

In the beginning, we assumed that our task would be easier than that of the other teams. With our joint experience in Latino/a literature, we anticipated an unproblematic encounter in creating our syllabus. However, our task was complicated even before we started working on the syllabus in ways we hadn't anticipated. While we knew one another's theoretical stances, we didn't realize that in our individual iterations of the same course, Carlos taught primarily Caribbean-Latino texts, while Liz focused on Chicano/Chicana texts. The central point of intellectual disagreement then moved from race and gender to our divergent understanding of what we meant when we spoke of Latino/a literature. …