Friday, June 6, 2014

Italian language "graduation": Critical pedagogy comes to life

A few weeks ago, I finally decided to take an Italian class. I wrote about the painful yet charming first day of class here. The Italian classes, run by Vides Veneto, are free for immigrants, taught by volunteers, and coordinated by Salesian nuns interested in promoting equality and human rights. They are incredibly sweet people. In fact, a friend and I started calling the director La Carissima, because that is how she always addresses others: "carissima, gentilissima… (dearest, sweetest)".

Little did I know, but it turns out that Vides is a perfect example of multicultural educationcritical pedagogy, and community engagement, basically the theoretical frameworks I am most excited about as a researcher. For example, they run a workshop entitled, Intercultural Workshop of Autobiographical Writing and Social Theater… something I would totally write an article about!

Last night, my formerly narrow scope of Vides was greatly expanded when I witnessed their culminating event, a great instance of multiculturalism, multilingualism, and hybridity. The immigrants who attend Italian classes at Vides come from multiple countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, as well as a handful from the EU and one from the U.S. (yep, just me). The first event on the program was handing out certificates of completion to about 50 students participating in the current cycle. They have had around 270 students in their Italian program so far this year. As is the typical ceremony, each student was called up and presented with a certificate, cheered on by the crowd and Vides volunteers.

A proud Italian language student showing off her certificate

After the certificates, they had a show. This was the multicultural part. Who ever would have thought I would hear Andean music in northern Italy? Not me, but I did: the first thing on the program was a traditional Peruvian dance, complete with costumes and música andina. ¡Lindo! Even better: Afterwards I met one of the dancers, and we spoke in Spanish. It seems like, just in the past couple of days, my brain finally figured out how to separate Spanish and Italian. What a relief!

Next up was a group of young men from Togo, who jammed out some reggae-esque covers (e.g., No woman no cry), followed by an eight-year old girl from the Philippines, wearing a white lace dress and a flower in her hair, who sang a ballad in tagalog (I think), followed by a really popular and sexy U.S. pop song (that of course I knew but can't for the life of me remember now). One of these days we will see this girl on Youtube.

The culminating performance was a true community theater piece retelling the classic myth of the minotaur. With few resources, the diverse cast danced, sang in multiple languages, and used lighting and movement to narrate the story, incorporating participants' oral narratives and emphasizing themes of exclusion, fear, and prejudice. They ended by shouting their key message, "There are no monsters, only people". Voilà Paolo Freire.

The multicultural, multilingual crowd gathers for the Vides event

As much due to their multicultural, multilingual nature as their foundation in social justice and empowerment, these types of organizations and events really excite me. Imagine a refugee from Somalia, escaping a nightmare situation to arrive completely alone in Italy, where she does not speak the language or have any familiar cultural references (I know this woman). She is welcomed by an organization of accoglienza (my favorite word, like "welcome") and begins to participate, not only in individualized, small-group Italian language classes, but in theater, music, culture, and community. I can't speak for the Italian government, but for community organizations like Vides, accoglienza is really about involvement and integration. Welcome… participate… learn… teach… connect. This is really what education is all about.       


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