On March 6, the Project for Public Leadership and Action, a group of Wellesley faculty interested in public scholarship and engagement, held the first in its new series of teach-ins, in which professors open their classes to the public. An email sent to the student body from Professor Soo Hong of the education department explained that the project’s goal is “to promote our understanding of and engagement in issues of community justice.” Activists, public scholars and artists whose work is rooted in community will be coming to speak at the teach-ins, which will be “arranged by faculty, and are a public extension of the courses they teach.”
The first teach-in, organized by Professor Irene Mata of the women’s and gender studies department for her women’s and gender studies 218 class, “Stage Left: Chicanx and Latinx Theatre and Performance.” The teach-in featured acclaimed poet and activist Yosimar Reyes. It was organized as part of Mata’s class on Chicanx and Latinx theatre. Reyes, who is a leader within the undocumented youth movement, organized around the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act in 2011 and 2012, and then again around Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Now, he is at the heart of the undocuqueer movement and questions the assimilationist rhetoric of the DREAM Act. He says that the DREAM Act tends to judge immigrants by their ability to create profit for the United States, rather than asserting that everyone, documented or not, deserves basic human rights. His poetry centers on themes of sexuality and migration.
Jhenna El-Sawaf ’21, a student in Mata’s class, said that the teach-in was different from what she had expected. “I think that something I wasn’t expecting, and that I was pleasantly surprised by, was that so much of the speaker’s work focused on joy, and that’s an angle that is often very underrepresented in terms of undocumented narratives,” she said. “A lot of his work was focused on revealing the joys of that community and kind of shifting the narrative.”
Professor Laura Grattan, who is also part of the Project for Public Leadership and Action, noted the ways in which Reyes’ work focuses on joy within the undocumented immigrant community. “His talk on undocujoy [the movement to recognize joy within the undocumented experience] and the use of humor really does show the way in which youth who are central to some of this organizing are challenging not only the ways that mainstream media is characterizing undocumented youth and their activism, but also the ways that immigration activism has gone,” she said.
Alicia Olivo ’19, who is also a student in Mata’s Chicanx and Latinx Theatre class, talked about how the teach-in impacted her personally. The less formal teach-in format, she said, meant that the class was different from other talks that have been given on campus. “It differs from other lectures in that I think it just had a lot of heart,” she explained. “Yosimar Reyes presented himself as, you know, himself,” rather than focusing too much on the theoretical and statistical side of things. For Olivo, it was a chance to see members of a community she had grown up around humanized at an institution that doesn’t always offer it that chance.
“Not just in an academic context was it very informative, but also emotionally and empathetically. I think it was really good to see the kind of people I grew up with in my community, because I come from a very heavily Latinx immigrant-populated area,” Olivo said. “Even though I did grow up as a U.S. citizen, I did grow up in an area where a lot of my family members and a lot of my friends are undocumented immigrants.”
The next teach-in, which will be at 9:50 A.M. on April 13th, will feature Diego Low, an immigrant advocate who works with Casa del Trabajador/ MetroWest Workers’ Center.