Can the performing arts promote civic dialogue, social and political change? Yes, they do it but as a process and not as much as an immediate and quantifiable outcome. An example of that is the evolution of Am I Invisible, a project where people from the Austin homeless community has been participating and that led towards a main performance last Saturday at the Gym of the Episcopal Church. Since 2013, members of the homeless community have been able to learn and experiment with techniques from the theater of the oppressed, and participatory video, through a series of workshops at the the ARCH, Austin Resources Center for the Homeless. As a volunteer in the project, I have been able to see the transformation of the participants as they became use to tell their stories, act, speak up, self-reflect about their position in society, raise questions, and imagine social change. Last Saturday performance was the culmination of a long process of exploration and learning in where the homeless community had the opportunity to interact with a wider audience and engage in a public conversation about their visibility in one of the fastest growing USA cities.
Continue reading Am I Invisible Project: Theater of the Oppressed + Participatory Video
Immigrant youth experiences are all different. They vary according to a manifold of individual and structural factors. However, all immigrant youth confront several challenges related to the process of assimilation to a new country. Adjusting to new social norms, incorporating to a new institutional environment, adapting to a new community, and often learning a new language affect the well-being of youth and are causes of psychological stress. (Suarez-Orozco and Suarez-Orozco, 2001; Rumbaut, 1995, 1994; Olsen, 2000) For Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth, in particular, the challenges can become even more complicated because their ethnic group is in the wrong side of many structural divides. In contemporary USA context, where disparities in educational attainment, income, health, occupation, and technology, have become pervasive, the Latino/Hispanic group systematically appears at the bottom of the scales according to official quantitative data. Such problematic position, have made this population the center of academic research on low educational attainment (Rivera-Batiz, 2008; Smith, 2002; Romo & Falbo, 1996), lack of employment opportunities (Kochhar, 2012; Perez, 1992), children poverty (Massey, 1993), teen pregnancy (Fry and Passel, 2009), lack of social capital (Noguera, 2004; Fernandez-Kelly and Shauffler, 1996), and poor health status (Hayes-Bautista, 2002).
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Among all the metaphors that can be used to understand YouTube, I choose the one of an archive because it allows me to explore the relation between media and memory. As an archive, YouTube is an open and global digital repository of audiovisual records in constant expansion, produced by a range of users and participants with a variety of interests and skills. Evidence of its archival characteristic can be found in the almost 200 millions of videos that compose the “world’s largest vault for moving-image material.” (Snickars and Vondera: 13) While users upload videos of any kind to the expanding archive, including original, remixed, and copied material, and both private and public content; the owners of YouTube provide the storage service and the infrastructure for searching, classifying, and watching. As a result of the low barriers of entry to the archive, and the simple and easy way in which anybody could contribute, the audiovisual records that are stored in YouTube are incredible diverse and they come from all parts of the world. From home movies to music videos to TV shows clips to videos of war combats, the variety of genres, formats, themes, styles and quality is enormous. Such diversity of records and openness is one of the reasons why Youtube has become a sort of defacto audiovisual archive that people around the world use for remembering the past and constructing personal, collective and cultural memories. For the specific case of Colombian audiovisual records, YouTube has helped to solve the lack of public access to copies of television shows, commercials, and films from the 20th Century, as well as has opened a dynamic space for a more participatory construction of collective memory.
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One of the things that surprised me when I moved to Austin four years ago was that in “the music capital of the world” so little hip hop was performed, heard, and announced in the local venues and media outlets. Although the hip hop movement has been thriving in Austin for decades, it has been until recent years that it has started to gain more recognition and visibility. Hip hop is growing in ATX. There is not an identifiable Austinite hip hop style yet such as the one from Houston, Atlanta, or LA, but artists and fans from different areas of town have become more connected and have been strengthening their community. What it seemed to be a fragmented movement with different unknown scenes spread across the Austin metropolitan area are now in the process of becoming a more unified, although still diverse, scene. The emergence of the Austin Mic Exchange (AMX) as an open platform for performance and networking provides a good example of how the hip hop movement in Austin is evolving and how hip hop creative entrepreneurs are leveraging (and remixing) the resources available in the city in order to support their local community and movement.
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The sound of the printing press was what at first called my attention. We were walking nearby the Plaza Santo Domingo in Mexico City downtown when a percussive and repetitive noise appeared at the entrance of a little street near the church. We walked closely and entered a pedestrian street called Leandro Valle. As we crossed through the street we discovered a series of analog printing press business located in an open public area, near huge columns that were part of the Santo Domingo church. The source of the loud and repetitive sound was a printing machine operated by an old man dressed in a blue coat. He used his arm in order to pull a lever that pressed the different plates of the machine. The other machines were in stand-by. Adult men were hanging out in front of the printing presses, or in tables nearby where they organized movable types. Their businesses displayed some of their products such as calendars and cards. I was totally fascinated by the discovery of these analogue presses. Watching these old printers reminded of the rich Mexican printing tradition as well as of the first printing press in the Americas, the one established in 1530s by Juan Pablos in a colonial house also located in the DF downtown.
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In the digital era, maps are everywhere -from large-scale displays within galleries and museums, to mobile smartphone screens. Not only do maps allow us to navigate the places where we live, they also have great potential as educational tools, especially when learners engage in their creation. Next Monday I will be at SXSWedu moderating a conversation about maps, learning, and participation. Together with Debora Lui, Claudia Silva, and Giuliana Cucinelli, we will discuss the use of digital maps in educational and cultural settings and talk about how they can foster the acquisition of multi-literacies and 21st century skills, the implementation of innovative pedagogies, and support civic engagement and community building. What kind of learning processes can be supported by the creation of digital and participatory maps? How can digital maps provide opportunities to tell stories about our communities, cities, and neighborhoods? How does digital participatory mapping allow learners to connect with their communities and cities thus transforming them into laboratories for experimentation, survey, and exploration?
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Over the last three decades, the rapid development and adoption of digital technology infrastructures, tools, and practices, has given rise to a new communication environment that is more interactive, networked, and participatory. This environment has become a central force driving political, cultural, educational, and economic transformations in contemporary societies, especially the post-industrial and advanced capitalist ones such as the USA. Concepts such as “network society” (Castells 2001), “convergence culture” (Jenkins 2006), “networked information economy” (Benkler 2006), and “network culture” (Terranova 2004; Varnelis, 2008), describe a more interconnected, decentralized and information-rich world where people has more opportunities to participate in various societal realms. However, despite the fact that the new communication environment is more open and participatory, and that young people is highly engaged with new media tools and networks, its emergence in the historical context of a stratified society has had repercussions for the reproduction of social inequality. Beyond the metaphor of an existing “digital divide” between “have” and “have-nots,” rich and poor, several scholars have been pointing out since the 2000s that inequalities are way more complex than simple access to a computer and an Internet connection. (Warschauer 2002; DiMaggio et al. 2004; Selwyn 2004; van Dijk 2005; Chen and Wellman 2005; Hargittai 2008; Stern et al. 2009; Schradie 2011; Watkins 2012) There are gradients not only in the quality of access to technology, but also in the sociocultural practices and skills that people develop, and the information they consume and produce. (Hargitai 2011; Schradie 2011; Jenkins et al. 2006; Van Dijk 2005; Watkins 2012) As van Dijk has explained, there are in fact successive kinds of access (motivational, material, skills, and usage) that vary according to the positions and resources that people have. (van Dijk, 2005) Continue reading Evolving Digital Inequalities: Understanding the Changing Countours of Divides and Gaps