IN THE FIELD OF TEACHING
For ESOL class at a public high school, Maryland.
October, 2014 to May, 2018.
“It started as a bookbinding, it became a personal storytelling, and ended as a journey.”
It’s expected that you go to school to have goals and achievements…
BUT How can you succeed when you feel misplaced? Where do you go when you do not know anything about your new place? Who should you talk to about your feelings when you might not know the people that surround you? How do you pass a test when you have never been exposed to English? How do you cope with a new family that you haven’t seen for the last 12 years of your life, when you are only 15 years old? How do you fit into your new family and new peers? Why does your religion become a secondary issue? How do you hide from a difficult past? Why does crossing borders (in a life threatening journey) become a part of a daily life?
In this special project for immigrant students tried to answer some of these questions through the process of making a book as a self-expression of their stories. The students learned bookbinding techniques such as the Accordion style, Japanese stitch, and Single Signature bindings.
During the school year, students had the opportunity to talk a little about their personal experiences of becoming students and residents of the American system, living in totally different situations than their pasts. Many of the students talked about their experiences with excitement, some with anger and frustration, some without a care, and others had a very difficult time expressing how they felt. The physical and emotional adjustments that these teenagers have gone through empowered them to channel their experiences into artistic expression.
Between working on bindings, we talked about the power of writing in their languages. Then students were encouraged to translate their script into English. Some of the writings were powerful, some of them more elementary. In those cases, it was reinforced that each experience is unique and that their art should also be unique. Others were shy to express how they felt, and others had very a hard time committing to writing.
But what is art? What is a book? Why should I tell my story to a stranger?
The terminology of Art and Bookbinding techniques became so familiar to these students that at the end of the project it didn’t matter if they knew the subjects before. Most of these students executed their artwork to the best of their abilities and resources, since the motivation of self-expression came from within.
For some immigrant students, to be listened by a stranger, was not an easy transition, for others it was easier to engage in conversations. Unexpectedly, I was not only their bookbinding teacher, but I also became their mentor. With such a strong, trusting relationship with the students, it aided the students in the process of committing to their books and completing them with dignity and pride.
The feelings of dislocation, isolation, loneliness, stress, and also happiness and relief, came together somehow into their narratives, supported by personal pictures from their home countries or families.
The outcome of this project, for some students was freedom of speech, a freedom of expression through painting, drawings, and mixing media, including their writings in English and in their native languages. Suddenly, the project became a self-portrait. Even without knowing, many of these books had the result of making Art in a book format.
The result of this experience had been unique, and for some of them, it has become a decision point to keep doing handmade books. They would like to talk about their futures as teenagers with goals and dreams, and perhaps futures with their new friends and families, living the American dream.
In 2016-17 Arts and Humanities of Montgomery County Council partly funded the storytelling project. I believed in this project and I will keep working hard to keep enriching the youth through the storytelling and bookbinding skills.
The project continued during the 2017-2018 and exhibited at Glen Echo Park at the end of the school year. Again, the exhibit empowered the student's voices to educate the community about their own experiences.