I am sitting in my office on a Thursday evening, having just finished a screening of Palomas de papel (1983) from Peru with my students.
I am a total wimp when it comes to violence, especially violence that involves children, so this was a tough one. It is a movie that refers to the struggle in the Peruvian countryside when Sendero Luminoso was at its peak, and how tiny villages and innocent campesinos tried to survive during this violent, brutal struggle.
I did not give my students any context other than it was about Peru, Sendero and the campesinos. I did not warn them (or myself) about the fact that this would touch upon kidnapping (“disappearing”) and brain washing young, innocent children…ripping them from their homes in order to properly indoctrinate them to the philosophies of Presidente Gonzalo, the violence with which the guerrilleros make their point known… It was not that I wanted them to be shocked or hurt by the film, rather, I was hoping that they, just like the Juan the protagonist, would also feel the confusion, the rage, the hurt, the violence and the injustice along with this young child whose world is completely shattered all because of this abstract “lucha” that was being waged all around him… something that only seemed to make sense to little Juan when one of the comandantes said that if you follow the path of Presidente Gonzalo, all of the cookies will be free.
Tough stuff to digest. One of my students was in tears at the end of the movie. They looked at me as if I was there to make sense of it all. Violence and war and wrongful imprisonment –don’t– make sense… and I was as much at a loss for words as they were. All I wanted to do was go home and hug my kids.
So before I left work I emailed them a link to Wikipedia (yes, gasp! Wikipedia) and the entry there on Sendero Luminoso. And I encouraged them to consider that as a starting point, but what was more important was that they write and begin the conversation (or at the very least some visceral reactions!) in El blog central…gently reminding them that there is no queen ant in this colony…and the course and the blog was their colony to create.
So as I am sitting here blogging this, I am also listening to a very happy ending for this evening. One of my students is talking on Skype with the family with whom she lived in El Salvador. The connection is clear (thank you Cal, thank you Barron), the conversation sounds lively, and she is here well past 11 p.m. happily chattering away…in Spanish.
Connections and interconnections: the student shares with me that a member of her Salvadoran family has been offered a full scholarship for university study by the FMLN, with the condition that it is in Cuba and that he engage in political activities upon his return to Salvador. Interesting choice, it seems because this person does not consider himself a political person, but the scholarship is indeed attractive.
Choices, politics, liberation, freedom… from a variety of vantage points and pshaw! not written in any text or even a formal part of our syllabus…
To all of you who think all learning has to happen ONLY in the classroom to be valid and effective, I offer you these two moments from my evening: watching movies that make you think and question and hurt and cry along with your students, and then overhearing a conversation that makes the world seem very very small, and yet strangely interconnected…one Skype call at a time.
I will let you know what tomorrow’s class brings…