"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Testimonio: Bearing Witness

"Our writings [...] are the testament of our vibrant resistance, as our metaphors, code switching, theories, visions, and worlds - real and imagined - give shape, texture, and human depth to the history of our very presence and experience."
 - Elba Rosario Sanchez, Cartohistography: One Voice's Continent

I was very moved this week, reading about the murals that incarcerated fathers created with their children during the summer camp at Hope House.  I found it very interesting that in his article, Dr. Muth compares this courageous and vulnerable act to the Latin American literary tradition of testimonio, or bearing witness.  The act of testimonio helps those who are marginalized to find their voice.  Norma Klahn states that the most critical aspect of testimonio is "that voice which speaks to the reader in the form of an 'I' that demands to be recognized, that wants or needs to stake a claim on our attention."  It provides an opportunity for those who are invisible in a society to make their presence known.

Testimonio is typically presented in the form of a narrative or a novel and centers around an event or series of events in the life of an individual (or of a community, with one individual acting as the voice of the community).  One (in)famous example in Latin American literature is called I, Rigoberta Menchu (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rigoberta_Mench%C3%BA), and tells the story of a poor, indigenous Guatemalan woman who was also a prominent human rights activist.  Despite the term testimonio being used predominantly to describe the written word,  I can see the part of the essence of testimonio in the murals that have been created by these families.  Like the writers of this unique genre, they use the media of art and performance to take hold of their identity as a family and to voice their hopes, dreams, and desires for the future.

I cannot imagine the pain that these families have been through.  Often such tragic experiences make individuals feel very alone.  This can be especially difficult for children, who may feel isolated from their friends and family because they do not have the emotional maturity to articulate their strong emotions. In that sense, they may feel invisible.  On the other hand, the father also deals with his own insecurities.  He may have been absent from his children's lives.  In that sense, he is also invisible.  Through creating these works of art, they become a witness to each other's lives and to their shared family story.  Together they will find their voice and created a shared history of their presence and existence.

1 comment:

  1. Rachel I am gratified to know that the Testimonio reference made sense. I was introduced to this genre or writing by Kris Gutierrez at UCLA, who has some superb studies related to Testimonio and Latino/a students' voice. And THANK YOU for making this most helpful connection to Elba Rosario Sanchez and Rigoberta Menchu, I checked out the Wikipedia link and noted the controversies that Rigoberta Menchu's Nobel Prize winning work (including her Testimonio/Autobiography) caused. One critic said, "What rankles is the whiff of ideological obsession and zealotry, the odor of unfairness and meanness, the making of a mountain out of a molehill.".[11] I wonder though, if molehills and mountains are not relative terms? Who gets to say which is which? :) Anyway, if you have any good references (maybe Cartohistography??) on Testimonio, please send them along!


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