Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 24

This article was downloaded by: [189.215.218.

129] On: 23 August 2012, At: 15:39 Publisher: Routledge Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

Language and Education


Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rlae20

I don't find any privacy around here: ethnographic encounters with local practices of literacy in the state prison of Oaxaca
Angeles Clemente , Michael James Higgins & William Michael Sughrua
a a a a

Facultad de Idiomas, Universidad Autnoma Benito Jurez de Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico Version of record first published: 10 Oct 2011

To cite this article: Angeles Clemente, Michael James Higgins & William Michael Sughrua (2011): I don't find any privacy around here: ethnographic encounters with local practices of literacy in the state prison of Oaxaca, Language and Education, 25:6, 491-513 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09500782.2011.596318

PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE Full terms and conditions of use: http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-andconditions This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contents will be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae, and drug doses should be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss, actions, claims, proceedings, demand, or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.

Language and Education Vol. 25, No. 6, November 2011, 491513

I dont nd any privacy around here: ethnographic encounters with local practices of literacy in the state prison of Oaxaca
Angeles Clemente, Michael James Higgins and William Michael Sughrua
Facultad de Idiomas, Universidad Aut onoma Benito Ju arez de Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico (Received 5 April 2010; nal version received 6 June 2011) In his poem entitled Privacy, Alberto, an inmate in the state prison of Oaxaca, Mexico, vividly evokes the conictive dynamics of space and time within his living quarters. This is his way of dealing with the sadness, trauma, and mundanity of his incarceration. Albertos poem has emerged from our ongoing ethnographic project based on a creative writing workshop that we have been carrying out at the Ixcotel state prison in Oaxaca. Our objective is to analyze the inmate-students texts, as well as to reect on the overall experience of the workshop, in order to interrogate the manner in which the inmate-students affectively deal with their imprisonment. Our discovery is that the workshop enables the inmate-students to maneuver within local practices of literacy as well as imagined communities in order to cross postcolonial borderlines and challenge the geopolitics of language knowledge. In doing so, the creative writing workshop serves a liberating function, allowing the inmate-students to write their way through colonial difference and thereby locate themselves momentarily beyond the walls of their connement. This discovery emerges from a co-constructed and performative ethnography based on an interpretative framework leading to borderland epistemology. Keywords: ethnography; literacy practices; language-in-education; social practice; participatory discourse; cultural identity

Downloaded by [189.215.218.129] at 15:39 23 August 2012

I dont nd any privacy around here. My only apparent solitude is the limited little space in the dormitory, a transformed micro cell with very thin walls. Most of my room is made out of this thin wood, except for the built-in bed, this iron rectangle with a pressed wood surface where the mattress goes. My neighbors rock music invades my ears. The saints of his room are such musical idols as El Tri, Alex Lora, and Jim Morrison. Each time he turns up the volume of his music, he shouts out, Hey, Fuentes, how do you like my music? And so I make an effort to hide my deep irritation, and instead of my true feelings, I answer with a smile: Your music is excellent!

Corresponding author. Email: angelesclemente@gmail.com

ISSN 0950-0782 print / ISSN 1747-7581 online C 2011 Taylor & Francis http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09500782.2011.596318 http://www.tandfonline.com

492

A. Clemente et al.

Actually, my true self would like to snatch away his old CD player and smash it! No, maybe burn it! I have been listening to that deafening music, for over two years, forwards and backwards, back and forth, over and over again. On the west side of my room, there is the alienating and violent rhythm of cholo music, describing landscapes of tattoos on tormented bodies. To the north of my room is a neurotic old fart. One of these days, Im sure Ill nd him hanging from the ceiling in the corridor. (Alberto)

Downloaded by [189.215.218.129] at 15:39 23 August 2012

Introduction In the above poem, entitled Privacy, Alberto, an inmate in the state prison of Oaxaca, Mexico, vividly evokes the conictive dynamics of space and time within his living quarters. This is his way of dealing with the sadness, trauma, and mundanity of his incarceration. Albertos poem has emerged from our ongoing ethnographic project based on a creative writing workshop that we have been carrying out at the Ixcotel state prison in Oaxaca. Our objective has been to analyze the inmate-students poems and stories, as well as to reect on the overall experience of the creative writing workshop, in order to interrogate the manner in which the inmate-students affectively deal with their imprisonment. Our discovery is that the creative writing workshop enables the inmate-students, such as Alberto, to maneuver within local practices of literacy (Pennnycook 2010) as well as imagined communities (Kanno and Norton 2003) in order to cross postcolonial borders and thereby challenge the geopolitics of language knowledge (Mignolo 2002). In doing so, the creative writing workshop ultimately serves a liberating function in that it allows the inmate-students to write their way through colonial difference and thereby locate themselves momentarily beyond the walls of their connement. This discovery emerges from a co-constructed and performative ethnography based on an interpretative framework leading to borderland epistemology (Mignolo 2007).

Context One of the primary correctional institutions of the Oaxacan state prison system is located in Santa Maria Ixcotel, an urbanized suburb in the southern area of the city of Oaxaca, the capital city of the state of Oaxaca, which is widely identiable not only by its colonial architecture, ethnic and social diversity, and culinary excellence, but also by its housing shortage, limited employment possibilities for popular classes, trafc congestion, and political protests (Higgins and Coen 2008). Commonly referred to as Ixcotel, this prison houses approximately 1200 male inmates and 120 female inmates incarcerated on charges ranging from petty theft to fraud, kidnapping, rape, and murder. Most of the inmates come from Oaxaca state, with a signicant presence of Indigenous peoples. Although the inmate population represents a range of social classes, the majority come from low socio-economic classes. As in other states and federal prisons in Mexico, the Ixcotel inmates are permitted conjugal visits as well as long-term visits by immediate family members; and female inmates are allowed to keep their infant children with them (Vargas 2008). The administrative structure of Ixcotel prison consists of the

Language and Education

493

warden, social services, medical services, security forces, and the internal governing board of inmates. As far as infrastructure is concerned, the prison is an immense semi-rectangular complex of buildings. In its middle, there is a large, open-air, concrete-paved courtyard (patio), including basketball courts, soccer courts, and a theater area. The courtyard is the focal point of the infrastructure. At the front end of the courtyard, there is the central gate and the various locked sections for visitors and outsiders to pass through, and along the two lateral sides and the wide back end of the courtyard, like a huge half-rectangle, are the buildings. One of these buildings contains the secure cells, housing high-security inmates, troublesome inmates, and newly arrived inmates. Closer to the courtyard are the nine dormitories, one reserved for the female inmates, who have their own laundry, shower, and bathroom facilities. Closer still, around the courtyard, are the apartments for conjugal visits, the cafeteria, the library, and the bathing, bathroom, and laundry areas for the male inmates. On the immediate perimeter of the courtyard are small stores, carpentry, artesian, and other trade-oriented workshops, as well as several classrooms and the library where we teach the creative writing workshop every Thursday in the late afternoon for three hours. The creative writing workshop started in 2009 when some of the inmates approached us during one of our visits to the prison; they inquired whether we could offer them a creative writing workshop. The workshop, as well as its corresponding research project, was approved by the inmates own internal governance structure and validated by the warden. Presiding over the inmate population by general consensus is a fellow inmate as general director, who in turn presides over a directive committee that oversees the governing board of each dormitory. The respective dormitory governing boards, the directive committee, and the general director (all inmates) work together on issues such as security, building maintenance, social events, fees for operating a micro-business such as a store, and educative offerings such as our creative writing workshop. Although the workshop and the project have been cleared by the inmate governing board and approved in writing from the warden, we of course have no formal position of authority in the prison system. The workshop has now been in process for more than two years. In the creative writing workshop, there are two women and ve men, including Alberto (discussed above). They are all from Oaxaca, a southwestern state of Mexico that has a population of over 3.2 million people and is well known for its ethnic diversity, ecological variety, and extreme poverty. The inmate-students are incarcerated on charges ranging from the theft of car radios to homicide. Two of them have university degrees, three have high school diplomas, and the remaining two have not studied beyond secondary school. Although the students differ in age, previous occupations, ethnicity, and regional backgrounds, they all lack the monetary and legal resources with which to address their incarceration. In the rst term of the creative writing workshop, the inmate-students wrote poetry, and in the second term, short stories. Their writings are done in Spanish.

Downloaded by [189.215.218.129] at 15:39 23 August 2012

The frameworks: methodology, theory, and interpretation The research methodology of this project lies on the ethnographic encounter as a coeval and performative event. In this sense, our research methodology preempted and inspired our theoretical framework based on certain conceptual issues (e.g. imagined communities) that emerged from the project-in-progress and form the core of the model of our interpretative framework (Figure 2). As we began to use this theoretical framework as a lens through which to proceed with the course and the project, the framework assumed an interpretative rather

494

A. Clemente et al.

than a theoretical role. These stages occurred in real time in the sense that they were constructed with the students in the creative writing workshop while it took place. Research methodology Fabian stresses that ethnography is a product of interaction; hence, it is dialogical. He also states that the data that ethnographers get are most often made during the actual ethnographic encounter (2007, 13). This emphasis on communication and language-in-action makes researchers aware of how much of cultural knowledge and hence ethnography is performative (2007, 13). In other words, what ethnographers learn from their informants does not come as responses to . . . questions but is enacted in, and mediated by, events which (one) may trigger but cannot really control (2007, 13). Thus, what we refer to as our research methods are ethnographic performances (Clemente and Higgins 2010). This position recognizes that ethnographic representations are partial and contingent upon the actual, day-to-day social and material realities of all those involved in producing the data. Even though we used traditional forms of data collection (e.g. interviews, observations, and authentic documents such as our inmate-students poems and stories), there pervades a seeking for ethnographic praxis (Clemente and Higgins 2008). Methodologically, this involves opening the process to reective dialoguing between all the participants, sharing and collaborating on how the range and style of ethnography can be developed, and engaging together in multimodal expression. This further assumes that, rst, the ethnographic shape of these various activities will help the social actors develop their own critical reections on their everyday lives and that, second, these actors can use such reections as forms of empowerment toward their own expression of praxis (Clemente et al. 2009). The empirical foundation in ethnographic research is based on the type of interaction in which ethnographers recognize the participants as co-producers. It is within these ethnographic performative dynamics that the co-production of all the participants is composed (Clemente et al. 2009). That is, there is neither an analytical nor a material separation of time and space between those involved in these encounters, but rather collaborative movements through shared time and space that allow for an empirical representation of these performances (Clemente et al. 2009). In this manner, methods are not external procedures framing the research, but rather part of the collaborative performance of the ethnographic encounter. Along this line, Kumaravadivelus post-methodology (2003, 2006) refers to the social, cultural, and political realities of both the researcher and the researched that establish and encourage appropriate strategies of investigation. Kumaravadivelu (2007) further states that in the absence of standard techniques, one needs to make various critical and reective choices on attaining information and data best representative of the social dynamics under investigation. This means that one needs to perform methods that are socially and ethnically contextualized according to the co-constructed realities of all the participants within the ethnographic encounter. It is the blending of the above-mentioned activities that constitutes our overall methodological approach (Clemente and Higgins 2010). Theoretical framework We have been able to document a diversity of local literacy practices (Purcell-Gates 2007) at the Ixcotel prison. The inmates are surrounded by legal texts, prison regulations, advertisements displayed in the small stores, posted rules on proper behavior for the use of bathrooms and laundry facilities, notices regarding the cafeteria, reminders regarding the maintenance

Downloaded by [189.215.218.129] at 15:39 23 August 2012

Language and Education

495

of their dormitories, and other similar textual materials, all of which are produced by the inmates own internal governance system (Clemente and Higgins 2010). Moving beyond this initial stage, at which point we acquired an understanding of the social dynamics of the inmates practices of literacy, and drawing on previous research (e.g. Clemente and Higgins 2008, 2009), we then began thinking about how to frame this literacy within the inmates local context, imagined communities, and social actions of crossing the epistemological borders of postcolonialism (Mignolo 2007). From Fabian (2007), we became aware that local practices of literacy, imagined communities, and postcolonial border crossings are performative activities sharing a co-equivalency or co-production, what he denes as coevalness. That is, one does not lead to the other, nor is one the cause of the other; rather, each takes place at the same time and within the same space of everyday action (Fabian 2007).

Downloaded by [189.215.218.129] at 15:39 23 August 2012

Local literacy practices There is a long and complex history within the western academic world, particularly in the areas of language and education, over what constitutes literacy (e.g. Luke 2003; Pennycook 2001; Purcell-Gates 2007). In the most traditional sense, literacy has referred to ones ability to perform within standardized alphabetic systems of writing and reading (Street 1984). Through various theoretical debates originating in poststructuralism, postcolonialism, and feminist studies, assumptions about literacy have been rethought and reshaped (PurcellGates 2007). Consequently, literacy has become literacies, as expressed in a multitude of contested domains beyond standardized styles of writing and reading (Makoni and Pennycook 2007; Menezes de Souza 2007). It is within this panorama that Purcell-Gates study (2007) of cultural literacy practices has emerged. Purcell-Gates (2007) seeks to ethnographically represent the manner in which those social actors who are assumed to have limited literacy skills do indeed manage, in their everyday lives, to compose their own forms of literacy as well as to understand and act upon the diversity of other literacy domains in their environment. Through daily observations of how people read labels, use calendars, record data on transportation systems, make lists, or do household accounts, Purcell-Gates (2007) has ethnographically illustrated how these people live and act within various domains of literacy. She and her collaborators have been able to represent the performativity of the daily literacy practices of various social actors in different cultural settings. With a slight shift in focus, we are asking: What makes these literacy activities local practices? Pennycook (2010) moves the debate about practices away from simplistic assumptions of a binary between theory as the ideal and practice as the application of the ideal. This involves seeing practices as similar to praxis, the constant linking of thought and action. Practices illuminate the connection between daily life and the knowledge to make such a connection, that is, knowledge to do so (2010, 245). Below is an extract from the diary of Celso, an Ixcotel inmate who illustrates how local practices connect his daily activities with the knowledge to do so:
When I get up I always think of God and thank him for my life. Then, I start sewing footballs and I go to school. When I have time I take a shower in the morning, but if not, I do it in the evening, but I take a shower every day. It is the same with breakfast. If I have time I have it in the morning, if not I wait until the afternoon, after school. I think that studying and working are two important points for our lives in jail. I am discovering many important aspects of everyday life, for instance, respect, patience, obedience, tolerance, humility. All this is to live well, or at least to be.

496

A. Clemente et al.

In this view, practices are the means for structuring social co-existences within the activities of everyday life (Schatzki 1996). Bourdieu (1977) sees practices as habitus, which consists of the layered and sedimentary presuppositions that social actors bring to social and cultural interaction. It is through these presuppositions that complex sets of interaction are formed and regulated (Bourdieu 1977). The tension between repetition/regulation (habitus) and difference and improvisation (everyday activities) is essential for understanding practices. Repetition is not about doing the same thing always in the same way, but is the process of how to be different in the same actions (Deleuze 2004). For example, watching the Ixcotel inmates play basketball or football on the prison grounds, one sees that they follow the expected practices of how the games are to be played while exhibiting a difference in rhythm, movements, and plays from one game to the next. Thus, difference is not a move away from the norm: it is the norm. Constant relocalization of language through repetition is both part of its stability and means for change (Pennycook 2010, 32). Relocalization refers to rethinking the dynamics of the local in terms of time, space, and ow, as well as the possibility of simultaneous sameness and difference, a type of co-occurrence in time and space (Pennycook 2010, 35). The relocalization of these performative activities illustrates that they are never outside a locality, nor determined by it (2010, 48). As Pennycook states, locality involves the ways in which we create the spaces we live within (2010, 53). Space is not a backdrop to social relations, but rather the central part of the social. Thus, local space is a practical set of congurations and a sense of movement (Thrift 2007, 62). This focus on movement draws attention to a relationship between time and space, to emergence, to a subject in process-performed rather than performed-to becoming (Pennycook 2010, 63). The idea of relocalization seems critical to our reading of the Ixcotel inmates poems and short stories. It would hardly be controversial to suggest that daily life in the prison is structured around a set of repetitive regulatory practices. The inmates start their days by answering to roll call and end it the same way. Throughout the day, they deal with various regulations that tell them when to work, when to eat, when to socialize, when to go to their places of worship, and so on. The way inmates see and act upon these regulations constitutes their daily practices. The geographic locality of the prison is unambiguously marked by its walls, towers, locked doors, and panoptic presence of the prison authorities. At the same time, this locality is relocalized by the everyday activities of the inmates. This relocalization, as discussed above, allows the inmates to rethink the dynamics of their concepts of time, space and ow (Pennycook 2010, 35). Within the physical and instructional context of the prison, the inmates have created their own community, with its own everyday rhythms of time and space (Clemente et al. 2011). Their locality is a set of complex practices including literacy, with which they have created the spaces they live in. In the local literacy practices of these inmates, especially in the writing workshop, we can read how their lives express movements toward new emerging beings. For the students in the writing workshop, their compositions relocalized their daily lives symbolically beyond the walls of the prison into a variety of imagined communities, which in turn, allowed them to cross through the epistemological borders of postcolonialism. Imagined communities This concept originated in Andersons (1991) argument that modern nation states have been formed by collective identities resulting from imagined communal connections. Crucial for these connections and hence at the basis of modern nationhood is textual literacy, particularly that literacy which involves the media (e.g. newspapers) and educative materials

Downloaded by [189.215.218.129] at 15:39 23 August 2012

Language and Education

497

Downloaded by [189.215.218.129] at 15:39 23 August 2012

Figure 1. Hidden texts in one of the footballs made by Ruben at the Ixcotel prison.

(e.g. textbooks; Anderson 1991). Using the metaphor of imagined communities, Norton (2000) portrays language learners as social actors involved in those complex performances that locate them both within and beyond the immediate learning context. This means that in learning a language, people are not merely students but rather actors who can imagine themselves with new identities and with the capability to move beyond their current contexts (e.g. living in a foreign country, studying at a school in a war zone) and toward imagined communities where they engage their newly acquired levels of linguistic agency (Canagarajah 1999; Kanno and Norton 2003). The inmate Ruben provides a unique example of such imagined relocations. Ruben writes sayings or poems inside the footballs that he sews up as part of his employment in the Ixcotel prison (see Figure 1). Sewing footballs to be sold on the local Oaxacan market is

498

A. Clemente et al.

one of the more common forms of work for the male prisoners. Utilizing materials provided by local football vendors, Ruben makes ve or six footballs a day for an approximate pay of four dollars. Although Ruben is aware that very few people, if any, may encounter his writings inside the footballs, he feels that this type of clandestine poetics allows him a way to express himself and momentarily imagine himself beyond the walls of the prison. Canagarajah (2004) links imagined communities, such as those evoked by Ruben, to the idea of safe houses, which could be either physical or imagined locations, where students are able to perform their language skills beyond the panoptic authority of teachers or other students. This pondering of the others hopes and aspirations contemplates crossing postcolonial borders, the nal element of our interpretative framework. Crossing postcolonial borders The inmate-students in our workshop claim the right to produce and perform particular types of literacy which are not often associated with their social or class position within the overall postcolonial context of Oaxaca and Mexico in general. Their various activities can be read as counter-hegemonic actions against the assumptions of authority and power embedded within the domination of textual literacy in their everyday lives. How these social actors confront, accommodate, modify, alter, and relocate what constitutes literacy is what we mean by crossing postcolonial borders (Moita Lopes 2008). This is how these social actors perform their praxis of literacy. According to Mignolo (2007), borderland epistemologies are a range of social and political sentiments and struggles that seek to shift the hegemonic terrain of this globalized world by delinking it from the authority and power of the discourses of modernity/coloniality. It is within these social folds where the interplays between language, literacy, agency, identity, and culture are performative expressions of borderland epistemologies (Mignolo 2007). As such, these acts become heavily bound up with coloniality, colonial difference, and related epistemologies. For this reason, we now take a closer look at these concepts in order to keep them within the larger dimension of crossing postcolonial borders. Trying to get beyond the Eurocentric assumptions, a group of scholars (many in Latin America) have developed a discourse on the dynamics of modernity/coloniality (e.g. CastroGomez 2008; Dussel 2002; Escobar 2007). They argue that modernity is a tale emerging from the expansion of European capitalism into a dominant global system through the conquest of the Americas. It was the extrication of various forms of capital in the form of land, labor, and resources from the Americas that made this expansion and domination possible (Quijano 2007). The social, political, and economic strategies and structures that the colonialist used to control the Indigenous peoples of the Americas, the enslaved populations of the area, and the emerging marginalized mestizo labor forces constitute the hegemonic terrain of coloniality. These various strains became woven into a complex system of classication that placed all the above groups into almost inescapable locations of inferiority; this allowed for extreme forms of exploitation and subordination, even open policies of genocide (Maldonado-Torres 2008). The main justication was racial, with corresponding patterns of subordination in terms of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and social class (Schiwy 2007). Through the hegemony of these modernity/coloniality discourses emerges an equally complex system of epistemological borders referred to as the coloniality of knowledge and the coloniality of being (Escobar 2007; Maldonado-Torres 2008). Both of these social elds are demarcated by the colonial difference (Mignolo 2001), which refers to the geopolitics of who gets to produce knowledge and who is produced by such knowledge.

Downloaded by [189.215.218.129] at 15:39 23 August 2012

Language and Education

499

Downloaded by [189.215.218.129] at 15:39 23 August 2012

According to the coloniality of knowledge, those on the side of the colonizers were able to present their knowledge as universal, whereas those on the side of the colonized had their knowledge production classied as local, exotic, traditional, or mythical. According to the coloniality of being, those on the side of colonizers expressed forms of identities and subjectivities to be emulated by the colonized others, while the identities and subjectivities of the colonized others were limited in either their maturity or their effectiveness for entry into the domain of modernity (Maldonado-Torres 2008). To counter such hegemonic realities, there has to be a move to delink from the textual authority of coloniality by crossing through these borders of postcolonialism (Mignolo 2007). To paraphrase Mignolo, borderland thinking is otherwise. It is from the exteriority of the border; it is not about changing the content but the very terms of the conversation. This results in a pluritopic hermeneutics: a possibility of thinking from different spaces which nally breaks away from eurocentrism as the sole epistemological perspective (2007, 461). Delinking has to do with the global designs by and from local histories, with the remapping of colonial difference toward a world culture: relations centered on local histories in which global designs are necessarily transformed and in turn transform the local histories that created those designs. Delinking aims at multiple and diverse social orders (2007, 4849).

Interpretative framework We consequently arrive at a visual representation of the theoretical framework (Figure 2). Although we formatted this diagram after we had collected the primary data (poems and stories from the workshop) and began to articulate the study in the written form of this present paper, we indeed feel that the interrelation and movements of the conceptual spheres

Figure 2. Interpretative ethnographic framework.

500

A. Clemente et al.

Downloaded by [189.215.218.129] at 15:39 23 August 2012

in the diagram guided us through the creative writing workshop and collection of data. In this sense, the theoretical framework also serves an interpretative function. Not only does it synopsize the conceptual basis of our study, but it also provides the lens through which we analyze and interpret the ethnographic encounters of this study. Hereafter in this paper, therefore, we abandon the term theoretical framework and activate the term interpretative framework (see Figure 2). The three ovals in the model represent the performative activities occurring at the same time and in the same space. The literacy action (the innermost oval) is the textual activity, while the other two ovals exist at a symbolic level. The imagined communities, whose purpose is to change the immediate conditions and to offer alternative futures, encompass the individual or social identity (e.g. ethnicity, social class, gender, etc.) and her/his individual and social agency. The way this activity is expressed allows for the crossing of postcolonial borders in order to act at different levels of thinking and action that is, challenging the geopolitics of knowledge. The goal, as represented in Figure 2, is to delink from the hegemonic authority of coloniality and embrace epistemologies of the borderlands (Mignolo 2007).

Analysis Before going into the select and representative poems and stories, we rst present a portrait of the students who wrote those poems and stories so that the readers can have an impression of these students beyond that of being inmates. We then give an account of the workshop structure. Both of these elements contribute to the narrative interpretation that follows. Araceli is a young woman imprisoned for car theft. She admits her guilt and considers the crime a mistake of her youth. She grew up in a poor suburban neighborhood; she is very articulate and enjoys writing and does it very well. Though young, she has had a hard life. Not only has she had to learn how to live in the Ixcotel prison community, but she also has had to deal with the death of her two infant children while she was in prison. Most recently, she gave birth while suffering an epileptic attack. She was taken from the prison while being in a semi-coma, and while in this state, she gave birth to her child. Although the baby survived the birthing ordeal, she was only able to hold her baby for a short period of time before it died and she was taken back to prison. Araceli has one remaining child, a three-year-old girl, and she currently is in a relationship with another inmate. Through her poems and stories from the creative writing workshop, she has tried to come to grips with the loss of her children. Despite the difculties of her life, she maintains a very positive outlook. She is quick and sharp-witted, and she has developed a critical perspective on prison life, particularly in terms of gender issues. Alberto joined the workshop four months after we began it. He is a man in his late-40s who had been a school teacher working in the Isthmus area of Oaxaca state. He is in prison for the murder of his wife. This crime is a long, sad, and complex tale of violence, indelity, betrayal, and alcohol. After having assaulted his wife (which led to her death), Alberto tried to kill himself. Once he recovered from his self-inicted wounds, he was transferred to the Ixcotel prison. Alberto feels that his violent crime was inuenced by uncontrolled drinking, and from the time of his arrival at Ixcotel, he has been active in the AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) program of the prison. This is reected in his early writings in the workshop. These poems would move toward a declaration for sobriety and faith in higher powers. As time has gone by, Alberto has explored different themes and has become more comfortable with threading his declarations into his writing.

Language and Education

501

Edgardo, in his mid-30s, has an undergraduate degree in business studies. He was convicted of fraud. Like many others, he acknowledges his guilt. At the company for which he worked, he had control of client funds, and in a moment of weakness and miscalculation, he gave himself a loan from a clients account without the approval or knowledge of his bosses. The company discovered this and pressed charges against Edgardo. He is well-read and very articulate and has a great affection for literature: he is quite familiar with many of the major writers of Latin America, past and present. He has used his time in prison to read, write, and engage the other inmates in long dialogues on the meaning and meaninglessness of prison life. He has also found ample opportunity to reect on and reconsider what he wants to do with his life. He has composed some of the more sophisticated and critical works in the workshop; his writing is full of humor and insights on everyday life, while being indirect and subtle about personal history. Unlike all of the other students, Edgardo had the economic support of his siblings, who hired an efcient lawyer who, capitalizing on a legal technicality stipulating that one suspected of fraud must be charged within a particular time frame of the alleged crime, managed to get Edgardo exonerated and freed after having served nine months. In his early-40s, Baltazar comes from the Sierra area on the border between the states of Oaxaca and Puebla. His home village, as with many rural areas of Oaxaca, is affected by numerous disputes over land rights. These conicts often lead to armed confrontations between different villages. During these confrontations, one side sometimes captures members from the other village and holds them as hostages. After one such conict, several men in Baltazars village, including Baltazar, were arrested on allegations of having kidnapped members of the neighboring village. Baltazar claimed he was not involved in the conict; however, neither his village nor his family had sufcient political power and so Baltazar was charged and sentenced to 30 years for kidnapping. He has spent the last eight years trying to get his case reversed, but with no luck. Soon after his incarceration, his wife gave birth to his son, and he has seen his child only a few times, during each of his equally few court hearings. Baltazar is a quiet and reective young man. Although he did not pursue his writing talents before coming to prison, he has composed several powerful pieces dealing with nostalgia for his community, his youthful memories, and his perception of the corrupted political and legal system. Baltazar perceives the writing workshop as therapeutic in that it helps him process his continued incarceration. Victor is a young man, formerly part of the gay/transvestite scene of urban Oaxaca. He is openly gay. He has had past experiences with the Oaxacan prison system. He currently is serving time for allegedly stealing radios from automobiles in the parking lot of the nightclub where he worked. Victor feels that the charges were a set-up because of various conicts he had with his bosses at the nightclub. Having work experience in nightclubs, he got himself assigned to work in the prison kitchen, preparing meals for inmates with special dietary needs. Victor is prolic in writing love poems. Coincidentally, he is familiar with many of our own friends from our previous research among the gay/transvestite community in Oaxaca. We gave Victor a copy of our book on this community (Higgins and Coen 2008), which he read. Victor was very proud that good friends of his had been participants of the study. Workshop procedure Angeles, with an academic background in literature and Mexican, is the primary instructor in the workshop, presenting and conducting activities as well as discussing the students

Downloaded by [189.215.218.129] at 15:39 23 August 2012

502

A. Clemente et al.

Figure 3. The original and modied versions of a students poem.

Downloaded by [189.215.218.129] at 15:39 23 August 2012

poems and short stories. In the workshop, she follows two general types of procedures, one for poetry and the other for short stories. In order to keep the task reective and nonthreatening, Angeles explains to the students the type of poems to write (1530 lines, not rhymed at the end of the lines, and personal point of view). To start the students to write, she teaches the students to develop word clusters (Clemente and Higgins 2008). She chooses isolated words (e.g. suffer, work, shoe) and has the students make their own personal connections by adding their own words which results in very creative clusters. For homework, the students write a poem using most of the words in the clusters. At the beginning, some students were not comfortable writing verses and stanzas; some wrote short paragraphs, while others struggled with traditional poetics and constructed rhymed verses, which they later changed to free verses. When Angeles took the rst round of the students writings home to check, she realized it would be difcult to correct the students work. Although she knew that the students expected concrete feedback and not only words of encouragement, she did not want to write, edit, or comment directly on the face of the poems, as she would do with papers from her language classes at the university. She then came up with an alternative: she transcribed the poems completely on the computer as new documents and then made all the changes she considered necessary while being careful not to alter the content. When she felt happy with the outcome, she scanned the original and placed it alongside her modied version on one page to be presented to the student (Figure 3). When Angeles presents the students with the before and after versions of their poems, she engages the students in a discussion about the differences between the two versions. She always makes sure to ask whether the students agree with each change, and she claries that the students are free to stay with their original versions. At the beginning, the students accepted almost all of the changes proposed by her; however, later, they became more assertive and politely told her that they liked both versions, while others overtly claimed to prefer their own versions. Once the students have decided on a nal version theirs, Angeles, or a mixture of both they read their poems aloud. This leads to a general discussion based on a stream of ever-changing topics such as the poems quality or strength; its relation to everyday life before, during, or after prison; and its depiction of the personality of the poet. This discussion is good-natured, and the students are supportive of each other. Since the poems often deal with emotionally-laden themes such as love, companionship, sensuality, and

Language and Education

503

Downloaded by [189.215.218.129] at 15:39 23 August 2012

betrayal, the students have become comfortable with sharing feelings and concerns, and we have followed suit. Further, in attempting to understand the range of such feelings, we all have found ourselves exploring the social realities of gender/sexuality, ethnicity, and social class. Finally, it seems important to mention that during this part of the workshop, the students composed over 116 poems, gave three poetry readings at prison festivals, participated in a national poetry contest for inmates, and (to our delight) lobbied for the continuation of the creative writing workshop. The section of the workshop dealing with short stories follows a similar procedure to that of the poetry writing sessions. As with the poems, Angeles emphasizes an easily accessible length (about 500 words) as well as a personalized perspective (one signicant incident or happening in the writers life). To prepare the students for this task, she, rst of all, engages the students in a discussion about what a story generally means; second, she distributes selected short stories from a variety of writers, which the group reads together; third, the students along with Angeles and Michael have a general discussion about what the story seems to be about; fourth, in the context of this discussion, Angeles introduces, where relevant, stylistic matters such as voice, story-framing, dialogue structure, autobiographical techniques, metaphors, vernacular phrases, pacing, and tone; fth, the students, Angeles, and Michael continue with an open-ended discussion about the social context of these stories, which leads to a consideration of gender/sexuality, ethnicity, and social class as represented in the story; and, nally, the students are left with the homework assignment of writing a short story. The manner in which Angeles then edits the stories and represents them to the students for a follow-up class discussion follows the same process as that with poetry writing. So far, the inmate-students have written more than 50 stories and given one public reading to the prison community. Interpretation of the writings As not only ethnographic researchers but also co-producers in the encounter, we provide our own reective interpretation of the writings according to our interpretative framework (Figure 2). Our interpretation of the texts, however, includes the students own interpretations. That is, the interpretations to follow here are the direct result of workshop activities with the students. As explained above, the collective reading, discussing, and analyzing of the poems and stories led the authors and the readers to an attempt to tease out the focus and concern of each piece. We offered our interpretations as to how we felt their work could be framed in terms of the issues of colonial difference and coloniality. The students found our reections useful to the understanding of their own work, and they added their own views. Due to limited space in the present paper, we will only present ve poems and one story. These have been translated from Spanish to English.1 In this poem, To Have You . . ., Araceli talks about herself and her deceased baby:
Not being next to you Is making me succumb, is killing me. Youre smiling to life; Lifes laughing at you. How deluded and shallow I was. Touching you gives me goose bumps You are so delicate, fragile, tender . . . Touch you and have you . . . To have you and then, to lose you.

504

A. Clemente et al.

Downloaded by [189.215.218.129] at 15:39 23 August 2012

For us, one of the signicant qualities of the students writings is how the students relocalize how they understand their feelings. To this end, Araceli imagines a connection extending beyond the reality of her babys death, and she proclaims the irony of her babys short existence. Araceli engages in the act of writing poems (a form of local literacy) in order to re-imagine what her lost daughter meant, and still means, to her. She uses a set of stylistic movements seemingly affecting the physical experience of reading. For instance, the one-phrase opening stanza, a gerund as a noun subject, suddenly cuts off, like a held breath impatiently waiting to be released. Further, the carefully measured use of parallel adjectives and verb phrases in stanza three settles into a systematic and condent rhythm, but then suddenly and surprisingly leads to the misplaced and awkward comma before the verb phrase to lose you at the end of the poem. In this syntactic or otherwise linguistic sense, the poem straddles between impatience, comfort, and confusion. Such becomes Aracelis poetic voice, that of a subduedly tormented and guilt-ridden mother doing her best to come to grips with losing her infant. Through this voice, Araceli establishes an intersubjective connection to her deceased daughter which extends beyond the walls of the prison. However, given the localness and postcolonial context of her incarceration, her pursuit of writing about her feelings moves her toward crossing epistemological borders of coloniality. In this short poem, she places herself as an active actor who can produce knowledge of import the reality of her childs death and also states what her own being is in counter to how others may perceive her as a young woman in prison. One of the activities involved in attempting to delink from the hegemonic authority of coloniality is seeking or proclaiming the authority to compose ones own state of being and becoming aware of what that means to you as a social actor. This, consequently, is put into practice not only by the power of Aracelis poem but also by her participation in the creative writing workshop and her willingness to have her poem published in the present paper. In his poem, Speaking to God, Alberto blames God for keeping him alive in order to serve out his long sentence at the Ixcotel prison:
Oh God! Are these the tests that you are sending? Do you repay my honesty with treason? I was generous and ingenuous and you send grievances? I wanted to walk alone and you lighted my way with evil rays. Searching for support I run into your presence. The material property that I built with so much sacrice is now fought over by many, who didnt move a nger to build it. You, who gave me my children, took them away from me. Is this the price I must pay for my deeds, may I ask? You know that I did the impossible, but as a solution you closed the door on me. You were aware of my steps and tears of a sleepwalker, and you didnt have pity on me. Why dont you send for me now God? Dont you think that it was enough that I did not want to live? You had me at deaths door and didnt let me in. You have placed me in this shut-in world . . . with stubborn superiors watching me. I see in the eyes surrounding me the mockery I am the object of. With good faith, I ask my acquaintances for a tiny bit of support; they turn their backs on me. With the ones I feel condent, I insist in asking for their support, but they answer with bitterness. Ill keep pronouncing your name, but not to justify myself, not to kill myself from hunger, nor to seek my freedom. Is this the punishment I deserve? Oh God! Wasnt there enough shedding of tears when my wife left me? Werent you a witness? I keep asking, arent you the all knowing, all seeing God? You!!!

In this poem of six dense stanzas, as well as his other poem, Privacy, at the beginning of this paper, Alberto explores darker themes than most of his classmates. Perhaps because

Language and Education

505

of the circumstances of his incarceration, Alberto often expresses obscure sentiments about everyday activities in the prison community. In the above poem, Albertos anger explodes as he challenges God and Gods responsibility for his current existence. Here, Alberto revisits his fatal aggression against his wife, his attempt at suicide, and his lost connection to his children, work, and home. Alberto sees himself as a victim of unavoidable circumstances, uncontrollable passions, and the worst possible outcomes. He wanted to take responsibility for his actions by ending his life, which he contends God denied him so he could suffer in this shut-in world . . . with stubborn superiors watching me. He wants to know if God is punishing him by letting him live. This was a difcult poem for Alberto to write and it is difcult to read. The poem appears purposely verbose, which holds the reader at arms length. Further, the block-paragraph form of the stanzas gives one the impression that the poem was not emergent from within Alberto, but rather packed or assembled from an immense stock of raw and unresolved emotion that Alberto had already released and acknowledged. That is, each stanza seems like a small suitcase very tightly packed with clothes frantically and randomly selected from a huge pile of clothing on a oor. Finally, the poems mock-Tudor voice of exclaimed statement, repeated interrogatives, and tag questions with modals soon becomes dark and cynical. Whereas Donne and his fellow Tudor poets would adore God with their poetic voices, Alberto adopts the same voice to curse God. More specically, Alberto asks God, and the reader, to consider for a short moment the location he was in when he committed his crime. He is not attempting to relocalize his anger, fear, and actions in order to seek justication or freedom, but rather to ask God why He, if He is all-knowing, had not seen beforehand that Alberto was twisting through multiple sufferings and why He then had not then intervened to alter the outcome, rather than allowing Alberto to end up in prison, where he nds the mocking eyes of his cellmates a worse punishment than the termination of his life. However, through his writing practice at the prison, Alberto gradually has found the eyes of others to be less mocking and his world somewhat less shut-in. Through writing, he can declare his crime and not hide from its psychological effects. We thus feel that Alberto moves both himself and the readers to the epistemological borders of coloniality. There, on that frontier, we confront questions such as: What kind of intersubjective connection do we as readers want to have with someone who has openly taken the life of another? Is Albertos subjectivity frightening? How would we avoid being victimized by such circumstance? How fragile are the social relations that we move through? In the poem, Alberto offers no answers to such questions, for he has none for himself. God has forced Alberto to continue through the darkness of his everyday activities at the Ixcotel prison, with no enlightenment waiting for him. However, Alberto can continue on his persistent quest to not hide from himself in the hope of being able to control his own states of being. Alberto probably will never arrive at freedom (so to speak), but he may nd solace at some location slightly beyond the dictates of coloniality. The power of Edgardos poem, One More Night, comes from its dramatic expression:
Oh! One more night . . . Disgust, argument, bad taste, insomnia. I forget my two hopes, my two treasures, I neglect them. The other subjugates me: The ugly, the mean, the grey. This is funny,

Downloaded by [189.215.218.129] at 15:39 23 August 2012

506

A. Clemente et al.

my nightmare happens when I am awake, When my skin feels his hand, His insane presence, His unbearable smell, His erect member, His mocking smile, his panting, his whisper, His dominion. He knows I wont shout. Oh! One more nightmare night . . . . . . till when? I am so scared . . . .

In this poem, Edgardo enters a location that, perhaps ironically, is not and is his own. He told the class that he had tried to imagine how a woman feels when she has to accept the sexual demands of an apparently male companion (of sorts) whose unloving nature seems exhibited by [h]is insane presence/[h]is unbearable smell, and Edgardo also explores what it must feel like to have to be subjugated to the feeling and action of an individual oppressor who exudes dominion through a mocking smile. However, for Edgardo to imagine such feelings or to experience this nightmare while being awake, he needs to see such aspects of maleness in his own behavior and so he imagines what he hopes he is not, thus confronting the complexity of gender and sexual relations. Edgardos use of writing as a local practice, therefore, moves him between imagined spaces of intimacy that are both present and past, real and illusionary, and metaphoric and literal. Edgardo and we as readers seem caught, almost dizzyingly so, between such binaries. This becomes exacerbated by the virtual breathlessness of the poems rhythm, as in, for example, the ve reiterated noun phrases beginning with [h]is. Hence, perhaps weak and tottering on our feet, we are left only with questions, such as: Does the poem speak of the writers reection on his past? Is it an action of solidarity with others who live conned by the powers of others? Does the localness of Edgardos incarceration connect him to other forms of everyday imprisonment? The ultimate strength of this poem is that it throws Edgardo (and us) into a circle of questions. Answers cannot be found, yet from the questions, Edgardo seems to take away a type of double obligation: an equally felt concern for himself and for others. This double movement (so to speak) places Edgardo, perhaps feeling as out of breath as the reader, at the epistemological borders of coloniality. From this location, even though within the physical space of the prison, Edgardo uses his local writing practices to subvert the authority of the colonial difference as he moves from the difculty of everyday personal life to the complex issues of gender equality that are the concern of many. Victors poem, Thanks to You, pivots on the thankful experiences that he has encountered on his return to prison to serve yet another sentence:
Thanks to you, I met inside the prison A person different from me, With a heart, and capable of doing A lot of things. Thanks for letting me express In a few lines everything I feel and think inside this prison. Thanks for believing in me, When I write about my life, About my lost loves and my failures. Thanks for meeting me, Angeles,

Downloaded by [189.215.218.129] at 15:39 23 August 2012

Language and Education


And all the ones who study With me in the library. Thanks for taking me to the kitchen To share with unknown people, Now my family . . . for the time being. Thanks to the path that brought me And keeps me inside the prison. I didnt know how they live here. Thanks to the unexpected visitors Who travel so far to the prison In Santa Maria Ixcotel, Oaxaca, Without even asking what I did, And still come . . . .

507

Downloaded by [189.215.218.129] at 15:39 23 August 2012

Thanks for taking me out of the courtyard, To let me know the cells. Thanks for being with me, And with all the inmates here, In these difcult times. Thanks I can say forever For having learned all about the prison. And thanks for listening to all this and more . . .

Victor reects on his physical as well as psychic movement through the different spaces within the prison, which he seems to perceive according to the polarized emotion of oppression (e.g. the courtyard, the cells) and welcoming (e.g. the library, the kitchen). Yet somewhere in between these two poles, he nds contentment within the local geography of the prison, in those areas where he practices his self-afrming routine of working, interacting with others, and receiving visits from outsiders, and also especially in the classroom of our creative writing workshop. There, in the classroom with his teachers, classmates, and writing assignments, he is able to express everything I feel and think inside this prison. The demonstrative adjective this is especially signicant. It suggests that Victor, no doubt due to his repeated stays in Ixcotel, has long since metaphorized prison into internalized iron bars, here in this poem represented by his felt history of lost loves and . . . failures. It is by writ[ing] about . . . [his] life, even though only [i]n a few lines, that he seems able to maneuver through the internalized iron bars and thereby relocalize his own subjective being. As such, Victor hopes for a more positive future. He thus recomposes his working relations within the prison into a new family network, and he graciously suggests that we (as teachers and friends) were helpful mediators in these movements. Further, he generally posits the prison as a location that, for reasons not quite clear, has placed him and others into the practice of sharing time and space. Further, in his local practice of writing, he constantly opens spaces in order to discover how to express his thoughts and feelings. These activities are clearly imagined by Victor, for he is still a gay man incarcerated into a set of other practices that are problematic about his sexuality. For us, it is within these problematic spaces where Victor moves toward crossing the epistemological borders of coloniality. Through his writing, Victor composes for himself a context where he can search for and attain various intersubjective connections throughout the prison community. His creative agency allows him to reject the space of victimization and to perform in a counter-hegemonic (delinking) manner that resists the imposition of colonial authority. In a sense, Victor does not imagine himself beyond the prison walls. Rather, as a kind of wizened repeat offender

508

A. Clemente et al.

and repeat guest of Ixcotel, for minor crimes that are somehow the result of his connection to the gay/transvestite nightclub scene of urban Oaxaca, Victor personies himself as the prison landscape itself and seems to see the concrete walls far beyond the borders of that landscape. The walls, as Victor seems to imagine, are so far beyond the prison installations that even those unexpected visitors/[w]ho travel so far to the prison/[i]n Santa Maria Ixcotel, perhaps live within those walls as well. Baltazars story, Black Shoes, pivots around his memory of being a proud ag bearer in the patriotic ceremonies of his elementary school:
When the boy grows up, he will be like his father, I used to hear my grandmother say. This is one of my rst memories of my childhood. I also remember that my grandmother used to buy me candies. I felt that she spoiled me so much. Years went by and when the right time arrived, I went to elementary school. Every day I walked from my house to the school, and back. I remember the way very clearly. I remember, for instance, the day that I was marveled by the many colored balloons being sold by the man standing on the corner. I went by that corner every day, carrying my backpack, which contained not only my school supplies but also the dreams and fantasies of the children of my age. I also carried in my backpack the nice memories of my playtime with my friends and the experiences with my family. In my pants pocket, I had the coins I spent during the school break, which my parents painstakingly gave to me every day. It is a custom in most of the schools in our country that every Monday there is a ceremony to honor the Mexican ag. I remember the way I looked at my ag with its three colors. The children who were part of the school escort used to march with discipline and gallantry. They looked full of pride in being Mexican. One day, I found the courage to ask my teacher what were the requirements to be a member of the school escort. The requisite is getting good grades, my teacher answered. That was the reason I exerted myself in my elementary school years. My goal was one: to get good grades. In year six, I achieved my goal. They appointed me commander of the school escort. I remember that the teacher chose the uniform, a pistachio-green color, which called for black shoes. Because of the high cost of the uniform, it was impossible for my parents to buy me the black shoes. Those days I used to wear a pair of blue sneakers. I even remember that the brand was Dingo. I painted them black with shoe polish. Wearing those painted sneakers, I made my presentation as the commander of the school escort to honor the ag. That day, because the black polish was still fresh, my white socks ended up being black as well! I still have the photograph that they took of me marching with my black sneakers. Memories like these remind me of the dear experiences of my childhood.

Downloaded by [189.215.218.129] at 15:39 23 August 2012

This story includes elements of social realism, concerning coming of age in rural areas of contemporary Mexico where most families are impoverished. This we see in the few coins that were adequate for refreshments but probably never a sandwich, the balloons that were only observed but never purchased, and of course the sneakers that were painted black rather than substituted by dress shoes. There also is an indication of solemn respect for teachers, as seen when Baltazar summons the courage to ask how he can join the ag escort and then commits to arduous academic work in order to attain this goal. Further, Baltazars apparent yearning for his lost past when he was proud and gallant about being Mexican alludes to nostalgia. Yet this nostalgia is tainted in sadness. For Baltazar, who feels wrongly convicted of kidnapping charges related to a land reform movement, now feeling proud and gallant about the current state of Mexico is very troublesome at best. Therefore, to compensate, Baltazar uses this story to relocate his feelings and hopes. He thus enacts literacy practices in order to alter his everyday activities of incarceration into the

Language and Education

509

Downloaded by [189.215.218.129] at 15:39 23 August 2012

forgotten time and space of his youth, as captured in the photograph he has safeguarded for more than 20 years, the one that they took of . . . [him] marching with . . . [his] black sneakers. As we see it, Baltazar uses his feelings of nostalgia not to validate his past per se, but rather to imagine that the innocent and unpoliticized patriotism of his childhood can be transposed to the present time. If this were to be possible, perhaps land reform disputes would either be nonexistent or would transpire peacefully to the benet of all involved parties. In this sense, Baltazars story, then, becomes a type of time machine into which Baltazar climbs to travel back to the dawning of his own generation. There and then, as a boy again, he seems to be aglow in the discipline, gallantry, and brazen pride in being Mexican so as to change or detour the late-1980s and 1990s politics of Mexico, or at least the politics of his own adulthood, as if he could change his own destiny and not end up, as he indeed has, as a young adult man serving out a 30-year prison sentence resulting from an overly emotional and perhaps overly partisan event of social protest. We hence see Baltazars time machine-poetics as his way of confronting the authority of the colonial difference and coloniality. It is not much of a stretch to suggest that the incarcerated people of the postcolonial world express an extreme form of being the Other (Dussel 2002). Baltazar rejects this position of otherness when he claims the right to maintain his own feelings about what his life means to him as well as the right to express his own knowledge of emotions. For us, it is not so much Baltazars representation of his past but his actual activity or process of writing about his past through the above story that moves Baltazar toward crossing the borders of coloniality and forming his own states of being, even though that being, perhaps oddly, seems based on a naive and adolescent vision of social politics. Discussion In the previous section, we located ourselves within our interpretative framework (Figure 2) and analyzed the inmate-students poems and short stories against the backdrop of the inmate-students portraits as well as the description of workshop procedures and activities. Of particular importance were those workshop activities in which we discussed the authors texts with them and their classmates. As mentioned above, those engaging and participatory class discussions between the students and us are largely reected in the interpretations of these stories and poems. Although such classroom-based activities provide for an insightful discussion, we avoid a pedagogically oriented discussion here. As we have mentioned earlier, our focus primarily is theoretical and conceptual in that it involves the inmate-students creative writing as local literacy practices seeking liberation within epistemological borderlands. To such issues we now turn as we reconsider the key points of the interpretations of the inmate-students poems and stories within the more general panorama of a discussion. From this emerge three connected premises. Our rst premise is that our creative writing workshop illustrates the coevalness of ethnographic encounters (Fabian 2007). That is, the manner in which we as teachers have structured the workshop, worked with the inmate-students, and written our own suggested alternatives to their writings, as well as how the inmates as students have accepted or altered those suggestions, demonstrates that both we and the seven inmate-students have become equal participants sharing the same time and space of this ethnographic encounter. We thus have come to know each other, and ourselves, in different and new ways. Clearly, in the class discussion about the word clusters, in the presentation of poems, and in the interactive dialogues on the nal versions, a wealth of personal information was exchanged. In many ways, the writing workshop has become a safe house for the inmates-students, in Canagarajahs (2004) sense of the term. In the workshop, they feel safe to ponder or imagine the range of their feelings, hopes, and aspirations away from the gaze of

510

A. Clemente et al.

the prison authorities. Since we have no formal position of authority in this prison, the inmates-students see us as collaborators in the construction of this ad-hoc space of security. This has led us to share feelings, emotions, hopes, and fears about the past, present, and future. In the co-production of these encounters, we as the teachers and ethnographers were not distant observers but collaborators with the inmates in constructing a stage on which we all perform prison life in the most humane and dignied manner seemingly possible. Therefore, our second premise is that through this coevalness of the ethnographic encounter, the inmate-students have been able to contest the authority of who gets to write and in what kinds of styles. This relates to Mignolos (2001) argument that the geopolitics of knowledge production involves hegemonic forces of the colonial difference: the assumed superiority of a metropolitan-based knowledge over a local-based knowledge (as explained above). As the inmate-students demonstrate in their poetry and stories (discussed above), not only do they relocate themselves into imagined spaces beyond and above the prison walls, but they also challenge the geopolitics of knowledge production. They contest the authority of the colonial difference by asserting the right to produce forms of local knowledge, and they use their local knowledges to resist the dictates of coloniality by proclaiming their own understandings and feelings of intersubjectivity. For example, in her poem To Have You . . ., Araceli seeks a connection to her departed daughter that goes beyond not only the prison walls but also real time. Victor, in Thanks to You, turns the prisons walls inside out, relocating his sense of thankfulness into an imagined set of new social relations. Edgardo, in One More Night, travels deep into the complexities of gendered power relations in order to envision a means of solidarity with the other. Baltazar, in his story Black Shoes, returns to his past to envision an impossible yet afrming future, whereas Alberto, in Speaking to God, boldly confronts the trauma of his presence in order to be able to live within it. Accordingly, through their creative writing, all of the inmate-students suggest a variety of local practices that seek some kind of delinking from the hegemonic authority of coloniality. Their challenge to the hegemonic authority of the colonial difference and subjective subordination of coloniality is not their stated goal, but rather the social reality of their collective performative activities in writing and presenting their work. Within the postcolonial context of their everyday lives as inmates in a Oaxacan prison, their local literacy practices, as expressed in their words and deeds, give substance to Austins observation that to say something is to do something (1962, 12). Their actions become hopes which leads to our third premise, the colonial difference. The seven inmate-students in our creative writing workshop at the Oaxaca state prison are able to write their way through this difference in order to locate themselves momentarily beyond the walls of their connement. It seems clear that the Ixcotel inmates local literacy practices are linked to various imagined outcomes, locations, and communities in which they hope to nd themselves. The creative writing workshop at Ixcotel has offered the inmates a uid context in which to move back and forth through their past, their immediate context, and those new and diverse locations emerging through their writings. In terms of our interpretative framework, this uidity would include crossing the borders of postcolonialism in order to link ourselves to cultures of transience or locations of multiple and diverse social orders (Mignolo 2007, 484). For instance, Araceli is able to imagine herself reconnected to her lost child, Baltazar returns to the more comfortable world of his village, and Edgardo imagines new feelings and aspirations. The students have often expressed that they nd the workshop and the act of writing a therapeutic experience. They do not seem to intend this in the clinical sense of a therapy

Downloaded by [189.215.218.129] at 15:39 23 August 2012

Language and Education

511

session. Rather, their therapy seems to be engendering for themselves the liberty to write and be heard and, consequently, to rise beyond the mundanity of everyday prison life. Conclusion For us, this liberating potential of creative narrative writing has signicant implications for language and education. Whatever the context of the particular language education program, the students and teachers/instructors, as social actors, should strive for coevalness, and within the boundaries of these mutual and shared coeval connections (Fabian 2007), the students and teachers can seek and put into practice their own manner of learning and teaching (Kumaravadivelu 2003, 2006, 2007). It is our contention that we all live in a postcolonial globalized world and, therefore, the struggle to delink from the hegemonic authority of colonial difference and the pernicious dynamics of coloniality is performed not only by the Ixcotel inmate-students but by all of us. Part of this global contestation is the domain of language education. Yet, what teaching methods would be effective for such a confrontation? As Kumaravadivelu explains, the question of classroom methodology should be pondered and resolved within the context of the actual educational encounter (2003, 2006, 2007). Often the inmates from our creative writing workshop at the prison in Santa Maria Ixcotel exclaim that their literacy work should be collected into an anthology so that the outside world can learn who they are and what they have had to deal with in their everyday lives. Through the publication of their creative writings, they would make a direct contribution to the emerging forms of borderland epistemologies. It is the inmates yearning for this anthology and, by consequence, Mignolos (2007) borderland terrain, in and of itself, that illustrates the power of co-constructed social actions within local literacy and imagined communities as emerging from a classroom setting (Clemente and Higgins 2008, 2009; Kanno and Norton 2003; Norton 2000; Purcell-Gates 2007). This, we believe, is a power that can bring us not only to a postmethodology of language education (Kumaravadivelu 2007) but also to a participatory involvement in the performative dynamics of borderland epistemologies. Acknowledgements
It is with profound sadness that we inform that, while this article was in press, Michael Higgins passed away in Florianopolis, Brazil. He was a great friend as well as an academic and a personal inspiration to the community at Ixcotel prison, to his colleagues in Oaxaca, and to all the many students and academics from different parts of the world who had the great fortune to study and work with him. He will always be remembered.

Downloaded by [189.215.218.129] at 15:39 23 August 2012

Note
1. In the present paper, we provide only the English translation of the poems and story. However, the original works in Spanish as well as the English translations can be viewed in a supplementary le online.

References
Anderson, B. 1991. Imagined communities. London: Verso Books. Austin, J.L. 1962. How to do things with words. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Bourdieu, P. 1977. Outline for a theory of practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Canagarajah, A.S. 1999. Resisting linguistic imperialism in English teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

512

A. Clemente et al.

Canagarajah, A.S. 2004. Subversive identities, pedagogical safe houses, and critical learning. In Critical pedagogies and language learning, ed. B. Norton and K. Toohey, 11637. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Castro-Gomez, S. 2008. Post-coloniality for dummies: Latin American perspectives on modernity, coloniality, and the geopolitics of knowledge. In Coloniality at large: Latin America and the postcolonial debate, ed. M. Mora na, E.D. Dussel, and C.A. J auregui, 25985. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Clemente, A., and M. Higgins. 2008. Performing English with a postcolonial accent: Ethnographic narratives from Mexico. London: Tufnell Press. Clemente, A., and M. Higgins. 2009. English as a linguistic and intellectual weapon against nativespeakerism. In Selecci on de art culos del segundo congreso de investigaci on cualitativa [Selected articles of the second congress of qualitative investigation], ed. M. Lengeling, 15563. Guanajuato: Universidad de Guanajuato. Clemente, A., and M. Higgins. 2010. Performing methodological activities in post-colonial ethnographic encounters: Examples from Oaxaca, Mexico. In Perils, pitfalls and reexivity in qualitative research in education, ed. F. Shamin and R. Qureshi, 17090. London: Oxford University Press. Clemente, A., M. Higgins, D. Kissinger, and W. Sughrua. 2011. Performing identity texts: A multilingual creative writing class in the state prison of Oaxaca, Mexico. In Identity texts: The collaborative creation of power in multilingual schools, ed. J. Cummins and M. Early, 648. London: Trentham Books. Clemente, A., M. Higgins, Y. Merino-L opez, and W. Sughrua. 2009. Yolandas portrait: A story of Triqui linguistic resistance mediated by English and ethnographic coevalness in Oaxaca, M exico. Working Papers on Culture, Education and Human Development (Universidad Aut onoma de Madrid) 5, no. 2: 133. Deleuze, G. 2004. Difference and repetition. London: Continuum. Dussel, E. 2002. World-system and trans-modernity. Nepantla: Views from South 3, no. 2: 22144. Escobar, A. 2007. Worlds and knowledges otherwise. Cultural Studies 21, nos. 23: 179210. Fabian, J. 2007. Memory against culture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Higgins, M., and T. Coen. 2008. Calles, cuartos, patios: Lo cotidiano de la diversidad en el Oaxaca urbano [Streets, bedrooms and patios: The ordinariness of diversity in urban Oaxaca]. Trans. A. Clemente. Oaxaca: Universidad Aut onoma Benito Ju arez de Oaxaca. Kanno, Y., and B. Norton. 2003. Imagined communities and educational opportunities: Introduction. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education 2, no. 4: 2419. Kumaravadivelu, B. 2003. Beyond methods: Macrostrategies for language teaching. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Kumaravadivelu, B. 2006. Understanding language teaching: From method to postmethod. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Kumaravadivelu, B. 2007. Interrogating cultural complexities in the classroom. Plenary presented at the Second International Qualitative Research Conference, May 3031, at the University of Guanajuato, in Guanajuato, M exico. Luke, A. 2003. Literacy and the other: A sociological approach to literacy research and policy in multilingual societies. Reading Research Quarterly 38, no. 1: 13241. Makoni, S., and A. Pennycook. 2007. Disinventing and reconstituting languages. In Disinventing and reconstituting languages, ed. S. Makoni and A. Pennycook, 141. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. Maldonado-Torres, N. 2008. Against war: Views from the underside of modernity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Menezes de Souza, L.M. 2007. Entering a culture quietly: Writing and cultural survival in Indigenous education in Brazil. In Disinventing and reconstituting languages, ed. S. Makoni and A. Pennycook, 17095. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. Mignolo, W. 2001. Colonialidad del poder y subalternidad [Coloniality of power and subalternity]. In Convergencia de tiempos: Estudios subalterno/contextos latinoamericanos Estado, cultura, subalternidad [Times of convergence: The Latin American subaltern reader State, culture, subaltern], ed. I. Rodriquez, 15584. Atlanta, GA: Editions Rodopi B.V. Mignolo, W. 2002. The geopolitics of knowledge and the colonial difference. South Atlantic Quarterly 101, no. 1: 5796.

Downloaded by [189.215.218.129] at 15:39 23 August 2012

Language and Education

513

Downloaded by [189.215.218.129] at 15:39 23 August 2012

Mignolo, W. 2007. Delinking: The rhetoric of modernity, the logic of coloniality and the grammar of de-coloniality. Cultural Studies 21, nos. 23: 449514. Moita Lopes, L.P. 2008. Ingles e globalizac ao em epistemologia de fronteira: Ideologia linguistic para tempos hibridos [English and globalization through a border epistemology: Linguistic ideology for hybrid times]. Delta 24, no. 2: 30940. Norton, B. 2000. Identity and language learning: Gender, ethnicity, and educational change. Harlow: Longman/Pearson Education. Pennycook, A. 2001. Critical applied linguistics: A critical introduction. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Pennycook, A. 2010. Language as a local practice. Abingdon: Routledge. Purcell-Gates, V . 2007. Complicating the complex. In Cultural practices of literacy: Case studies of language, literacy, social practice, and power, ed. V . Purcell-Gates, 123. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Quijano, A. 2007. Coloniality and modernity/rationality. Cultural Studies 21, nos. 23: 16878. Schatzki, T. 1996. Social practices: A Wittgensteinian approach to human activity and the social. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Schiwy, F. 2007. Decolonization and the question of subjectivity: Gender, race and binary thinking. Cultural Studies 21, nos. 23: 27194. Street, B. 1984. Literacy in theory and practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Thrift, N. 2007. Non-representational theory: Space/politics/affect. London: Routledge. Vargas, J.A. 2008. M exico and its legal system. http://www.llrx.com/mexicolegalsystem.htm.