2/24/18 Session #10


This morning we ground ourselves with the reminder from Juliet our Brown In Chicago project director that, “to study is a revolutionary duty, and we ain’t just doing this for an A+ within a capitalistic society!” We each took turns sharing what topics we want to research for the duration of the Brown In Chicago Fellowship up until May. Within the next two months we will work within groups to conduct our own research projects on a topic of interest related to previous lessons. The following are topic ideas presented by each fellow and answers these questions: What I hope to learn/research more? What have I learned so far? What are ways I plan to learn more?

Emma: I used to think Latino culture and identity was more or less the same and I want to know more about what doesn’t make them monolithic. I’m interested in learning more about my indigenous background. I would love to find out how it’s still alive today in multiple cultures in Latin America. I’ve done limited research on this topic so far but I’ve been able to read small articles about different cultures in Latin America. Now that I have more concrete data about my DNA and what it’s made up of I can go from there. The first step in my plan is to conduct more research using all the resources that have been provided to me. I would also like to interview people to see if they have any input or information that I might not be able to find.

Austin: I want to deepen my own familial experience and to get to the root of acculturation and assimilation. How can internalized racism become so defining, despite it not being an explicitly overt/conscious action? I’ve found a couple of great resources on the topic and have been able to put my own experiences and the experiences of others into perspective. While I do want to use academic sources and back up what I say, I want this piece to be more personal. I will keep on finding more resources! Talk with more individuals about their experiences and work on formatting the whole piece.

Lucas: Understanding how we are developing or ascribed to the way we are today? Perhaps looking into epigenetics? Where did Mexicans get culture from that made it it’s own in terms of music food and appearances? How different are we to even say we are different from one another if I look more Puerto Rican than Mexican to others? What I have learned so far is that nothing past being born on a different plot of land and our skin color and adaptation occurring making from scratch what they had that later carried itself into the twenty first century. The way I plan to learn more is by investigating the lands and tribes/groups of people I am blood related to and see how much I relate to them in my personality, looks or how I am in my everyday life.

Arely : Last year my Mexican identity was deconstructed and I felt shook. I am proud of the diversity I see in Mexico similarly to the U.S. I want to know how to claim my indigeneity and access it. But, by doing so this means to reject my family’s Catholicism which upsets them. My research question is, What does it mean to be Mexican? Who are we as culture? I’ve learned that there is colorism and that it’s very similar to the U.S. we come from different backgrounds and are treated accordingly. But we are also one at the same time, being Mexican means being the colonizer and colonized at the same time for me. I plan to make more trips to Mexico and keep learning about the history of Mexico and learn how the people interact with the different dimensions Mexican culture.

Anaiza: How can POC students take education into our own hands? Why are we still struggling with dropout rates if our ancestors fought so hard to win us the fight to go to school?

Brittany: Why isn’t Latino history taught in school? Or just the option for it, having it available would be nice. Even when I was in grammar school in Puerto Rico for a little, we spent a little time learning about Tainos but more focus on Mayans groups. Meeting a Taino man on the isla who was proud of his culture inspired me that the culture isn’t dead. When we learn about Latin American in U.S schools, it is still Eurocentric and focuses on economic development and influences of colonialism is viewed as “mixing” which is just whitewashing. I am learning that more about more types of indigenous groups, challenging in school why don’t we learn more about Latin American History, about historical challenges against education/institutions to include more ethnic studies in our schools. I’m Interested in creating curriculum that is accessible Ethnic Studies and Integrating personal narratives.I want to explore how music, dance, and other mediums can challenge racism?

Ashley:  I want to begin to Heal from Catholicism. By shifting religious affiliation and practice I want to see someone like me when I pray to God. While exploring and practicing Yoruba culture and spirituality I want to embrace natural and holistic forms of healing. Not depending on one person like God and to better feel supported by multiple orishas instead. This is a life changing process that will take time for me to better understand my familial indigeneity abuelita knowledge. I wish to know more about their traditions and our history?

Merari: I want to learn more about ending cycles of generational trauma, understanding my own healing, and learning more about my family’s battle with mental illness history.

Of the eight research topics and questions discussed above from the students in attendance I narrowed their topics into three main research groups based on their interests:

1) What is the history of the U.S Education Systems and importance of implementing Ethnic Studies?

2) Exploring what is Latinx identity, Nationalism, and internalized prejudice?

3) What Generational Trauma and decolonized healing?

Within these next two month we will continue to work on our research projects and continue to find creative ways to present our projects and share them within various upcoming community events which are planned or in the planning process still. One upcoming event that was co-planned with a B.I.C Fellow with a relationship with ICIRR: Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights will take place at on March 10th at the Immigrant Youth Conference at Northeastern Illinois University – El Centro Campus from 9 am – 2 pm. As a response to the attacks on immigrants and our youth, ICIRR and partners are creating a safe space for immigrant youth and provide resources, workshops, and an opportunity to meet other immigrant youth across Illinois.

Evelyn, a B.I.C fellow collaborated to design an hour long workshop for this conference called, WE ARE ENOUGH:  I don’t need your papers to be whole, I am already whole, I am already enough. While it’s so important to fight back and arm ourselves with information, it’s also important to recognize our need to heal from being an immigrant in this nation at this time. In this workshop we will introduce the concept of healing justice, create art that affirms who we are regardless of this status and create a safe space to share our stories.

This workshop is just one example and community engagement opportunity that was inspired by the Brown In Chicago project and am excited to see the other projects grow into fruition this upcoming spring 2018!



1/27/18 Session #8

Our check in this morning revealed that with the momentum picking up for the new year many of us are beginning to feel overwhelmed with our daily responsibilities.There was a sense of feeling unbalanced within our roles, school, work, and personal lives. As a group we thought it would be best to center ourselves and practice mindfulness and meditation before diving into the discussion for today. We practiced an excerpt of a 21 day meditation series called Black Feminist Breathing Chorus , which focuses on a guided meditation lead by Alexis Pauline Gumbs. Each meditation day is inspired by the legacies of black feminist thinkers, writers and activist. We meditated to day two which features Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Brooks and the affirmation highlighted from this episode was, “I have hopes for myself.”

We planned to take time to discuss and debrief the 23andMe DNA ancestry results because a majority of the group received their results and were eager to process. We took turns going around and asking “what has changed about how we see ourselves after our results” or “what questions we have about the results?”  For those who did not get their results back they shared experiences they have had with instances of prejudice around the nuances of race/ethnicity/nationality.The following are the responses from the group:

Ashley- Which box do I check off on legal documents or surveys since I’m 75.8% Native American? I don’t have to check off the white box under the category for race but do I have that privilege to check off Native on the boxes? I want to continue to learn more about the indigenous side of my family.

Pedro- While filling out border card to go from O’Hare to London during my recent study abroad trip,I filled out my nationality as Latino/Hispanic  on some paperwork and the TSA agent aggressively crossed out my selection and told me, “NO, you’re AMERICAN!” I didn’t want to argue so he can get on my flight safely without being detained.

Annisa- When I shared my results with my parents my father teased her about having 33% Native American ancestry and about continued on how I inherited that ancestry from my mother’s side.

Lucas- Receiving my results inspired me to travel to Spain and Italy more!

Roxy- Uncovering that her grandmother isn’t my “maternal” grandmother and now I’m trying to discover the stories and rumors about her papers being fake or stolen might be true.

Brittany- I am trying to understand where Native American identity fits into my own identity? I find it so weird that I come from Europe/Spain when ethnically I am from the islas like Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic. How can I be both?

Austin-I think we construct our own identity but also we honor our families and ancestors. I have learned so much about who I am from my mother and am starting to understand how these identities intersect.

Emma- I’m feeling overwhelmed and processing these fresh results still.

Juliet- Reclaiming African diasporic identity is helping me counter the anti-blackness within my family and also to accept that I am mezitaze and how mixed my own heritage is.

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We ended our meeting to a quick field trip down the street to visit Hairpin Arts Center, for their latest guest installation called, For the People Art Collective “DO NOT RESIST? 100 Years of Chicago Police Violence.” We had a private tour curated for our group around the different exhibit art pieces that addressed Chicago Police Brutality over the last 100 years. Art that was represented from as early as the 1919 Chicago Race Riots to #BlacklivesMatters demonstration photography from the last few years. I also spotted a photo of my fellow LSNA Youth Organizing colleague Lili with her five year old daughter at a #BlacklivesMatters protest we attended with a group of Youth leaders during the summer of 2016.

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It is important to remind ourselves why projects such as Brown in Chicago wants to explore notions of race, identity, decolonization, and power structures. These are the social constructions our society is informed by and how we navigate throughout our communities. This art installation reminds us that our history and engagement with Policing and Prison Industrial Complex is perpetuated are sustained by racism and violence. What we can do to not continue to engage within these structures is to truly take time to reflect within ourselves what privileges we benefit from and may take for granted. While challenging how to hold ourselves accountable to not be a bystander to inequalities that are as subtle as a micro-aggression’s or inequity within institutionalized spaces.

10/7/17 Session #1

Hands/minds, they are carving out
A sanctuary. Use these weapons
Against them. Use your given gifts
—they are not stone

              —Luis Rodriguez

Our first meeting of Brown in Chicago 2.0 invited new and a few returning youth leaders and students from within our community of Logan Square, Humboldt Park and Hermosa neighborhoods. These folx range from ages 16-25 years old and hold a wealth of knowledge and experiences of their own. We began with checking in with our full names with an emphasis to honor our family’s name with respect and full enunciation. Many of us have experienced “whitewashing”our names in school or to others in order to make it more palatable and easier for others to say comfortably . We want to honor names and take the time to say them as they were intended because we believe there is power within holding our own names with integrity.

Next, we opened our discussion and asked to share what was calling them to learn more about yourself and your ancestors? A few of the responses included feeling sad about seeing the degrees of separation from their ancestors’ culture through each generation that slowly neglects, forgets, or hide parts of those memories and traditions. A few students expressed how “messy” their backgrounds felt because they either didn’t know much about the cultures or how to connect. We read a poem called The Calling- Luis Rodriguez that depicts the reflections of a young political prisoner who was wrongfully jailed and used that experience as a catalyst to change his life.

We then unpacked further what our own identities mean to us and teased out the differences between, race, ethnicity and what other roles and identifiers are important to us. Around the room we had sheets of paper with a word printed to represent an identifier and instructed youth to stand next to the racial &/or cultural identities you relate to (Boricua, Latina/o, Latinx, Spanish people, Chicana/o, Black, White, African American, Person of Color, Mixed, etc.) Here are a few of the reflections the youth reported:


  • Is inclusive of individuals, I identify as a queer Latinx and that I have both Masculine and Femme aspects about myself.
  • “It’s a mess but a little bit of everything.”


  • I don’t know Spanish, only a little, and I have accepted its not bad to be where you are from”


  • “Grew up with this identity more, I connect more to this side of my family.”  


  • “I am half Colombian and half Ecuadorian, growing up I learned spanish and Quechua at the same time. I remember a girl in the 4th grade told me I didn’t speak Spanish right. Later in life I appreciate the Quechua dialect when I speak Spanish because it makes me feel closer to my grandparents.”


  • “Learning about chicanismo lead me to find chicano underground hip-hop.
  • “When I was younger I used to be teased by my cousins for my English accent when I spoke Spanish to them. I feel like I  am living between two worlds and Chicanismo embraces who I am.”


  • “ I feel like I am living in between two worlds, I am not Mexican enough to have confidence with my Spanish. Our grandparents that migrated here had to embrace our cultures (U.S Culture). I recognize now that we had to assimilate in order to adjust living here. I haven’t been back to Mexico in 15 years and I wonder if I am still tied to that culture?
  • “I identify as Mexican American (my mom is Texan) but have heard varied definition of what a Mexican American means.”
  • “Sometimes I feel so Americanized and that I should be more Hispanic. I don’t connect with my culture because I wasn’t educated enough to engage with it.”


  • “I was born and raised in Chicago. I identify mostly with being Puerto Rican from my mom’s side of my family. My dad left us when I was younger and his family is from the Dominican Republic so I never had a chance to learn that culture (or have an interest in that side of my family since he left us when we were so young. But now that I am older I can’t deny that part of myself.”

We ended our session with a check out to see what was coming up for students. Many reactions ranged from excitement to gratitude for having a unique space to learn more about our family history and ourselves. Some of the shared responses explained that,  “This group feels welcoming, never had a setting to talk about our families, stories, or even history.  What I learn here is going to be great for my future.” Or, “School is draining physically and mentally. This project is important for me to feel supported.” There is power that comes from connecting and reflecting deeply within ourselves as we navigate through our communities and politics that are quickly shifting. The U.S was built at the expense of people of color, immigrants and those who do not benefit from privilege. Over many centuries of reinforcing these ideas that uphold capitalism, patriarchy and racism has taught our families and ancestors to feel shame and less power for not holding these values. Being able to discover the truth of our family’s stories and struggles while taking it a step further to vocalize and share these pieces of history allows us to explore parts of our inherited wisdom and power that is waiting to become awoken.    

Mi mamá y yo

Mi mamá

Arrived to Los Angeles, California with her two sisters and mother. My grandmother sold their home and belongings to pay for a coyote,so they can reunite with my grandfather who worked as a Bracero.

After settling and arranging their next trip, they began their journey to Chicago, Illinois.

My grandmother rented a small apartment for five people in La Villita on the south side.

Mi mamá found a job at a factory in Edgewater. She commuted everyday to and from work for almost two hours for a low wage and no benefits.At the young age of 18, she was work more than eight hours for six days a week.
Mi mamá wanted to go back home. I ask her, what do you miss about home? She says, “todo”.

“Ni de aquí, ni de alla”. So where do I go? I’m too Mexican for the United States, and too “American” for México. This inner conflict has been heard countless times that the authenticity of it seems to diminishes. However, the pain is very real.
I am not looking to fit in.
I am searching for the peace my ancestors did not find.

Meeting #13 11/5/2016

[Meeting #13] 11/5/2016

History made us. We will not eat ourselves up anymore. We are whole.” Rosario Morales and Aurora Levins Morales- Ending Poem

We began our meeting last week revisiting a poem we read during our first meetings this past summer that was written by mother and daughter Rosario and Aurora Morales. This poem unpacks how their diasporic identity is rooted in colonization and indigeneity. While expressing the difficulty to connect with the fragments of our fractured ancestry. History made us glue together the pieces of narratives that were suppressed, ignored and overwritten by colonization and supremacy. We hunger for truth, connection and understanding of these untold tales that were fed to us by institutional structures. Together we nourish and fill ourselves with the experience to grapple with knowledge and replenish the erasure of our history until we are whole.

Today we hosted three guest in anticipation to blend our lenses and understanding of Latinx identity throughout this project. A geneticist, Cultural Anthropologist/Historian, and a Social Work informed Genealogist provided workshops to help us unpack the “makeup of our brownness”. It is important to have three different professional disciplines to challenge and demonstrate how our constructed knowledge is shaped by our lived experiences and the framework in which we like to explore our Latinx identity.

We began with a Mexican native geneticist named Dr. Noe De La Sancha. He discussed biodiversity and contextualized the origins of the earth, homo sapiens, and how our notions of race is socially constructed. It was very meaningful personally to be taught by a Latinx scientist because my educational experience as child had limited exposure to predominantly male, white instructor for math and science courses. As a young girl I always dreamed of becoming a scientist because it was the subject I thrived the most in up into college.

At one point while reviewing natural selection, I blurted “survival of the fittest” because it was the mnemonic phrase I connected with while learning about Darwinism in high school. Dr. De La Sancha laughed and reassured that natural selection doesn’t imply this notion of “survival of the fittest because, “evolution isn’t necessarily the survival of the fittest but survival of those who adapt to current conditions.” The phrase actually derives from Herbert Spencer who coined the phrase, after reading Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Spencer drew parallels between his own economic theories and Darwin’s biological ones. Spencer states, “This survival of the fittest, which I have here sought to express in mechanical terms, is that which Mr. Darwin has called ‘natural selection’, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.”

This ideology within the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was used to justify political conservatism, imperialism, and racism and to discourage intervention and reform. This helped informed eugenics movements and promoted by the Nazi party in their quest to sustain a superior race and eliminate those who do not share the traits and identities of white supremacy. Social Darwinism in reality is all of life is constantly trying to catch up to fluctuations in our environment. We are resilient beings striving to adapt through socially constructed barriers and ideologies that are reinforced in our modern day textbooks and consumed by our youth. We must resist, re-write and challenge these notions for our survival.

Cultural Anthropologist/Historian Dr. Jesse Mumm, presented on Biocultural Us, which discussed the migration, origins and genes of homo sapiens. The lecture began by discussing our migration patterns from Africa and how climate change shaped our paths for adaptation and survival. Within the 1800’s “five races” were created and supported by U.S and European scientist who determined distinct biological races by skull size and phenotypic traits such as skin, nose size and hair type/color. The social construction of race is inherently problematic beyond the inaccuracy of the scientific findings but used to inform racist ideologies and practices.

Biology and culture intersect through our generational experiences and have deeply shaped the outcomes of those who are polarized as dominant “white” or other. Although we understand among humans there are no biological differences between races, the legacy of racism is widespread and detrimental. For instance, Dr. Mumm explained how up until the 1870’s African Americans were first documented by their names rather than as property items. In 2016, racism still shapes legislation, resources and the polarization between the dominate culture vs marginalized identities is felt so deeply during our Presidential election. By learning how society and culture is highly informed by the intersection of race, law and power we can begin unlearn to decolonize these institutionalized structures and resources.

Kerry Cochrane is our resident Genealogist who uses Social Work to inform her practice. During our time with Kerry we were able to unpack many of the questions we had since the end of the summer when our students received their DNA results that were collected a few months ago. Our start was slow because many students either did their own research upon receiving their results and others did not know what questions to ask because the DNA results report is very overwhelming and heavy with information. The questions that were asked wanted more information of what are haplogroups or what it mean to be “broadly East Asian or European”? Overall, it was fascinating to learn more in depth about our genetic breakdown and to process the magnitude legacies.