"Sin Título: Exploring the Multiple Narratives within Latinx Teen Identities," image courtesy of Lissette Martinez
"Sin Título: Exploring the Multiple Narratives within Latinx Teen Identities," image courtesy of Lissette Martinez
June 7, 2016

Inclusivity Required: Latinx Identity in the Classroom

Lissette Martinez came to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to pursue her Master’s degree in Art Education, with a focus on alternative teaching methods. Her combined interests in art and education began to gain momentum during her undergraduate studies at Florida International University where she was an intern at the campus museum for almost two years.

Her thesis work, titled "Sin Título: Exploring the Multiple Narratives within Latinx Teen Identities," at SAIC has built upon these interests and experiences, expanding her critical investigations into social issues that are becoming increasingly important for educators today. In Chicago, she became involved with Latinx teens, meaning teens of Latin-American ancestry, encompassing all gender identities and affiliations. Through collaborative art projects including zines and Mad Libs, Martinez creates safe spaces for these teens to have open discussions about their cultural identity or identities. As an educator, Martinez is aware of the increasing diversity within American classrooms, and she is committed to fostering educational spaces where all voices are acknowledged and validated. 

Erin Schalk: Prior to writing your thesis, what were your research interests?

Lissette Martinez: I came into this with an interest specifically in museums and museum education, so my interest was going to be specifically in the National Museum of Mexican Art. How did the museum add to the construction of how Latinx teens in Chicago thought of their own ethnicity, or how did it affect them and the narrative that they bring within themselves? What are [Latinx teens] even thinking about before they even enter any institution? Or, how have institutions already been affecting them?”

ES: What do you believe educators could do to make themselves more aware of and accommodating to diverse student identities?

LM: How do educators create a curriculum that includes different voices and makes them all validated?  It’s almost impossible, probably, but I’m sure it happens. I think through my project, I wanted [Latinx teens’] voices to be validated and even if there wasn’t total agreement amongst everyone about a certain issue, that there was still a place where they were able to express themselves and have those expressions validated. I think that’s something most educators struggle with. You have so many voices in the classroom, how do you hear them all and how do you validate them all? It’s always probably a good issue to have; like if the educator has that issue, then that means the educator cares.

ES: Please tell us more about the collaborative zine process you initiated among your students.

LM: SAIC hosted the Borderland Collective, a collective out of Texas, and I met with one of the organizers of the collective. He was showing me some projects they had done before, and one of those was where the students wrote down a question they would want the rest of the students to answer. And then all of the papers would be passed around so at the end, the student would have a whole list of answers, but anonymously and no one would have to have that focus on them. I found that in a zine type of style.  And so what I did was every student created their zine and on the first page they wrote a question that they wanted the rest of the students to answer surrounding identity or ethnic identity.Each student was able to answer the question either verbally or visually, and so [the zine] got passed around, and that way the student got their questions answered by everyone.

ES: Are you planning on continuing this same thesis work after you graduate?  Are you planning to do these collaborative art projects with more groups of people?

LM: I would like to see how this could grow, but I just don’t know how yet…but I definitely didn’t want this to be something that stopped with me. 

ES: Is there anything else you’d like to share to help us better understand your thesis work?

LM: I felt like as much as I wanted to learn what was going on, because I felt like it’s important. This is a huge, growing population in the United States, and it’s huge in Chicago. Does anyone care that their histories aren’t being learned in school? How is that affecting them, and how is media also affecting them, and how can educators respond to all of these things? 

If teens are growing up thinking that their histories aren’t important because the schools aren’t teaching them, and they’re being taught histories that have oppressed them, and [schools] are using that history to continually oppress these cultures, then I think that does affect how they see themselves. For me as an educator, I think it’s important to empower the learner and to empower the student, and I think that also concerns [Latinx] identities. Right now, in the United States, there’s a very contentious space around race and ethnicity, and so I think right now is a great time to be having these types of conversations.