Scholar Stories: Dra. Carmen Medina

How do you use writing or art in your life?

My background is in teatro popularand humanities. I learned the passion of creating texts first with my body and with a cadre of local Puerto Rican artist-activists who believe that art is political. I want to honor these “teachers of the craft,”  maestrxs, who in their political activism commit to teach youth the power of devised performances.  Our bodies were our empty canvas, our empty pages where we wrote about critical perceptions of the world.  Spaces to hear the voices of young people in our world is really important to me and I learned this through popular theatre.  I write with the same sense of urgency that I perform otherwise it does not make sense.

In my teaching I mostly explore the relationship between reading diverse literature and improvisational dramatic experiences.  I believe in disrupting the boundaries of how “reading” comprehension tends to be constraint by institutional definitions and dominant perceptions of what meaning making is and what it looks like.  Drama provides me with a way to critically and playfully dig into other ways of interpreting texts where multiplicity of voices and perspectives get actively enacted. 

What lessons/teachings from your family, home and/or community do you draw on in your teaching and/or scholarship? 

I am Puerto Rican born and raised on the island. I now live and work in el vaivén, the coming and goings as a member of the diaspora. My work embraces this movement. I do not think of my work as situated in one place, one approach or one world view. I deliberately create scholarship that embraces border thinking and border crossings.  

From my parents I learned that this world is structured in hierarchies that privilege a few and marginalizes many. Their critical consciousness enacted in everyday small actions and grounded in love, marked my understanding of the purpose of teaching and doing scholarly work from a socially conscious place. De mi papá, a non academic, I inherit Fanon’s copy of Los condenados de la tierra(Wretched of the earth).  De mi mamá, una maestra, I learned to pay attention, listen and look carefully to people, to music, to arts, to the world.  

What would you tell your younger self?

Be an artist all over again with more passion and confidence.  Create more outside of the boundaries of what is expected and use those creative tools to live your everyday life.  

Advice for new scholars and/or teachers:

I always begin my teaching with a storytelling and improvisation experience.  My goal with this creative storying work is to help us understand that we are storying beings. Every day in our lives we tell stories but also make sense and make meaning of what happens around us through stories.  Most of these stories we articulate in the moment.  We do not necessarily pre-think, revise and then tell a finalized story. Emergence is a significant part of how children make sense of their world but also create new worlds through imaginative stories in play. If we think of our school literacy practices grounded in the power of our stories we can create engaging communities of storytellers, readers and writers.  

Stories and playfulness are for me among the most robust ways to cultivate a sense of belonging and authoring in the work we do as educators and scholars.  To young scholars, particularly scholars of color, I would say, find, embrace and nurture your story.  Honor your life and community in your scholarly work.  Use as role models the stories of those mentoras that help us carry on.

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