Decolonizing Curriculum on the 4th of July

On this 4th of July, during a moment in history in which we see massive protests against a racist presidential administration, I have been giving extra thought on how to “decolonize” curriculum through Ethnic Studies. The longer Trump is president, the more urgent this task seems to be. Today, July 4th, 2018, is weighing heavy in my thoughts.


Tomorrow, I fly from Southern California to Tucson, Arizona to attend the XITO Institute. There I will learn about Mexican-American studies and techniques to implement a district wide K-12 Ethnic Studies program in Seattle Public Schools. Part of the language being used in Ethnic Studies circles is “decolonize.” Our aim is to decolonize the curriculum, thereby decolonizing our minds. I often say that people who don’t “get it” are “colonized,” meaning that their culture and social paradigms are dominated by the Master Narrative.


As I sat in a restaurant drinking coffee this morning, I observed patrons wearing their red, white, and blue. Not only white patrons, though. Being in Southern California means that white Americans are the minority. Many of the Latinx patrons were also proudly sporting American colors as our Latinx brothers and sisters are being detained and torn from their families. It’s because they, or their ancestors, came for the “American Dream.” They believe that it’s still possible to do better for their progeny, even if our country is currently in turmoil. I believe the possibility is still there if we fight, and Ethnic Studies is part of that fight. The question I’m wrestling with today is, “At whose expense?”


Recently, a colleague of mine sent me an article entitled, “Decolonization is not a metaphor,” by Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang. Most the content of the article I’ve heard of before and considered in my work on Ethnic Studies, but the crux of the argument is that people of color cannot talk about decolonization without realizing that they are colonizers themselves.


The impossibility of fully becoming a white settler – in this case, white referring to an exceptionalized position with assumed rights to invulnerability and legal supremacy – as articulated by minority literature preoccupied with “glass ceilings” and “forever foreign” status and “myth of the model minority”, offers a strong critique of the myth of the democratic nation-state. However, its logical endpoint, the attainment of equal legal and cultural entitlements, is actually an investment in settler colonialism. Indeed, even the ability to be a minority citizen in the settler nation means an option to become a brown settler. For many people of color, becoming a subordinate settler is an option even when becoming white is not.


As a biracial woman, this resonated with me more than the other ways in which colonizers try to deny their colonial status. As a Mexican-American woman, I can claim North American indigeneity, but I also have European ancestry. How do I reconcile this with the fact that, either way, I benefit from colonization of Native American land, people, and culture?


The authors also argue that solidarity amongst “colonized” groups creates a vague sense of oppression that glosses over the fact that we are colonized on stolen land. How do we honor that and decolonize education? My goal is not to “decolonize” in the broad sense, which would require returning land to sovereign Native tribes. That is both beyond the scope of my ability, and something that I won’t claim an expertise for. But decolonizing curriculum? I believe that’s possible, and I want to do it in such a way that recognizes we are all settlers. The fact that I am able to write this blog means that I have some degree of privilege granted to me by settlers. I’m benefitting from colonialism as I criticize the Fourth of July holiday.