“Afro-Mexicans, Blaxicans and Black diasporans in Mexico are beginning to tell their own stories, myself included.”
Storytelling and cinematography are increasingly evolving to make room for both new and old stories that historically haven’t been told.
In 2020 over Zoom, Ebony Bailey, a “Blaxican” photographer and filmmaker, shared with PLNU students the purpose of her storytelling and how it is transforming the visibility of lived experiences in Mexico.
Through her film “Jamaica y Tamarindo” students learned how the jamaica flower and tamarind, ingredients typically associated with Mexican cuisine, have a much richer history that originated in Africa. And in another of her documentaries, “Life Between Borders: Black Migrants in Mexico,” she helped tell the story of Haitian immigrants in Mexico. Speakers like Bailey challenged preconceived notions about food, immigration and racism in Mexico and confronted students with stories that most had never heard.
“During that time, I think it was a difficult time of racial reckoning for the nation, so in terms of our own field of expertise, we thought, ‘What can we do to bring awareness in this area? How can we focus our energies to combat that issue?’” said Jacque Mitchell, professor of Spanish at PLNU.
“One of the areas we decided to focus on that year was to really highlight Afro-Latino voices. From there, we’ve been working on implementing that curriculum in our own department and bringing it abroad to the rest of the university.”
Ebony Bailey’s work is one of many learning outcomes that students in the Spanish program or taking Foundational Explorations (FE) classes at PLNU encountered in 2020. The series of speakers from 2020 would ultimately later be known as the prequel to the Committed to Diverse Perspectives Series.
During the 2022–23 school year, Spanish professors Jacque Mitchell and Paula Cronovich, Ph.D., coined the series’ name and opened the events up campuswide. After months of research during the summer of 2022, Mitchell and Cronovich arranged a line up of renowned Afro-Latino, Blaxican and Asian-Latino speakers to share their life’s work and impact in research, film, journalism and art. Among the speakers included this year were Jason De León, Ph.D., professor of anthropology and Chicano/a Studies at UCLA and MacArthur Fellow; and Walter Thompson-Hernández, director, Sundance Film Festival award winner, podcast host of “Scared Straight,” and previously a reporter for The New York Times.
In the spring, the Department of Literature, Journalism, Writing and Languages (LJWL), which houses the Committed to Diverse Perspectives series, collaborated with the Writers Symposium by the Sea and the Center for Justice and Reconciliation (CJR) for the “Las Mujeres del Movimiento” panel event. Maria Hinojosa, a headline speaker at the symposium, and Mitchell participated in the panel.
In her interview with PLNU journalism professor Dean Nelson, Ph.D. at the symposium, Hinojosa said, “Don’t write about what you remember. Write about what you want to forget; write about what you wish you had never seen.”
“Don’t write about what you remember. Write about what you want to forget; write about what you wish you had never seen.”
These words seem to resonate with the work that many of the Committed to Diverse Perspective Series speakers shared with students.
“Being a predominantly white institution, I think that even if our population says we’re more diverse, we are culturally, prominently white, so I think we need to hear those voices,” Mitchell said.
“We need to open up to that culture more. We have a lot to learn. It’s been well-seen in the past couple of years how much we still have to grow, and I think that coming from our particular discipline, from foreign language, we can explore. It gives us a good space to explore other cultures.”
“It’s been well-seen in the past couple of years how much we still have to grow, and I think that coming from our particular discipline, from foreign language, we can explore.”
Throughout the school year, students participated in De León’s interactive art exhibit, Hostile Terrain 94 (HT94). The HT94 installation recognizes the lives of both identified and unidentified undocumented migrants who died attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. The tags of the exhibit were handwritten by the PLNU community listing the person’s name and cause of death and pinpointing the exact location where undocumented migrants died.
Jason De León also spoke on campus about his anthropology work and its relation to the HT94 project in October.
“I thought that was such an amazing project,” Mitchell said. “Seeing that we as a community can collaborate and can do something together, I think we can do so many different things like that. We have so much potential for interdisciplinary projects.”
Walter Thompson-Hernández came to PLNU in November. He attended a screening of his award-winning short film, “If I Go Will They Miss Me.” The film won the Sundance festival award for best fictional short film in 2022.
“I was really surprised by the film. I loved it,” Mitchell said.
“It was so tender. It’s that kind of boyhood rite of passage into manhood but so embraced in such a tender way from the male community. You never see the African or Latino community portrayed that way. You never see fatherhood portrayed that way.”
Thompson-Hernández also signed copies of his book, “The Compton Cowboys” and attended a multimedia journalism class, workshopping podcast ideas with students.
“The kind of work that he does is the kind of work that I’m totally interested in highlighting,” Mitchell said. “I was floored by his podcast. He’s super honest and upfront about all his past troubles.”
The impact of these speakers extends beyond the end of the series. For Mitchell and Cronovich, the outcome of this series is bringing more learning opportunities to campus and creating space for open-minded conversations among students, faculty, staff and the surrounding San Diego community.
“The first goal is to raise awareness. I think that we do lack awareness on our campus,” Mitchell said. “To bring voices that we don’t hear or see that they’re out there, that’s the first goal.”
“The second goal, beyond raising awareness, [is] that it changes students’ perspectives. I hope they can reflect enough on their thinking that will make a big enough impact and they can come away with some new thoughts. I think if we do enough things, maybe we can spark a fire for this kind of thing. We can create an energy for supporting diverse populations and voices, so that we can have a real heart for diverse communities on our campus.”
“I think if we do enough things, maybe we can spark a fire for this kind of thing. We can create an energy for supporting diverse populations and voices, so that we can have a real heart for diverse communities on our campus.”
Mitchell has tentatively set this year’s speaker lineup. The first speaker, Krishauna Hines-Gaither, will be at PLNU in October. Hines-Gaither is the Vice President for Equity, Diversity and Justice at Mt. St. Mary’s University. She studies and practices antiracist pedagogy specifically in language teaching. She also promotes “radical collaboration” in her research, which is the goal of the Committed to Diverse Perspectives series.
The other speaker will be filmmaker, Alex Rivera. Rivera is known for his films about labor and immigration. There will be a screening of one of his films and a speaking event. The date is still to be determined. For more information about the Committed to Diverse Perspectives series, check out LJWL’s website and follow LJWL on Instagram. You also can stay up to date on events at PLNU through the featured events website.