Archive for Youth


Working with youth is really an art and a calling: not just a career choice.  Youth bring so much joy to my life, along with the anger at social injustice, the frustration, the sadness, but always joy and laughter and surprises.

Like the workshop I was doing last week in a High School where somehow a discussion of art and social issues turned into a sex ed discussion.  Suddenly I find myself explaining about how there is sperm in precum and so yes, the girl can get pregnant if you pull out.

Curriculum or not, if the youth are open enough and trusting enough to bring up real life questions I am ethically and morally compelled to address them.

Another class turned into a discussion of systemic oppression when students were clowning on their white teacher and I had to try not to laugh too hard at her “dang miss that must be a white thing coz we don’t do it like that!”  Badass latino youth speaking out.  Fuck. Yeah.

It takes something special to work with youth successfully.  A combination of resilience, humor, flexibility, compassion and a youthful spirit.  Aside from all the grand sounding and genuine reasons for my love of working with youth– social justice, empowerment, investment in community, etc., there’s the fact that I just love to play.  I love to laugh.  And they sure make me laugh my ass off on a regular basis.  I love to learn and they teach me all kinds of unexpected stuff.  I love to think and, when I’m doing it right, they consistently challenge me to think.  I love to kick it and have the discussions on a REAL level and strip away the distance created by academic discourse by bringing it home to a young person who is trying to make sense of some of the fuckery of the world and how it plays out in their lives.

I know two youth workers that I particularly admire.  One of them can be described by an icebreaker she did with a group where everyone had to do a dance move with their introduction and she did the robot and was captured on cell phone video for everyone’s enjoyment.  Not only does she work with teenage youth but she also mentors twentysomething youth.  And she’s such a joy to be around.  Creative and genuine and FUN!  The other one plays rockband with the youth on a regular basis, has an office filled with youth and with evidence of their presence: artwork they share with her, random action figures with significance, jewelry they’ve made, stuffed animals, notes, and a door covered in butcher paper so youth can express themselves.  Or the less savory evidence like a hotdog left over by the youth who were cleaning after one of their Friday feasts.  She gives them ownership of the program and empowers them to do for themselves without needing an adult authority figure to boss ’em around. Radical I know.

And what happens when people who work with youth get together and hang out is fun to watch too.  Of course I’m talking all poc so that’s also a factor.  Invariably we are too loud.  Whether it be sitting in the parking lot eating pizza on a break from program and talking about life or at a restaurant sharing a meal.  We are just too damn loud.  We joke and tease.  And we laugh till we cry. And sometimes we do cry when we talk about the challenges and frustrations.  We are intense.

I’m blessed to be able to participate in a few youth groups right now.  I volunteer for an LGBTQ youth group, which sounds noble of me but sometimes it means I just show up and kick it with them and play video games.  I also work for a program doing workshops in schools (yes the ones that led to sex ed last week).  And I’m starting a new job working with Elementary School children and doing program development, evaluation and outreach.  And I can honestly say that I love what I do.  There are days when administrative, bureaucratic, policy or political issues just piss me off but then I kick it with the youth and it’s all good.  They are real.

In one of my sessions last week we were talking about police harassing young people for suspecting they are taggers or gang bangers.  After walking them through a critical examination we identified ageism and racism as factors.  They would get harassed as young Latino males, I would not be likely to get harassed as an *ahem* adult Latina female.  Then we got to talking about the value that society places on the young.  The fear that young people evoke in adults, how they are perceived as a threat.  And hopefully part of what sunk in was the fact that some of us do value their opinions, their leadership, their thoughts, and some of us get a great deal of hope and encouragement from them and learn from them.  People talk shit about youth and what is this world coming to and they are not capable leaders, there’s a leadership vaccum who will take over for us, blah blah blah.  Me, I can’t wait for them to take over!  I’ll be there with pompoms doing the robot too!


Children and community

I love children.  I love babies.  I love youth.

I’ve always been observant of the cultural differences in the value given to children and their place in community.

Where I come from children are part of the community and we are all responsible for loving them, protecting them, caring for them, educating them.  Where I come from (and I’m talking culture, not just geography) it’s okay to talk to a kid you don’t know or make funny faces at the baby in front of you at the checkout line.  You aren’t seen as a threat or a weirdo; just part of community.  And it’s so different from when I experience in Anglo culture.  I hate to resort to a problematic cliche like “it takes a village to raise a child,” but, well, it fits.  It’s okay to be affectionate with kids where I’m from: hugs and kisses are generously offered.  Kids are welcome at parties, no weird separation of adults and kids, no weird tiptoeing and hiding the beers, no perception of children as a burden.  Birthday parties for kids include the adults and are often loud in the best ways with music, drinking, dancing, dominoes, laughter.  And when the kids konk out the adults keep partying.  It’s normal to see a puppy pile of little ones on a designated bed or couch and anyone and everyone checks on them while festivities continue.  The idea of a party for children where adults aren’t welcome, or where they aren’t having a good time but are just hovering over the kids awkwardly is foreign.   Weddings, graduation parties, family bbqs, funerals, life events are all attended by community and community includes kids.  Kids are incorporated into activities and they are just another blessed fact of life.

Once a child enters into the mix the community shifts to welcome them, there are more eyes to watch them, more hands to guide them, more hearts to love them and keep them safe.  If a child is hurt, anyone of us will scoop him up.  If she is unsafe, any one of us will rush to rescue.  If he is bubbling with joy, every heart will smile.  As a member of the community, we all participate in their life.

Interactions with children has always been an area of culture shock for me, especially the walls put up around them that seem to say it’s not okay to love them if they aren’t yours.

I got to do some kitchen table organizing with friends recently and it warmed my heart to be there with three amazing, powerful, fierce women and two of their kids.  See, when women of color get together and there’s  kids in the mix there’s a dynamic that is usually different from anglo culture to me.  There’s a sense of community and freedom and an invitation to love.

As we plotted with a toddler and a three year old around, we were conscious of the kids and comfortable.  We were all at liberty to offer guidance, all entitled to a hug and a kiss, or a bop with a spiderman toy.  It gives me joy to work with a baby on my lap playing with my phone and chuckling his wizened toddler laugh.  It gives me joy to see the whirlwind of three year old energy playing with a butterfly net and a spderman figure around us, or belly laughing when Tita Thea ignores the fact that he’s pretending not to hear her goodbyes and scoops him up for a wiggly squishy hug.  All this while strategizing, planning, sharing dreams, anger, frustration, good food.  Kids weren’t a nuisance or a distraction.  They were part of the process.  They were part of the reason for doing the work.

I love the ways in which women of color so often come to community, how brown babies are passed around to be adored, and how we all care for them.  I love the easy ways in which we embrace their energy and the lack of apologies, no need to justify their presence.

I once taught an adult education course in Washington Heights.  The course was all Latinos and it was held on Saturdays for about 5 hours in a church.  The participants were motivated and invested.  When childcare was an issue I’d teach history with a baby on my lap drooling during our heated discussions.  There were older children who would come as well and they were always given a job, whether it be a five year old erasing the board, or a seven year old talking about something they had learned in school.  And in this learning community, everyone was valuable, the baby with his babas as much as the 60 year old woman sitting attentively in the front.

When I taught a Graduate course that was held on Saturdays I also had a child student, his parents were both there to learn English and the son would play in the halls, wander back in, hang out with me while the class worked, listen to their presentations, draw pictures on the board.  It was never a disruption, and we all accepted and welcomed him into our class.  Come to think of it, every class I’ve taught has been visited by little ones, some more than others, but always welcome.

One day soon(ish) I’ll have my own brown babies and I know they will have so many tios and tias to fuss over them; and primas and primos and to play with;  padrinos and madrinas to spoil them.  Comadres and compadres for me to turn to.  I know that my babies will have a place in community, a community to love them, see them, keep them safe because, well, that’s just how we roll.  And in the meantime, I feel fortunate to have beautiful babies who bless me.

No homo!

All right, so since I work with youth I get to be down with the lingo and all that. So the latest in homophobia in schools is the “no homo!” expression. This is used in order to allow people to indulge in behavior that might somehow be um… too gay ? yes I’m saying that tongue in cheek.

For example, a guy might pay another guy a compliment and follow it up immediately with “No homo!”
Guy 1: Hey dude those jeans are tight! No homo!

(Tight meaning cool or groovy depending on your generation, not close fitting)

Youth will also ask for a no homo clarification point if not offered voluntarily. As in “ain’t you gonna say no homo man?!”

always a good source of up to date 411:

So, in talking with some of the folks who volunteer for my program we like to poke fun at derogatory terms and have geeky human relations inside jokes and our newest gag needs to spread. So instead of “no homo” it’s “no hetero!”

I may say to my friend J “I love you man!” and hug him, followed immediately by ‘no hetero” with the mandatory step back and posturing.

Try that one on for size. It’s tight.