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Area Teachers Get Their History, Social Studies at Institute's WorkshopsJulie Chavez Rodriguez of the United Farm Workers of America told teachers that farm workers, mostly undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America, face intimidation and safety hazards. (Photo by Kevin Matthews)

Area Teachers Get Their History, Social Studies at Institute's Workshops

In all, more than 70 K-12 teachers will attend three summer workshops hosted within the International Institute, paying modest fees and earning salary points from their districts or continuing education credits from UCLA Extension. The first 2008 worshop looked at labor in Latin America from every angle.

By Kevin Matthews
Senior Writer

The intensive sessions and the exchange of ideas challenge us to think about teaching in the classroom and where we're moving with all of this information.

IN A TRAINING SESSION at UCLA for public schoolteachers, Programs Director Julie Chávez Rodríguez of the United Farm Workers of America—the granddaughter of civil rights activist and UFW co-founder César Chávez—described victories by the union in protecting farm workers, with and without legal working papers, from severe environmental and safety hazards and abuses by agribusiness. For one thing, California growers are now required by law to provide their mostly Mexican immigrant workforce with water, shade, and rest.

But as of Rodríguez' talk on July 16, four farm workers had already died in the Central Valley in 2008, with the hottest season still to come. The May 14 death from heat exhaustion of 17-year-old María Isabel Vásquez Jiménez, two months pregnant, provoked protests including a 50-mile march by some 500 workers from Lodi, Calif., to the capital in Sacramento.

"She had a body temperature of 108 degrees," said Rodríguez. "This is 2008."

Rodríguez' talk provided one of several reminders to 24 teachers in a two-week training workshop that local issues and the history of labor in Latin America are intertwined. Scholars, activists, and specialists from all over California discussed work in the Americas from before the era of colonization to the present day. There were sessions on ranching in the Southern Cone of South American, slavery in the Caribbean, Nueva Canción protest music, and labor policy under Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. One speaker, Director Armand Pereira of the International Labor Organization, came in from his Washington, D.C., office to lead a session on child labor.

In all, more than 70 schoolteachers will attend three 2008 summer workshops hosted within the International Institute, paying modest fees and earning salary points from their districts or continuing education credits from UCLA Extension. The Institute runs additional training sessions during the school year and many more K-12 outreach programs, including this summer's Russian and Persian courses for heritage speakers of those languages at nearby high schools. Some of the schoolteachers attend multiple workshops like this year's "Con Mis Manos: A History of Labor in Latin America" and similar two-week programs on North Africa and Central Asia. Every year, they create fresh lesson plans and upload outstanding ones to the Outreach World website hosted by the Institute.

Brett Drugge, who teaches English and ancient civilization at Gage Middle School in Huntington Park, is one of the Institute's frequent flyers, now in his fifth two-week training at UCLA. He started in 2005 and still remembers the Nigerian instructor who shared videos and stories of life back home, in order to link African history with contemporary life. "This is second to travel," says Drugge, in its power to bring the world, and history, closer.

Past workshops inspired Drugge, for example, to have his 6th-graders create 45-second videos on a massive environmental lawsuit filed in 2003 against Chevron by Equadorians in the Amazon rain forest and to organize an evening of music from the Americas at the middle school.  Following this year's he wants his students to know about labor abuses at maquiladoras on the U.S.-Mexico border and particularly child labor.

"It is so important that we discuss these matters."

Like other teacher workshops at the Institute, "Con Mis Manos" took a wide and historical view and still went deep into its theme of labor in Latin America, with several sessions tackling work and gender. According to Marie Francois of CSU Channel Islands (the newest CSU campus), in the middle of the 18th century Spanish women in Argentina were glad to identify themselves as laundresses by occupation; by the early 19th century, none of the women claiming Spain would admit to such a title. Irene Vasquez of CSU Dominguez Hills looked at gendered working conditions in the maquiladoras, and UCLA's Abel Valenzuela, Jr., discussed his study of the male-dominated (but not exclusively male) world of U.S. day laborers. Film screenings of "Border Echoes" and "Made in L.A." gave participants a chance to reflect on the Juarez murders and women's work in sweatshops near home.

Of course, the workshop attendees were teachers—the sort we remember or wish we'd had—all of them active in laying their paths to learning. During a break, a group of them chatted about the future of oil and alternative energy. Unprompted, they worked in questions for speakers about the foreclosure crisis, military recruiting at schools, and, repeatedly, how all of this relates to the classroom.

"The intensive sessions and the exchange of ideas challenge us to think about teaching in the classroom and where we're moving with all of this information," Drugge says.

Steve Williams, a historian at CSU Dominguez Hills, and Mark Elinson, an education consultant, were key contributors to this workshop, the first organized by Valerie Berkovich, outreach coordinator for the UCLA Latin American Institute.

UCLA International Institute