In describing my teaching and research interests, it would be useful to let you know a little about my teaching philosophy since it conditions how what I research finds generative expression in the classroom. So let me begin by letting you know how what I do as a teacher is fundamentally related to what I do as a scholar.
I'm a specialist in U.S. Latino political, cultural, and literary histories. This means I study the cultural production of peoples of Latin American ancestry living in the United States, as well as how the histories of their countries of origin are related, wittingly or not, to U.S. empire building in the Americas and elsewhere. For example, it often surprises students to learn that the current geopolitical borders of the U.S. occupy more than half of Mexico's former national borders. Not surprisingly, many of our States have Spanish-sounding names since more than a third of what is now the U.S. was occupied by Spain before the Spanish began to lose their geopolitical stronghold in the Americas; most strikingly to Mexico after Mexican independence (1821), and then to the U.S. after the Spanish-American War (1898). Though the Spanish lost their geopolitical influence in the Americas, as Britain did after U.S. independence, the linguistic and cultural legacies of these former empires remain very much alive. (I should note that some scholars think this approach privileges the U.S. as an analytical starting point; other scholars understand the risk, but insist on a thorough accounting of the myths of "American exceptionalism" lest we gloss the question of empire building with too broad an analytical stroke.) In a nutshell, I study and teach both the legacies and histories of these transnational and cross-linguistic exchanges. (If you'd like to learn more about this, feel free to read more about what I've written about the topic here.) Now that you have a sense of what I teach, I'd like to share with you how I go about teaching.
My teaching, research, and scholarship are primarily informed by U.S. Latino, Latin American, and American Studies methodologies which include historical archival work, symbolic system analysis, postcolonial critique, ethnography, oral histories, and rhetorical and literary criticism. Though we all know what "teaching" refers to, many learners often don't know how research and scholarship are central to effective teaching. For starters, research refers to the collection and analysis of data, while scholarship refers to the dissemination of data that has been systematically analyzed. We may not be used to referring to "data" in the interpretive humanities as something that requires analysis and evaluation but without it one would simply be opining rather than interpreting. Another way of saying this, and paraphrasing Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003), everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but we are not entitled to our own facts. In other words, the best and most effective teaching ultimately allows learners to better parse not only "truth" from "fiction" but to understand how truth and fiction are constructed rhetorically through sign systems such as language (e.g. novels and the like), visual culture (e.g., paintings, films, or even video games), or soundscapes (e.g., anything from, say, music or simply what we hear around us in cities — "white noise" — or in the day-to-day conversations or banter in our homes or communities).
Though I teach a wide range of courses, there are some principle features of my teaching that are common to all my classes. Regardless of the thematic content or class level — and beyond the thoughtful use of electronic media which is a hallmark of all of my courses — you will find that the basic principles of my teaching are guided by a belief in "education as a practice of freedom," a term developed by Paulo Freire and "translated" into many educational settings in the Americas through the agencies of what we call in the States, “the liberal arts.” My courses are "student centered" which means that students are central to the construction of knowledge that takes place in the classroom and not mere recipients of concepts and ideas. I believe that each student's personal and academic experiences can be a learning resource for others, including myself. I always familiarize myself with individual learning styles and attempt to reinforce productive habits, and develop competence in areas where students feel less comfortable. If a student feels more comfortable with writing than, say, with speaking, I reinforce their strengths by helping them write out what they might wish to say and attempt to find productive ways to develop those skills that will allow for the effective delivery of ideas that, even though developed in solitude, will ultimately be shared in an environment of collective and collaborative support.
As a teacher and scholar of Latino cultural and historical studies, I always try to engage students in the pursuit of interpretive strategies that enable them to see the texts before them, as well as the world around them, with more nuance than they tend to think themselves capable of seeing. Students often find it surprising that before we engage the genre constraints of any text, I often ask them to create one for themselves. For example, before a close analysis of any work, say, the corrido tradition (border ballad), I ask students to write original versions or rewriting of corridos through lyric reproduction (e.g., quatrains in alternating iambic tetrameter lines) as well as thematic topics that reflect the corrido’s emphasis on historical “rememory” (Toni Morrision). This initially seems tedious but most often leads learners to pose interpretive problems differently, with greater appreciation for the craft and, on occasion, their own work even receives accolades from classmates (especially if students are inclined to create rap base-beats played and sung in tandem with their compositions — but this is not required!). A graduate course would, of course, focus on more specific theoretical concerns beyond structural questions, but the energy and level engagement would still require co-creating and refashioning knowledge to generative ends.
Another hallmark of my teaching philosophy is the belief that promoting the lowest common denominator of a text, or field paradigm, impoverishes the work and, ultimately, the students' ability to reap the benefits of the sustained discipline required of any worthy pursuit. Students often find that I offer considerable and detailed feedback on their written work, both in writing and in person. I believe that this is perhaps one of the most important elements of my role as a teacher because it provides the skills that will be useful beyond a course's thematic appeal. Clear thinking and writing, as well as solid and respectful argumentation, are talents that students take with them for the rest of their lives irrespective of career choice.
In summary, I work chiefly to provide my students with the intellectual confidence and passion that allows them to see how a life well lived is like a finely crafted work of art: engaging, provocative in the best sense, illuminating, and a benefit to others. Doing so allows students to have both a private and a public intellectual life that affords them the ability to analyze their hearts, and the world around them, with ethical precision and civic compassion. Engaging such a life is nothing less than a practice of freedom. Lofty? Yup. Idealistic? Yup. Why? Because settling for the more prosaic alternatives would simply impoverish us all.