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Brian Balthazar 

Mexico

Week of June 28

I have agreed to extend an invitation to Gloria to join our work in Mexico City as we expand our work beyond the Mora Institute towards IBBY, Nomada, Brookly and SEP.  At the Mora Institute, Ana Maria has graciously extended an invitation to her colloquium, where she and a lineup of guest speakers will discuss the public sphere.  She has also informed me that I will be translating texts, mostly primary documents of historical newspapers for her classes.  

Commencing our first workshop with IBBY and Nomada, the participants were more than thrilled to submerge themselves in a pedagogical intervention that involves children’s literature and augmenting literacy in Mexico.  Our activities began with the standard cartulina making while one of the participants read Sor Juana’s Respuesta a Sor Filotea.  The second activity was choosing which fragment of the text matched the music being played then explaining our reasoning.  During reflections, it was obvious that this group understood the mechanisms of Pre-Texts, of the importance of collaboration, of reading, and of being creators.  

In addition to our workshops with IBBY and Nomada, I have been meeting with both Ana Maria and Gloria as we prepare to run a workshop with kids.  We decided to read Chac Mool by Carlos Fuentes so that the kids can read about something related to them.  I proposed the story and received approval.  We also decided to reduce the workshops from five days for three hours to two days for two hours.  We figured that the original schedule would be too much for kids.  Following the completion of the workshops, we will ask the kids if they want to continue.  Per Ana Maria’s request, I began to draft a flyer so that we can advertise our workshops in the hope of recruiting more participants!  We decided that our workshops will be held on July 20 and July 22 from 4-6 pm Mexico City time.

Moreover, as discussed at our Friday meeting, we began to think about evaluating our work.  Ana Maria proposed introducing us to Hortecia so that she may tell us how she evaluates her implementation of Pre-Texts.

Doris also offered Gloria and I the opportunity to participate in another workshop in Mexico but in Puebla this time where we will implement Pre-Texts in the public schools there.

Our efforts in Brooklyn, in collaboration with Doris fell short as the technicalities became too complicated.  Because all of the participants were physically together in a church in Brooklyn, with the facilitators (us) dispersed around the country,  it became really difficult to engage with the participants and the material.  There were also internet issues that further complicated the matter.  Thus, we have ended our Zoom workshops, and Doris has agreed to commit to an intensive in-person session in Brooklyn with them!  

I wonder where Abby is.

Week of July 5

During our second workshop with IBBY and Nomada, I ran a dance activity.  My activity involved channeling many artistic fields because in addition to choreographing, groups had to also choose a song that they felt matched the fragment of the text.  Before commencing this activity, I had to do an icebreaker activity to make everyone more comfortable, especially me!  We danced the Macarena for a minute so that we could all shed all of our timidness.  In my group, we danced to a four-string orchestra version of Wildest Dreams by Taylor Swift, where we evoked a ballet-spired dance to match the geometrical allusions of the text given the genre's form.  It was great to see all the groups present their dances because they all got creative.  Two groups not only danced but performed!  They managed to coordinate costumes using household items.  It was wonderful to see.  I was genuinely amazed at how many times I read the text during this activity: to pick a song to dance to, I read the text to extract the essence of its message and tone; then to come up with some dance moves, I read it again to look for phrases and words; and then I read the remaining fragments as the other groups performed so that I could figure out what their through process was.  After each performance, the other participants had to explain what they saw in the dance.  It was a very nice feeling when the participants attributed more meaning and intent into my dance than it had.  For example, the dance opened with us reaching into the screen. They saw us inviting the participants to watch our dance, quite literally grabbing their attention.  I simply recall telling my dancemates, “Let’s start dramatically!”.  Perhaps I don’t give myself enough credit.  Nonetheless, they made me feel more confident in what I do.

My efforts with the kids workshops continue.  I drafted a flyer prior to our meeting on Tuesday with Ana Maria and Gloria, where we will revise it together.  I also proposed a fragment of Chac Mool for us to use in the workshops.  I chose the juiciest part of the story and am excited to see how the kids react to it and reinvent it through the activities.  In regard to the evaluation of our implementation of Pre-Texts, I discussed with Doris and we deemed it best (and most accurate) if we conducted interviews one on one with the kids at the start of the first workshop.  I proposed having all the participants enter through one link, where they will wait in the breakout room as one of us allows one kid at a time to enter.  In the Zoom, we will ask three questions to the participants then give them a new Zoom link to enter, where another one of us will be waiting for them.  Once everyone has completed their interview, we will commence the workshops.  I also proposed holding exit interviews at the end, so we can measure the growth of the participants.

We also decided that the activities held during the workshop will not require materials (except for the opening activity where they will make cartulinas with a sheet of paper and a pencil/pen/color pencils).  We will be making blackout poetry using the story, writing endings to the story, choreographing a dance to the story, and creating music to match the story.  Being in so many different Pre-Texts workshops has helped Gloria and I have a repertoire of activities to choose from. 

In regard to the Puebla workshops, we begin next week.  I am excited to commence the work there.

Week of July 12

This week brought us our third installation of our Pre-Texts workshops with IBBY and 
Nomada.  Because the first two workshops were smooth due to the participants’ dedication, the third workshop seemed almost mechanical.  Everyone understood the practices Pre-Texts puts forward -- inviting others, discourse, reading.  The participants, too, felt unchallenged, so unlike my past experiences with Pre-Texts, we switched the text.  This third workshop was run using the tangents instead.  The activities used two separate tangents, one brought by Gabby and another by me (Julia de Burgos’ brilliant A Julia de Burgos poem).  It was nice to see how fast we all were on our feet, being able to successfully complete the activities with a text others hadn’t read was a great feat.  As a lover of literature, it was fun seeing our participants create poetry using a simple method, where the activity required us to change the meaning of a sentence in the poem using its antonyms and the other required us rearrange the words in a sentence to make a whole new sentence.  At the end of this installment, we were tasked with creating our plan of implementation of Pre-Texts.  I am curious to see how this crowd plans to implement this intervention into their lives because many of our participants are parents I believe.  We have also been tasked to Ir Por Las Hojas of our original text, Repuesta a Sor Filotea by Sor Juana.
This week also brought us the commencement of our workshops with the Normal School.  I was late, I knew the time was 11 a.m. but forgot that I reside in a different timezone (a fact that has haunted my college life).  Regardless, when I came into the Zoom, I noticed a plethora of educators.  This was confirmed upon hearing their introductions, most of whom were educators in the public school system in Puebla.  We read Michel Foucault’s text on the plague as we did in our training but in Spanish this time.  This group did not pick up on the Pre-Texts philosophy as easily as the IBBY and Nomada group did but I appreciate this fact because that means that when they do at the end of our sessions, Pre-Texts’ efficiency will speak for itself.  I am not saying that they did not do the workshop well, I am saying that they did not see the meaning of the practices as easily as our first group did (because they are in fact great participants who love to give their opinions).  Our next session is on Thursday but many of them will have to miss because they will be testing at the Normal Schools.  I am waiting to volunteer to run a workshop because I want to give them the space to be able to volunteer.  If at any point no one volunteers, I want to run the Blackout Poetry activity once again!  I really enjoyed it -- or the online music creator one!  
I am personally preparing for our kids’ workshop next week, I am very anxious!  I have never been in charge of a whole workshop before but I know it will go well because I am partnered with the brilliance of Gloria and Ana Maria.  My concern is having enough volunteers.  As of Wednesday, July 14th, we have only six RSVPs.  While this will make the workshops more intimate, I was expecting more!  Nonetheless, this will give us time to do more as we only have two days.  I suppose, in the end, that is a plus.  
Thursday was our second session with the Normal School.  Unexpectedly, we switched texts.  We are now reading a text about Auschwitz as our primary text, which we will tangent for our Tangents #2.  I enjoyed a new Pre-Texts activity.  One of the participants ran an activity in which we had to select ten words from the tangent read out loud and write a short story.  It was a simple task that led to something very creative.  Simplicity works wonders, really.  This is the most “unconventional” reiteration of Pre-Texts in my short career in it and I am really enjoying it.  I feel more prepared to encounter different situations.
Later in the evening, we had a meeting with Doris, Gloria, Hortencia, Ana Maria, and Angeles, big names in my newly built network in Mexico.  I was especially impressed by Hortencia’s commitment to building a better society through Pre-Texts.  She implements Pre-Texts where it needs to be implemented: to male inmates, sex workers, and young kids.  It truly fascinates to see how Pre-Texts can have such a far reach, make a difference, and run the same across all levels of society.

Week of July 19

Because Doris is unable to attend what would have been our final workshop with IBBY and Nomada, today was our final workshop.  It was a very unique experience because the first activity was more of a game (a Pre-Texts version of Mafia).  It was fun!  I loved how committed everyone was to the roles, calling each other “Hermana” and “Sor”.  The second activity was also game-like because we had to pick a quote and present it to the group, who would guess which image we associated with the quoted text.  I hope these participants implement Pre-Texts as they continue to pursue their studies and careers in children’s literature.  
After our workshop with IBBY and Nomada, I met with Angeles, Ana Maria, and Gloria to hash out last minute details for our kid’s workshops tomorrow.  Gloria and I had to convince our two colleagues to keep the one-on-one interviews with the kids because they thought the process unviable.  We streamlined the interview process so everything should be smooth!  We have eleven kids signed up to attend, I hope they all make it.  I sent a reminder tonight, which I hope went through given that all of the participants are in Mexico.  I am excited and nervous!  Some say a group of children either makes you or breaks you.  Let us see which it is for me after Thursday.  I pray everything goes well.
Today we ran our first workshop with the kids in Mexico City.  I feel hopeful about the future because I was reminded how brilliant and good kids are.  While the weather in Mexico prohibited some of our participants from attending the workshop, and others had last minute situations pop up, we had a wonderful time reading Chac Mool.  The ages in the group varied from 8 to 13.  The participants quickly picked up the Pre-Texts practices, such as inviting others after sharing, voicing their opinions to co-create, and adapting to unexpected changes.  One participant volunteered to read the story at the beginning, which shocked me because I expected everyone to be shy at first!  Kids are the opposite of, they are extremely funny and critically vocal.  I love it.  The participants treated Gloria, Ana Maria, Angeles, and me as co-creators quickly, which I found beautiful.  They are so smart.  Also, they were not embarrassed to question the book or voice their confusion.  In one instance, one participant said “I do not have a question because I am confused”, which I then asked them to ask about something they are confused about, and they did!  For our activity, we used the website that Luke shared with us to create music for a fragment of the text.  It was amazing to see them laugh and cheer each other on.  My personal goal is to revisit the text at the end of the workshop for a discussion about what happened in the story to see if revisiting the text with all these activities really clarified things for them because almost everyone had questions.  Part of that confusion was because this was only a fragment of the story, which does not do the whole story justice.  However, the fragment led to some heavy questions from some participants (which is what I had hoped for when choosing this fragment), who inquired about the Conquest of Mexico, Christianity, and the duality of Mexico (Indigeneity and Colonizer).  We also interviewed each participant individually at the beginning of the workshop in a breakout room.  Some of the responses were so funny, such as “I do not like reading” and “I do not like people” when asked if they liked reading and if they liked collaborating with others.  Kids will always be brutally honest.  At the end of the workshop, one participant informed the group that she will miss the Thursday workshop (she is going to a theme park and said she’d rather be there haha!), then adding that she will happily join us next week (there was no mention of a workshop next week, which means that she wants to do Pre-Texts, a win for us!).  This led to Angeles asking Gloria and I privately if we would be interested in doing more workshops beyond the two this week.  I am more than happy to.
Personally, I was so nervous.  Kids scare me because they can sense weakness!  I quickly got comfortable with them because they are so precious!  I am excited to work with them again soon!
Today was our second (and final for now) workshop with the kids!  As before, they were extremely funny, full of energy and jokes and truth and love.  Every single one of them led an activity, whether it was the tangents, reflections, or activity.  They adopted every single practice that I have come to learn to be important in Pre-Texts: choosing someone else when you are chosen but have already gone, asking who is left and receiving the help, asking what the rest of the group thinks when making a proposal, challenging themselves to do more in the activities, wanting to work in groups, etc.  One participant made a tangent (the first time I have encountered this).  She wrote from the point of view of the Chac Mool.  It was ingenious, bold, and brilliant.  
We danced!  All groups had different styles of performances -- some acted like the Chac Mool, some the water, others as the tragedy that befalls on Filiberto.  It was all so marvelous.  We also made Blackout Poems!  Some of the poems were very dark and deep, others were more humorous.  I think this is because humor and darkness are what Carlos Fuentes vacillates throughout his story.  We have a recording of the dances as well as a document of all the poems.  I love watching them create.  Aside: I was paired with Ana Maria’s daughter, who is a ballet dancer, for the dancing activity and she made me sweat and move.  I was definitely challenged.  One participant noted that she performed better than me haha.  
My favorite part of today’s workshop was the tangents.  Ana Maria shared a fragment of the first art history collection of pre-Hispanic Mexico written by her grandfather!  She even shared a photograph of him (the daughters were surprised to learn of this).  Angeles brought a song by a band named Chac Mool which she remembered from her earlier years.  Two of the participants researched Mexico’s colonization.  One was very curious about the Chac Mool’s history and shared his story.  Gloria shared something more recent, a political drawing of a Chac Mool with Superman by an artist which she loves.  I shared the first text that I ever read about Mexico’s colonization, Visión de los Vencidos, by Miguel Leon-Portilla.  The kids kept asking when the next meeting was, I was so happy.  My heart melted to stone to know that they enjoyed reading and learning more about their culture and had fun.  I end today happy.

Week of July 26

We held our final workshop with IBBY and Nomada where we presented our plan of implementation in front of everyone.  Doris was unable to attend,  but I will give a quick summary.  Some highlights of the plans of implementation include at the Instituto Mora to college students working with historical documents, at IBBY with multiple groups of kids of all ages, and at UNAM with college students.  I exchanged contact information with one of the participants because I informed her that it is my goal to study abroad, preferably at UNAM, and she wants to meet if I do go.  I made a friend in this workshop, I am really happy about it.

I was unable to attend Tuesday’s session in Puebla because I was sick.  I felt better over the course of Wednesday, so I returned to Puebla on Thursday.  One of the participants ran a literary/research activity where we had to reread the text with an applied lens (psychological, economic, political, sociological, musical, etc).  Then, select an art form to represent our interpretation and research.  I was assigned the psychological lens and my partner and I focused on the association people experience upon hearing of Auschwitz as well as how fear and anxiety function.  Next week we will run our final activities as well as present our plan of implementation.  I also made a friend with a principal of a public school in Puebla, she’s so nice!  We discussed how she loves Pre-Texts because it decenters teachers as gatekeepers of knowledge and establishes a reciprocal relationship between student and teacher.  

Week of July 24