Tín (Part 1)
“Education must begin with the solution of the teacher-student contradiction, by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers and students.”
Carlos Agustin Vasquez Mendoza. We will forgo his Spanish name and call him Tín. I remember the first time his mother told me that this he was also called this. I got the impression it was a nickname. He never insisted that we use it and now that I look back, I realize that I didn’t really pay attention to the pride glimmer in her eyes when she told me this. Something in me must have known it was important because I remember her look as if she is standing before me right now.
Tín is his Tz’utujil name, which I can only surmise is used just with his family and close friends. After many months in this community we have moved toward using it as well.
Tín was the first person in the group that I saw on my return. I wasn’t sure that it was he at first because he wasn’t wearing his baseball cap. But as he continued walking toward me it was obvious that it was. We both smiled. He shakes my hand and sits beside me on the bench near his home. I’m early! I said. A novel event because getting between Pana and San Juan always involves waiting at the dock. Tín and I chatted for a few moments about my trip away and then I left him for a bit to go help Chema. I told him to go eat lunch and I’d meet him at 1:30 as planned.
When I returned in Tín’s house to meet him, Chema’s two younger sisters greeted me. Tín is Chema’s uncle so the families are often at each other’s houses. The girls scream my name and embrace me. Then they showed me a newborn puppy that Tín’s family breeds and sells. It is very nice to have such a warm welcome to San Juan.
Tín emerged from his bedroom and we talked about his progress. He had told me in Facebook that he was just doing interviews around the community to see what people were thinking of his topic. This was a great start and one that we discussed sometime in the early stages of the development. His topic is “The Pathway to Success”.
In talking with him on several occasions, it obvious that his idea of success is very specific. I will let him tell you about that another time. Our conversations have led him to his focus on uncovering a community definition of success and exploring what the knowledge, state, and ideas of his community are in order for him to assess his own definition. What Tín is doing is essentially a video ethnography. He is taking video, watching it and essentially finding themes and patterns in the conversations that he has with others. This will be the main focus of the work with him. Yet in our first meeting back, we didn’t get much further but to say that he was ready for me to bring computers in order to start organizing his videos.
I want to pause a moment and share a little bit about Tín. He has the strongest presence in the group. In the beginning, he seemed hesitant and suspect of who I was and what my agenda might be. It was as if his eyes were always reading me – cautiously and inquisitively. Over time, we’ve developed a trust – not necessarily through language, but through a feeling that each has a genuine interest in his ideas.
Now, when I see him there is an unmistaken openness and comfort in his vibrant smile. Emanating from that smile is a continuous air of confidence that is evident in any space that his occupies. The way I can describe him is someone who is interested, curious, and having an endless thirst for knowledge. He has always asks the deepest questions and it is clear that he wants so much to talk about ideas, politics, social justice, and anything that comes up. He’s always thinking and is also very ambitious. He is the president of his class. He heads an organization for his church. He plays Maya Ball, soccer, and participates in traditional dance. I’m sure that there are more activities that I am missing; yet these alone are impressive.
There is always someone in a group that seems to be “alpha” so to speak and from the very beginning it was Tín. I’m sure that I have written about this before, but I recall saying that if I could gain his confidence, then the others would follow. I’m not sure that this is really true anymore after getting to know the others better. Their participation is not dependent on him. But his participation is dependent on my ability to continuously engage and challenge him. At the same time he has an internal motivation and purpose for participating, so he will finish despite my limited language, which, by design, inhibits my potential influence on his work. A blessing and a curse they say, and I absolutely feel the impact of both.
An example during one of our interactions illustrates his desire for rigor. Tín was editing for a short time and then would get up, walk to his family and talk with them for some time. After doing this several times, I say to him, “Are you bored? “ He says a little bit. I ask, is it because I can’t talk to you that deeply? Yeah that is it, he says. Tín is just so smart and I know that he wants to be challenged. This is the most difficult part for me. I know how important the dialogue is and I’m just going to have to make it happen. I will rely on a few strategies to do this. They include 1) google translate, 2) writing to the students in Spanish, and 3) hiring someone or bringing along more volunteers.
This work however is not really just about work. It is about developing relationships and learning from these youth. And my relationship with Tín needs some attention. I’m pretty confident that we have developed a good relationship so far. He is welcoming and approachable. Yet, I feel that we still need to connect outside this project and come to find a way to communicate more fluidly and comfortably. My Spanish seems to be better with some in than group than others; and with Tín, it is a little sluggish. With Tín, I need to enhance my vocabulary in order to sustain our more philosophical conversations so that I can learn more from him.
To my surprise (and delight), he invites me to his Juego de Pelota Maya game (Maya ball game) on Sunday. It’s a sign that maybe he wants to cross “learning” boundaries and find more opportunities to let me know him outside the project as well. I wouldn’t miss this opportunity and of course I didn’t.
I left that Saturday and returned Sunday morning to watch the game. I invite Chema to watch with me so that he can explain the rules to me. Quíc (Pedro – who I will introduce in more detail soon) and Tín are on the same team. Tín and Quíc see me and smile… a clear indication that they are glad to see me. Tín greets me in Tz’utujil – this language is unmistakable. I feel privileged that he does this, because I feel that it is a sign of acceptance and trust. I watch the game in awe. The power and strength that these kids need to do this is obvious. I just kept thinking about how lucky I am to be here and be invited into their world.
And after the game Tín and Quíc sit on the seats overlooking la concha (the covered playground). They are playing with my ipod (Tín) and looking at the photos I took on my camera (Quíc) and then taking some themselves. You guys must be starving I say. We are. I am too, I reply. There is a pizza place that is good, Tín says. I have 100Q, I reply. That’s enough; let’s go, says Tín. So off we go, Chema, Tín, Quíc and I. I say to myself this is a gift and a serendipitous opportunity for relationship building…
We wait for pizza, we play with the technology – Quíc find music on the iPad and later takes the camera from me and starts taking pictures. He’s even teaching Tín. Chema plays angry birds and takes a few photos of his own from the iPad. Tín uses my iPod to do translations of words from English to Spanish and Spanish to English. This all happens as we listen to Bob Marley. Today music, technology and pizza bring us together. I think about talking shop, but I remember to just enjoy and let it be. This is relationship building that I’ve been saying we need is here. And it is just as important as the learning that takes place in the project. The play continues as we dig into the pizza and share thoughts and enjoy lots of laughter.