by GEHRY OATEY
Dave Chappelle just performed 21 straight shows in Oakland to an incredibly diverse group of people. Some nights he performed 5 hours straight without a break. And you know what he said he wanted to be when he was growing up—A TEACHER!! He is of course a teacher in another sense. He helps to relieve us of the multi-cultural boundaries that exist between us.
Which brings me to the importance of multi-cultural education in schools. Youth need to identify themselves with where they came from and they also need to learn and appreciate that about others.
Regardless of where you are on the planet, food is an excellent tool for breaking down social and cultural barriers. Dave Chapelle makes a pretty good living hammering away at our insecurities around race and gender. If you visit a school cooking class, you will see that it too is an excellent space for doing the same. The other day at our school farmer’s market, I overheard a brief argument between two students and a parent about the produce in front of them.
“Squash is camote.”
“No squash is calbasa.”
“What you be calling squash? This is a sweet potato!”
It’s hard to stay quiet about what you put into your body. Like language, the food we eat influences how we identify ourselves, how we interact with others, and how we interpret different tastes and experiences.
Our school is one of many across California experimenting with dual immersion language programs to build what is referred to as “social and cultural capital.” It has been proven that such programs “help youth to successfully cross socio-cultural and linguistic borders—which allows them entry into multiple, potentially supportive community and institutional settings.” (Social Capital and the Reproduction of Inequality: Information Networks among Mexican-Origin High School Students, Stanton-Salazar and Dornbusch, 1995). For those of you in the Bay Area who want to learn more, San Jose is hosting the annual CABE (California Association for Bilingual Education) conference this coming March 10th-13th.
What better place to facilitate a dual language immersion program than the kitchen? In addition to learning the names of foods, students are in a hands-on learning environment that requires large amounts of problem solving dialogue—a classroom where speaking is encouraged in a natural and supportive way.
Propostion 227 dismantled bilingual education in California and designated English as not only the dominant language, but as the ONLY legitimate language in which academic learning is to occur. So if you want the skills to go and work in a restaurant or food service job in California, you better not speak anything but English?
Whether or not you agree with dual-immersion education, it’s hard to ignore the fact that speaking a second language in California is social and cultural capital. It’s also hard to ignore the enjoyment and excitement that takes place in the kitchen when youth and adults exchange ideas (and cultural identities) while discussing the best way to prepare squash. The exchanges that take place while cooking break down the social and cultural barriers that many times segregate school environments. Such multi-cultural interactions satisfy, at least temporarily, our need to connect with one another regardless of race and gender. I’m willing to bet that Dave Chappelle would agree.
Gehry teaches cooking and gardening to middle schoolers at Melrose Leadership Academy in East Oakland.