23 November 2014

white bodies and teaching nutrition

the OrganWise Guys are personified "stuffed animal" organs that teach children how to eat and exercise to keep their bodies healthy. the program features curricula for in-school lessons, after-school programs and summer camps, as well as community-based learning models. from their website their stated vision is:

"to inspire individuals to take charge of their health by assuming personal responsibility for their choices. This, we believe, is prevention at its best! By bringing the body to life via lovable organ characters, kids of all ages learn what it really means to be smart from the inside out. With all of the troubling news about the obesity crisis, our evidence-based programming offers a viable, possible solution."

source: http://organwiseguys.com/organwiseguys_aboutus.php

the program is thoughtful, fun, and easy-to-use. materials are available in spanish and english, and the creators have made efforts to take race into account in creating their resources and lesson plans. when purchasing the OrganWise curriculum, schools and community organizations receive both a male and female doll and can choose, from a variety of skin colors, "the ethnicity that most reflects the population of your school."

OrganWise Dolls with President Michelle Lombardo from Training Video

that the dolls have been created in different skin colors is laudable, but it does require a decision that should cause some pause. choosing a skin color that "most reflects" a school's population will necessarily exclude some children. in u.s. public schools populated by children of all skin colors from a variety of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, who decides what skin color is best representative for the whole student body? this choice becomes most problematic in schools with a high number of white students. what kind of message is sent to students of color when the healthy body is a white one?

mass media is already rife with messages about healthy white bodies. check out the controversy over images of white bodies in yoga magazines, for example. do a google image search of men's health or fitness magazine and notice the ratio of white people to people of color on the magazine covers. now do a google image search for "healthy body." holy white people!

even the OrganWise curriculum does not escape this bias. in what is otherwise a racially-neutral book that uses the OrganWise guys as characters to teach children how to choose a variety of colors in their diet, Concentrating on Fruits and Veggies culminates in a dismaying treasure at the end of the fruit and vegetable rainbow: a healthy white body. the final image shows a cartoon outline of a healthy body, with happy OrganWise guys inside, colored light peach. why?

health issues related to poor eating and exercise habits affect all children in this country; however, according to the CDC Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities, rates of cardiovascular disease are significantly higher for african americans. likewise, diabetes affects first nation peoples, hispanic people and african american people at higher rates than white people.

all children can benefit from the OrganWise program or any health/nutritional curriculum, but statistically speaking, health and nutrition does discriminate. furthermore, white children will inevitably receive messages about having a healthy body from an abundance of pop culture images and narratives. given the relative scarcity of images of healthy bodies available for children who do not identify as white, why not leave that silhouette of a healthy body at the end of the rainbow racially-ambiguous by choosing purple or blue, or all of the colors of the rainbow? better yet, why not always choose an image or doll that represents a person of color when appealing to a mixed group of children? no one needs to be reminded of what a healthy white body looks like.

10 October 2013

spanish is the language of rotten eggs

ever since attending a symposium called "latinos and the politics of language" hosted by latino studies at iu, i have been thinking about language even more than usual. at the symposium, ana celia zentella provided numerous examples of the ways spanish has been racialized in u.s. cultural and political discourse. according to zentella, because talking about embodied race is no longer p.c., language serves as a smokescreen to talk about race in an acceptable format. in some circles, then, calling spanish the "language of the ghetto" is not only reasonable but receives applause.


i was thinking about this today as i was tutoring a 5th grader, a mexican-american bilingual. he seems shy about his spanish most of the time, and one need not stretch the imagination too far to wonder why. we were reading the name of this book is secret, a fantasy novel for kids, which is mostly delightful. it uses mystery, puzzle, and metafiction to get kids excited about turning the pages.

on page 20 something disturbed me, though. when describing the mysterious circumstances surrounding the disappearance of a magician, the realtor of his house explains that the gardner alerted her to the death when he smelled rotten eggs. 

the thing is, the words used in the book are not "rotten eggs" but "huevos podridos." you know, because the gardner is obviously hispanic. this rather insignificant plot development in which a nameless gardner--the only nameless character in the book--speaks spanish delivers a double blow to the language. (i should mention that all of the characters are anonymous in this book, but they each receive carefully-selected pseudonyms). not only is spanish relegated to the language of the anonymous lower class, but the only spanish words mentioned in the entire text correspond to one of the most noxious smells to the human nose. also, how ridiculous is it that a spanish-speaking gardner living in the u.s. did not know how to say "rotten eggs" in english, but that the english-speaking monolinguals understood him? spanish is the offensive language of the linguistically-impoverished ghetto?

suddenly, i found myself in a difficult place as a tutor. how do i explain to my ten-year-old bilingual tutee the problem with this authorial choice that most likely would go unnoticed if i did not bring it to his attention? i felt obligated to at least try, but i wondered how much work i could do as one person against a widely-circulating stereotype. does a child believe you if you are one of the only people telling him that spanish lives in philosophy and literature and politics, too? 

where is the juvenile fiction that gives spanish equal status with english? no, really, where are these books? i would like to find them and recommend them to my tuttee. and while i'm seeking advice, can i call his teacher and explain to her why i think she should remove this book from the classroom?

04 July 2013

Interview with Edgar Escobar, Homeopathic Skin Product Salesman

Tell me a little bit about what you're doing here.
I'm Colombian, Caldense, from the beloved Caldas. I work with natural products; dietary products; homeopathic, natural and alternative medicine, especially related to skin problems, venous insufficiency and varicose veins. I work with products made of snail slime, mother of pearl, lamb fat, and I also know about all sorts of other creams like eucalyptus cream, marigold cream, chuchuhuasi cream, uña de gato cream, berry creams, aloe cream, and also coca cream. All of these creams are for arthritis pain, rheumatism, muscular pain. Snail slime and mother of pearl are treatments that rejuvenate the skin, erase any kind of skin spots, pimples, all kinds of burns, wounds, scars. Lamb fat is for stretch marks, and it's a natural sunblock. It's good for facial and body massages. It tones the bust and the behind; it makes the hips firm. Snail oil is especially good for drying out varicose veins, for veinous insufficiency, too. It also treats arthritis pains, rheumatic pains, and muscle pains. I also prepare treatment for multiple ailments, physical fatigue, mental fatigue, anemia, and hepatitis complications. And I've been doing this for 8 years, and I like what I do. I feel good physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Where did you acquire all of this knowledge?
Mostly in books. I began with reading books and also as one starts working, one enriches practice with reading, on the the internet, in botanical books, naturalist books, you know? And every year one updates his knowledge and practice regarding new skin problems and varicose veins.

What is your work schedule like?
I work at the intersection of Carrera 7 and Calle 24 in downtown Bogotá. I work Monday through Saturday from 8am to 4pm, and Sundays and holidays from 8am to 6pm. My cellphone number is 315.393.5949.

How much do you sell in a day?
Quite a lot. There are good days of 100.000 to 150.000 pesos (app. USD$50-75) more or less.

(translated from Spanish)

02 July 2013

Librería Merlín, Bogotá

Bogotá's small and desolate Callejón de la Vera Cruz is just off a bustling strip of new, used, and pirated book stores. The few store fronts on this tiny alley are tucked away and easy to miss. You will be delightfully surprised, though, to wander into Librería Merlín--which doesn't look like much on the outside--to find three floors of book lovers' paradise.

Located on Callejón de la Vera Cruz, near the Museo de Oro, Centro

obligatory Bolívar portraits in Colombia section
piles and piles of books!
carefully placed thematic decor
3rd floor

Merlín is stacked to the brim with books, magazines, artifacts, art, antiques, and trinkets all thoughtfully arranged to complement one another. One of the dreamiest book-browsing experiences I have ever had!