Feature: Remembering What We Were Never Taught: How Unearthing Oppressed and Hidden Knowledge Can Liberate and Heal Students, Communities, Professors, and Academia

by Liliana Gallegos, Assistant Professor, Communications Studies, California State University-San Bernardino

Liliana Gallegos and students presented a panel session at the “Whole Student” conference titled “Rainbow Journalism: Community-Based, Indigenist, Divergent, Experimental, and Activist Journalism as a Healing Process of Situated Learning and Participative Action Research.”

In the aftermath of the 2016 elections, many of my students were emotionally breaking down in class. Students shared feelings of fear of losing all they had to sudden deportation—not always of themselves, but also of beloved friends and family members that they depended on. Many shared their experiences with racism, stereotyping, and the lack of opportunities that ultimately resulted in the dehumanization of their very existence.

Later in the fall 2016 term, my Latinx media course attended an event with several journalists from the Los Angeles Times that caused some controversy after the audience questioned the way San Bernardino was represented in an article titled “San Bernardino: Broken City.”1 During the event, the author of the article said that the paper had a difficult time figuring out what was politically correct or what images might be offensive to the public.

Back in our classroom after the event, a student shared that another professor told her that journalism had always been about capital gains and selling out to the highest bidder. It dawned on me—our students were unaware of the real history of journalism in the United States. Being that our student population is majority Latinx students (about 60 percent), it was a shame that they did not know that many early American journalists were Mexicans and Native Americans who were tired of not being represented and who, through journalism, saw a way of organizing communities and covering the events they organized.2

A massive pedagogical revamping and intervention was long overdue. We needed an emergency intervention course that would help our students heal through “hidden knowledge” acquisition and sharing. What I refer to as “hidden knowledge” is best articulated by philosopher Enrique Dussel in Philosophy of Liberation.3 Hidden knowledge can be explained in the simplest way by remembering the destruction of codices and old knowledge and the criminalization of Native American traditions during colonization. The epistemologies used and taught to educators thus far in our history dictate the effects and methodologies of gathering and deciding what is “good enough” to be included within our understanding of knowledge.

This form of hegemony has seeped into the practices of mass media outlets and market journalism. Walter Mignolo,4 and Franz Fanon5 before him, refer to this as a perverse logic of coloniality that maintains false supremacies by marginalizing certain information and deeming it unimportant or peripheral to the evolution of mankind. According to Dussel, under this same premise of “evolution, order and progress,” the concept of modernity was used to ideologically maintain coloniality by hierarchically positioning Native American knowledge with the obsolete past and European knowledge as modern, advanced, or current. Thus, some forms of knowledge were—and continue to be—purposefully hidden.

Minority students can be emancipated by attending colleges and universities and learning the Eurocentric canon of knowledge that is given preference and maintained by coloniality, but they are not liberated. Liberation comes with two interrelated struggles: political and economic decolonization and epistemological decolonization.6

I am a professor; I find it difficult to enter the political and economic realms, but what if I attempted to liberate my students by decolonizing the way I teach them? Will I be able to help them liberate themselves? Will they help liberate me? As students learn about their communities, they begin to pull on a string whose end lies hidden in ancestral thought and understanding. At an individual level, several of my students began conducting specialized historical research on topics related to their ancestry.

So, I created an experimental course, “Rainbow Journalism” (a response to “yellow journalism”7), to provide an opportunity for students to channel some of the negative energy in their experience into a product-based media course and practicum hybrid. Many media outlets use individuals to push forward a story that predetermines how the individual, or the individual’s identity group, will be represented. In contrast, the students in this course invite people to represent their own struggles and stories of both marginalization and success, of partial inclusion, of simultaneous privilege and invisibility—representing a true complexity of human experiences.

We designed this course in the model of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed; it is only through praxis, the practice of theoretical teachings turned into action, that students become liberated and thus agents of freedom within their communities. Freire writes, “No pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the oppressed by treating them as unfortunates and by presenting for their emulation models from among the oppressors. The oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption.”8 In this course, students cover non-newsworthy stories and find ways to create partnerships in their communities that push society forward via social justice–oriented events that have direct and immediate impacts.

Through the design of this Rainbow Journalism course, I recovered the often-overlooked connections between research, service, and teaching. This course runs as a mini media conglomerate, a grassroots free press organization. We have five groups: journalists, camera operators and videographers, public relations specialists, digital and social media designers, and radio show hosts/producers. The success of the group is interdependent with the success of its individual branches. This is an indigenist approach to teaching by forming separate groups that work together and then go out and cover local news (current hidden history).9 After each story is completed, the groups are opened and students may move to another group to broaden their knowledge and enhance their skills through practice.

Simultaneously, we are recording a documentary on this experimental approach, which is part of my pedagogical research on first-generation university students and situated learning at California State University–San Bernardino (CSUSB). Alumni are involved in its production as volunteer camera operators and editors. This approach takes into consideration the local and immediate community needs, the historical moment, and the identities of the students involved. It is also a project of action research because, through the group, we create community engagement projects that further the healing process and extend it to our community.

Our Rainbow Journalism course sparked the creation of a student organization that I mentor named the Coyote Pack. The Coyote Pack describes themselves as, “A collective of innovators, artists, and educators . . . [that] established a platform to voice and act towards the aftermath following the political circumstances undergone during the recent elections and post-inauguration. We do this using a variety of media including social media outlets, journalism, radio, and video production.”10

Juan Delgado, activist, poet, and professor of English at CSUSB, joined our efforts to support the Coyote Pack. He provided invaluable exposure to “The Pack” by sharing their work with his network of artists, members of the community, and senior academics. Together with Maria Barragán, coordinator of CSUSB’s DREAMers Resource and Success Center11 and Yadira Ortiz, CSUSB’s coordinator of Services to DREAMers, Educational Opportunity Program, and Admissions Office, we created a series of workshops and community engagement events called The Art of Dreaming in March of 2017.12 Students in the Rainbow Journalism course oversaw the news releases and advertising campaigns, then covered the event as a media company.

Over 125 people attended the events from more than nine departments at CSUSB. Together with students from both our San Bernardino and Palm Desert campuses, as well as members of our San Bernardino community, we recovered trash generated by the art department and turned it into mixed media pieces centered around the topics of being a DREAMer or ally at CSUSB. The TransCultural Commons Collective and Mass Productions (two student organizations I advise) hosted the event and provided free food, original music produced by CSUSB undergraduate students, and additional art materials. Over forty mixed media collages were donated to the Garcia Center for the Arts in downtown San Bernardino and were exhibited for two weeks in late June and auctioned at a gala event. Thirty additional pieces were donated by local professional artists. Local media personalities, public servants, and politicians were invited, including the Consulate of Guatemala and the Mexican Consulate of San Bernardino.

The benefits of these events were manifold. The Art of Dreaming series served to help heal our community, teach our students practical knowledge about taking their coursework into the real world, provide income to an emergency fund that primarily aids DREAMers and students in dire need, and help students enter the realm of academic research by inviting them to be a part of ours.

When our entire class was invited to participate in the national Bringing Theory to Practice conference, “The Whole Student: Intersectionality and Well-Being,” seventeen of my students were awarded ASI (Associated Students Incorporated) grants from our institution to travel to Chicago in May 2017. For many of these students, this was the first time they ever left their home city. It was a highly emotional moment for all of us, especially when we lost one of our own, Judith Urbina, in a deadly car crash that spring break.

This conference validated the needs of my students and showed what they should be able to expect of academia—that their voice and input are as important and vital as those of their leadership. For me, it was truly inspirational to find other academics engaging in this same endeavor of being healer-mentors. Many times, what we do as faculty members engaged with student well-being is judged as being unnecessary or of lesser importance than research or publishing, but perhaps more of our colleagues in academia will begin to realize that these pedagogies, and caring for our whole students, are truly transformative.


1  Joe Mozingo, “San Bernardino: Broken City,” Los Angeles Times, June 14, 2015. http://graphics.latimes.com/san-bernardino/.

2  Clinton C. Wilson, Felix Gutierrez, and Lena M. Chao, “Alternatives: Colorful Firsts in Class Communication,” in Racism, Sexism, and the Media: The Rise of Multicultural America (Washington, DC: SAGE Publishing, 2003).

3  Enrique Dussel, Philosophy of Liberation (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books).

4  Walter D. Mignolo, “Delinking: The Rhetoric of Modernity, the Logic of Coloniality and the Grammar of De-coloniality,” Cultural Studies 21, nos. 2–3 (March/May 2017), 449–514. http://waltermignolo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/WMignolo_Delinking.pdf.

5  Franz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington (New York: Grove Press, 1963).

6  Mignolo, “Delinking,” 449–514.

7  Yellow journalism refers to journalism that seeks to capitalize on exaggerations, ill-representations, and the spectacle of the “other.” Stuart Hall used “the other” to identify and deconstruct the way difference is designated to groups rather than individuals through the hypersexualization, dehumanization, exploitation, and abuse of images of people of color that suddenly stand to represent a massified other. Stuart Hall, “The Spectacle of the Other,” in Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, ed. Stuart Hall (London, United Kingdom: SAGE, 1997).

8  Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Bloomsbury, 2000), 54.

9  This stems from Mexico's indigenismo movements of the 1920s. There are two definitions of indigenismo. One is to acculturate Native Americans into an inapplicable Eurocentric capitalistic system and see their cultures as relics of the past. I refer to the second definition: the set of strategies and knowledge implemented as an act of subversive complicity, knowingly and strategically, so forbidden knowledge has a platform to continue to be passed on. Ramón Grosfoguel, “Hybridity and Mestizaje: Sincretism or Subversive Complicity? Subalternity from the Perspective of the Coloniality of Power” in The Masters and the Slaves: Plantation Relations and Mestizaje in American Imaginaries, ed. Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005): 115–129. In 1920s Mexico, indigenismo in education sought to (1) protect the rights of indigenous or other marginalized people through alternative formats of education; (2) recognize and compensate for violence and loss suffered; and (3) establish and protect native (or other marginalized) cultural, linguistic, and ideological differences. Mariana Portal and Veronica Valenzuela. “El indigenismo y la educacion indigena: una bibliografia basica” in Neuva Antropologia. Revista de Ciencias Sociales, no. 21 (June 1983) 137-146.

10   https://www.facebook.com/pg/Thecoyotepack/about/; http://thecoyotepack.weebly.com/mission.html

11 https://www.csusb.edu/dreamers-resource-center

12  http://thecoyotepack.weebly.com/aodg