There is a group of young organizers in LA that work with Escuelita Aztlan, a youth project of Unión Del Barrio. Escuelita Aztlan (EAZ) is Unión del Barrio’s independent freedom school that fuses cultural learning, political activism, and community organizing. EAZ recruits straight from the barrios of Los Angeles to bring together the most spirited young people, and it develops effective and confident community organizers. Escuelita Aztlan is one of Unión del Barrio’s tools for engaging and recruiting young people into movement work. Escuelita Aztlan started in San Diego in 1988 as a part of the barrio youth project Somos Raza, and started in Los Angeles during the summer of 2015. In spring of 2015 one of Unión Del Barrio’s Bases of work decided to commence this alternative educational project as a means to organize young people, support community beautification, and creating our own educational alternative to support the concept of dual and contending power. This effort has generated interest in the community as young people have demonstrated an intense interest in a progressive model of education.
The basis of Escuelita Aztlan is built on the notion that the current education system was never intended to serve our communities. The current educational system is modeled after the colonial British structure used to manipulate young people to support their empire, and reject indigenous belief systems and customs. We resolve that our community will not be robbed of the opportunity to educate ourselves in our own interests, and that our understanding of history and culture must not be taught by our oppressors. This is the primary reason why the “Escuelita” exists.
Unión del Barrio strives to continue and improve EAZ so that one day it may become a strong alternative to the existing school system. We know that even if we win Ethnic Studies in every school district in the United States this will not be enough to change US Imperialism. Only by building our own power as a people will we be able to create the institutions that can serve our interests. Escuelita Aztlan is a start for us to build that power.
We have now completed two sessions in Los Angeles. In the summer of 2015 UdB members Christina Lares, Erick Carbajal, and Gonzalo Rios along with multiple members of A.R.E. (Association of Raza Educators) came together to plan the first session that would focus on using culture and education as tools for justice in our communities. We agreed on a six-week session consisting of 4 lecture/activities and 2 weeks of mural painting. We chose this format because we feel it is never enough to simply talk about bettering our communities; we must also strive to physically (materially) change our communities through our actions. We also chose South Central Los Angeles because that is where much of our political work is done, and where many of our members live.
UdB partnered with artists Ray Vargas and Miguel Antonio who dedicated their talents to working with the youth to help them realize their ideas though art. While the process took a longer than expected, the result of our first session was the creation of 28 justice themed images being painted on electric boxes along San Pedro Street from 21st to Jefferson Ave. The murals had images honoring our community’s heritage, community unity, and strength. Through this process we have built a closer relationship to our community, beautified it, and built a project that we hope will be sustainable for years to come. The young people who participated also developed a perspective as Raza internationalists.
Our second session themed “Herstory” highlighted the importance of challenging gender based oppression, struggling through it as a people, and honoring the righteous muxeres that have and continue to be at the forefront of political struggle. We also plan to create murals that highlight the experience and triumphs of muxeres. The students of the first session have also now become the teachers, researchers, creators, and organizers of EAZ. The team was also entirely female, with UdB members Sylvia Urdiano, Desiree Gaytan, and Christina Lares leading project’s second session.
This was a first for the Escuelita and Unión del Barrio and something that is unlike any other “freedom school” model that exists anywhere. The subject matter for this session was not easy to find. It required a tremendous amount of research and was built upon collectively. Unión del Barrio ended the second session with mural painting. Our students utilized two sessions towards designing their murals incorporating what they have learned into their finished product. In total we painted two electric boxes with a total of eight images projecting the struggles of women, transgender youth, pushing education over incarceration, and calling on young people to get involved in the struggle. Mind you, painting murals requires a heightened understanding of history and current social justice issues to be effective as community projects.
Now that the second session has come and gone, our team is going through a process of reflection as we prepare to develop our third session. No participant is compensated monetarily. Each Escuelita session takes a physical, mental, and financial toll on our members and organization. Although it is a labor of both love and necessity, we recognize the need for reflection and the need for improvement in our political work. We are working to figure out what our next session will look like, how it will connect/collaborate with the Escuelita in San Diego, and explore ways to bring the work to have a presence in different communities throughout Los Angeles.
¡El Pueblo, Unido Jamas Sera Vencido!
¡Que Viva Unión del Barrio!