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Negotiating My Identities Gail L. Prasad


Gail Prasad © 2009 Arts  Informed  Research  Methods


â—?

Negotiating My Identities â—? Gail Lori Prasad


I have loved the water since I

bridged the liminal space between

shapes them? (Appadurai, 2002)

was a child. I practically lived in the

water and sky. I have always lived

How do “flows” themselves

pool in our backyard during the

between worlds of various kinds and

transform the structures that shape

events and things have structured

summer month as I was growing up.

in the water, I found peace. No

them? Tsing (2002) has developed

the flow of my life. Our life waters

As a petite, accident-prone girl, I

matter where I am, I always seem to

the metaphor of the river and its

have converged, flown together and

never saw myself as an athlete on

be drawn back to the water.

riverbed to evoke an image that at

other times, our currents have driven

the ground, but in the water I was a

Nothing calms me like the sound of

once captures the relationship

us apart. I have picked up elements

fish. Even more than my speed,

a flowing river, trickling stream, or

between movement and stasis,

from various riverbeds along the

however, I loved simply floating at

even a running tap filling my bathtub

structure and flow. At specific

way, and at times it has become

the surface of the pool. In star

for a relaxing soak after a long day.

moments in time, a riverbed appears

difficult to tell what has sedimented

position, with my arms and legs

By nature or by force, water flows

to be a fixed, permanent structure

out and what has simply been

spread out in all directions, I could

and it sustains life through its

that shapes the flow of a river. Over

changed by the diverse forces

feel both the glowing sun beating

movement.

time, however, just as the riverbed

directing my course. Through the

shapes the river flow, the flow of the

process of our life flows, we have

down on me and the coolness of the

How are “flows” of water - or,

conduit and course of the river. Numerous people, places,

water buoying me up. As I relaxed

of people, resources, of ideas -

river transforms the riverbed. The

transformed the courses of our lives

into my floating position, my body

facilitated or constrained by what

flow process slowly (re)directs the

individually and collectively.


I have come to see the

my share my reflexive process of

to students in which their identities

métissage herein as a representation

process of identity negotiation as a

identity negotiation as a student,

are reflected back in a positive

of my reflexive inquiry: “reflexive

fluid - shaped by seemingly fixed

teacher and researcher.

light” (p. 60). I draw upon the literary

inquiry,... is reflective inquiry situated

form of métissage in particular, to

within the context of personal

structures, and by (potentially)

I conceptualize “identity

transformational flows through them.

métissage” as a fluid, interwoven,

highlight the role of multiple genres

histories in order to make

The power relations at work in

multimodal form that facilitates the

in my reflexive inquiry on my plural

connection between personal lives

various social, cultural and political

sharing of diverse ways of knowing,

identities. Métissage is as an artful

and professional careers, and to

structures directly influence

being and becoming involved in the

research praxis “mixes binaries such

understand personal (including early)

processes of identity formation,

process of plural identity

as colonized with colonizer, local

influences n professional

construction and negotiation.

negotiation. Cummins (2006)

with global, East with West, north

practice” (Cole & Knowles, 2008, p.

(Cummins, 2001; Rummens, 2000).

describes the creative works

with South, particular with universal,

2). This identity métissage is

Through the following identity

students carry out within the

feminine with masculine, vernacular

product of my personal identity

métissage, I use multiliteracies -

pedagogical space of the classroom

with literate, and theory with

investment and my professional

including a variety of literary genres,

as identity texts insofar as

practice” (Hasebe-Ludt, Chambers &

commitment as a teacher-researcher

as well as visual arts and information

“students invest their identities in

Leggo, 2009, p. 9).

to cultivating reflexive practice.

and communication technologies, to

these texts that then hold a mirror up

Finally, I describe my identity


Home When people ask where home is for me, I usually respond by saying, “Toronto”. Only a few days into the year of 1979, I was born in the west end of Toronto at Etobicoke General Hospital. Thirty years later, my parents still live in the same house on Decarie Circle that they purchased when I was born. 79 Decarie Circle: our house, our home. Technically, both words are nouns; they both name places. But, home strikes me much more deeply as an adjective, a word that describes the deep sense of attachment I feel for a place. Toronto is home. I can’t think of an adjective that better describes my bond to this city. Toronto’s rich diversity supported my upbringing as a child and our engagement as a family in a plurality of communities - social, cultural, linguistic and spiritual. I recognize now the extravagance of my grandfather’s love in blessing Dad’s choice to settle away from his family’s home in India and to marry Mom, a Japanese-Canadian woman. My grandfather listened to his son’s heart and released Dad to craft a new life story in Canada. My parents union was an anomaly in their day - an East Indian man marrying a JapaneseCanadian woman. The only language shared between them at first must have been love. Two individuals with diverse heritages came together to form a new kind of family. They didn’t have a road map, a guidebook or recipe for how to blend together all the ingredients they brought with them to their new relationship and the children who would come along the way. What gets passed down? What gets set aside? How do you decide? As I look back, I appreciate more fully how my parents have negotiated their own identities as individuals, together as a couple, with children, without (grand)parents close at hand, among a diverse community of immigrant friends chosen to be family and now into their retirement. They couldn’t have imagined how their life stories would unfold when they ventured to co-author a new story for their lives together, a complex story that departed from any of the traditional narratives that had shaped their upbringing. I was unaware of the “identity” negotiations at work as as a child. I soaked up every opportunity to explore and experience new things. I always have sparkled with a sense of curiosity. My early memories as a baby, toddler and child are happy, peaceful ones. I understood our home as a nurturing place where languages and cultures intermingled to create new traditions. I can still hear Dad shouting in Hindi so loudly on the the phone that I was sure as a child that the neighbours could tell whenever he was reconnecting with family “back home”. I can still feel the sense of excitement as Mom and Auntie Sets drove us each summer to visit Obasan and Ojisan in their Japanese retirement home in Beamsville. I was mesmerized by the cherry blossoms in the garden and the hand-painted Japanese porcelain dolls that lined their wall. And, my sister and I still remember with fondness our shared memories of doing as young sisters do and sharing countless secret tea parties under the covers of my pink canopy bed. From birth into a family, living translated lives, I developed an appreciation for diversity, complicated combinations and creative juxtapositions. My worldview has been shaped by both the joys and challenges of living in translation across cultures, languages and traditions. As a teacherresearcher, I do not leave my personal identities at the school door; rather, they serve as lenses through which I observe and interpret the complexities of students’ lives and classroom interactions. As an educator, I seek to foster authentic community in my classroom in which students can explore their own stories and negotiate their plural identities. Within the shared space of our classroom, I hope that my students come to feel at home.


â—?

Born, my family, living, translated lives, Hindi hymns on Sundays, Obasan, Oj"an, Nipponia home remembrances, Sister secrets whisper, under the canopy covers, peaceful preludes we sing together shhhhhhhhhhhh h h h h h h h h hh h A nurturing place, my home when I was born.


First Love I can still see him in my mind’s eye with his chocolate brown curly hair sitting in the principal’s office. I must have passed him every morning as I came up the stairs from the daycare, past the office and into my classroom to join my classmates at 9 am. Dear Mitchell, Roses are red, Violets are blue, Sugar is sweet, I want to marry you! Love, Gail

I am the first to admit that this first love poem wasn’t exceptionally original. I had clearly borrowed from a commonly known refrain. But, it was a heartfelt expression from my 4-year-old heart to Mitchell, the Cabbage Patch kid doll who sat in the school office as he awaited the school-wide raffle draw in December. During the fall term, the school had launched a contest for students to write love poems and letters to Mitchell. I desperately wanted a Cabbage Patch doll for myself, so I eagerly entered the writing contest. I likely wouldn’t have remembered the poem if it hadn’t been preserved by my parents. They saved everything from those Kindergarten years and much along the way through the elementary grades. One of the luxuries of never moving during my childhood was that fewer decisions had to be made about what was valuable

enough to keep and what might need to be left behind. Neither Mom or Dad had very many artifacts to share from their childhoods or youth, but they made sure that they kept and celebrated my early “work” at school. By doing so, they affirmed its value and their pride in who I was becoming. While my poem to Mitchell might lead people to believe that he was my first “love”, in truth I had already developed a life-long love before he caught my eye. I fell in love my very first day of school - not with a person per se, but with the whole idea of learning, playing and working creatively. I came home from my first day of Kindergarten with a bundle of pictures I had painted under my arm and I knew then that my teacher and my time at school were sprinkled with magic and warmth. How thankful I am that in my early years as a student, I learned that school was an exciting, hospitable place to be and to grow. I believe that those first positive experiences in the classroom played a significant role in setting me up to succeed academically. I fell in love with school on my very first day in Kindergarten and I fell in love with teaching more than twenty years later when I found myself back in Kindergarten again. I confess that I had been more than reluctant at first to switch from teaching English Literature at the high school level to teaching four and five years olds how to read. Along the way, however, my kindergarteners taught me a lot more than I had ever imagined. Their curiosity and creativity renewed my commitment to fostering WONDER in the classroom as a foundation for life-long learning for all ages.


●●●●

Kindergarten at four, WDCX, garbled car radio hear, Chuck speaks. Thumbprints on the easel-page, pictures, painted words, sleepy-eyed dreams, wooly pink blanket on the classroom floor. A

wonder-filled

my school when I was four.

place,


Mapping Identities Each time I look at a world map, I can’t help but recall the world map mural that was drawn on the wall in the hallway outside of our school gym. I must have been about ten years old at the time. It was during the late eighties when multicultural education was being promoted heavily in schools. A teacher circulated through classes one afternoon to take pictures of students who came from other parts of the world. We were asked to volunteer if we wanted be photographed for our school’s multicultural map. Students’ photographs were then pinned up on the world map for display and strings were attached from each photo to a pin that represented our school in Toronto. In retrospect, I am positive that the school-wide initiative to map students’ points of origin was intended to celebrate the school’s multiculturalism. It was a way of showcasing the diverse cultural heritages that were represented in the student body. A dilemma arose, however, when I volunteered to be photographed for the mural. The teacher took a polaroid shot of me against another wall and then asked, “Where are you from?” She wanted to know where she should pin my picture on the world map. When I explained that my father was from India and my mother was Japanese, it became unclear as to where I belonged. The map already had a photograph of a student from India, so it might have seemed a reasonable compromise to put my photo on Japan. But, I already understood that I did not look like I was Japanese. My brown skin made me look more Indian. There were no other children in my year who had parents from two different visible minority groups. No plan was in place or even any language available to talk about the possibility for someone to have multiple points of origin. In the end, a “real” Japanese student must have been found as I was given my polaroid shot to take home at the end of the day. We didn’t know where to put me on the map. Literally and metaphorically, I took my mixed identities home from school that day. My experiences as a culturally diverse student have informed my classroom practice as an educator in a variety of culturally and linguistically diverse settings. Taken together, my experiences as a student and as a teacher continue to shape my questions as a researcher. How do we build inclusive learning communities? How to do we affirm and invite students’ diverse ways of knowing and being into our classrooms? What does it look like in daily practice to reconceptualize diversity as resource rather than as problem?


●●●●● ●●●●● Ten, time of difference, too many lines draw, no single place of origin Pins, can’t put me down, here or there. Anywhere? Do I belong? World-views COLLIDE, And I, always in-between. An e v e r - d i v i d i n g place, My non-space when I was ten.


Either / or versus both-and-also Failure was never an option in our family. If I brought home a mark of 97%, Dad would invariably ask, “What happened to the other 3%?” Although I always felt my parents set high expectations for me, I also always knew their support. Education was always a priority for my parents and they lived sacrificially so that my sister and I could have everything we might possibly need to succeed at school: they took turns reading to us before bed; Mom sat at the kitchen table with us while we worked on our homework after dinner; Dad turned off my bedroom light and reminded me that I needed sleep when I was up too late studying in high school; they helped us develop discipline through swimming lessons and piano lessons; and they took us on camping, and cottaging and on summer vacations around the world. It was in grade ten that I began to sense a divide growing between my life at school and at home. A conflict arose between my commitment to playing the piano at home and to learning the viola at school. I had started private piano lessons when I was in grade 1 and then in grade 6, I began playing the viola at school, as well. I thoroughly enjoyed playing both instruments. Whereas playing the piano allowed me to express myself creatively as an individual, playing in the orchestra allowed me to make music in concert with others. When I was in grade 10, however, I was forced to choose between instruments because the annual Kiwanas music festival competitions for the school orchestra and for the piano fell on the same day, at the same time in two different locations. I choose to go forward with the piano competition. As a result, I had to quit the orchestra. I performed Bach’s Inventio III successfully on the piano the day of the competition and came away with an award and my name in the listings in the local paper the next day. I was happy with my performance and I knew my parents were proud. I think we even went out for dinner to celebrate! At the same time, however, my joy in that success was undercut by my sinking awareness that my decision to play the piano outside of school meant that I could no longer play the viola at school. I had in a sense been forced to choose between home and school - and at that time, I choose home. I wonder now whether that was a necessary decision. How do choices become framed between home and school rather than as collaborative combinations of both-and-also? What is lost by not incorporating the plurality of students’ practices outside of school into the classroom? What might be gained? What are the implications of asking children and youth to choose between their identities at home, at school, in their communities? Comment peut-on créer des espaces dans lesquels des gens peuvent être bien dans leur peau?


●●●●● ●●●●● ● ●●●●● Sixteen, not so sweet, instrumental choices home

school D I V I D E

Viola dropped. Piano playing on, until I quit - both Who’s choice was that? A very limiting place, No both or in-between space, when I was sixteen.


It’s never quite as simple as floating around on cloud nine....


●●●●● ●●●●● ●●●● ●●●●● Nineteen, university-bound, living a dream, floating around with my cupid-crown. Good Indian boy found. So, it was arranged. Happily ever after? Might we be(come) ONE TRUE Indian family? A very idealized place, my heart and mind when I was nineteen.


Labels It was March of my second year of university and I had had an unrelenting pain in my side for weeks. I was reluctant to let the pain derail me as I had had a history of ovarian cysts rupturing since I was 16. The doctors I had seen in the preceding weeks presumed that my discomfort at the time was probably more of the same. I remember that Mom and Dad came to visit me in Kingston over the weekend to deliver some in-person love and care. Then, Mom called again first thing on Monday morning once they had returned home. “Go to the hospital, Gail,” she urged. Maybe it wasn’t just a cyst bursting this time. I was reading Atwood’s novel Cat’s Eye for my Women Writers course and I had an appointment scheduled later that afternoon with the teaching assistant to discuss my paper. I didn’t want to miss the appointment but I reluctantly agreed to go to the hospital because the pain was not subsiding. My tolerance for pain turned out to be greater then anyone had believed. My appendix was leaking. Even though the doctor operated immediately, there were complications. Further testing was required. So, as I lay in my hospital bed for the next two weeks, I reconciled myself to taking a medical leave for absence for the next year. My parents moved me home to Toronto so our family doctor could coordinate all the specialists I would need to see. It was a time filled with more questions than answers, a time of uncertainty, undoing, and brokenness. My world, as I understood it, shattered to pieces. Blood tests. Biopsies. Hair loss. Fevers. Fatigue. Reading in bed no longer came naturally. I could not escape. And, no matter how hard I tried to concentrate, the letters always seemed jumbled on the page. How do you go from being an English Literature major to being unable to read simple words on a magazine page? I didn’t recognize myself. My eventual diagnosis with an chronic immune disease was a medical

My eventual diagnosis with an chronic immune disease was a medical identification I was not ready to assume. I recognized that it was not the end of the world in the sense that the disease was not terminal. But as a twenty-one year old, I didn’t know how to reconcile my multiple identities as a daughter, student, teacher candidate, wife-to-be with the label LUPUS. Other people in my life were equally unprepared for how their lives might be affected by my condition. In particular, the marriage arrangement that had been proposed was retracted. My new medical identification precipitated other social and cultural identifications: I had become un-marriable. At the time, I came to see myself as diseased - at dis-ease in my own body. As a teacher-researcher, and as a empathetic individual, I am concerned about the labels that we inscribe on others. As adults, the way we see and engage with children and youth, in particular, shape the ways in which they come to see themselves. In his book, A Bend in the Road, V. S. Naipaul writes: “We make ourselves according to the ideas we have of our possibilities” (p. 152). Through my practice as an educator, I seek to cast a greater vision of the potentialities of my students, to add to their banks positive ideas about their possibilities. I foster a learning environment in which students see themselves as capable, valuable, contributing members through scaffolded instruction so that students fashion identities of competence that they carry with them beyond the walls of our classroom into their communities.


●●●●● ●●●●● ●●●●● ●●●●● ● Twenty-one, no longer dreaming,

cauchemar noir, Doctors without answers,

visionblurred par ents unknowing, only one voice heard

“You are unmarriable.” heart soul body mind

brokenness A shattering place, my hospital bed world when I was twenty-one.


Believing with the caterpillars I was determined to resume my studies at Queen’s after my medical leave. I longed to return to “NORMAL”. My identity as a student was perhaps the only thing about which I felt certain and I reasoned that if I could just go back to university, I might be able to piece together the shards of my life and live meaningfully again. I moved back to Kingston, Ontario with a mission to finish my degree and to find a way out of the isolation I had felt being away. The return was not as smooth as I had hoped it would be. I had actually been away for more than a year and in that time, friends had graduated and peers had moved on. I was taking medication day and night and everything everything seemed to take longer: readings, assignments, even mustering the strength to push open heavy library doors. One late fall afternoon, I walked down Princess Street into one of my favorite paper shops, Send in the Clowns. I was likely looking for a birthday card to my sister when a photo magnet caught my eye. In the small black and white picture, a little girl in a white dress was twirling around. She had translucent wings delicately tied with ribbons across her back and over her arms. The ivy crown perched on her head made her look like a fairy as she closed her eyes and spun in her backyard. My eyes moved to read the inscription below the photograph: “Just when the caterpillar thought it was all over... she became a butterfly.” I could feel the tears began welling up inside me. Before I could stop myself, I felt the stream spilling down my cheek. How I ached to believe with the caterpillars that the chrysalis of chronic illness that I had come to inhabit might become a transforming space for me. I needed to believe that somehow I might come through the darkness as a butterfly. I began to wonder about what sustaining stories caterpillars might share about the process of metamorphosis. Do caterpillars know how dark it will be inside their chrysalides? Are they prepared for the process because they spin their chrysalides themselves? Do they ever feel trapped? Are they afraid? It may seem like a rather fanciful distraction to imagine caterpillars and butterflies conversing with each other, but it was a helpful questioning process for me to reflect on how my story might be shared and my experiences redeemed. Believing with the caterpillars gave me a new way of seeing myself as in the midst of a transformative process of becoming rather than in a stagnant place of settling. As I worked toward finishing my degree, I had a number of professors who helped me to continue believing with the caterpillars. Dr. Rosemary Jolly introduced me to post-colonial literature and encouraged me to explore the writings of Bapsi Sidwah, Homi bhbaba and V.S. Naipaul. I wove connections among my diverse cultural heritages and the narratives they so carefully crafted. Dr. Sylvia Soderlind challenged me to be at home with uncertainty and boundaries blurring through the post-modern writings of Michael Ondaatje, Maxine Kingston Hong and Leonard Cohen. Dr. Catherine Harland offered one-on-one tutorials when I had to be away for medical appointments in Toronto. She saw my potential future when I could only see the painful present. Each of these women sent me home when I dragged myself into class and they recognized that it would be better for me in bed. Wisdom could be gleaned from rest, perhaps more than knowledge gained from in-class participation. They were passionate about their subject matter and compassionate with me as a learner. In the end, I finished my degree with distinction by finding and accepting grace within academe. These women, among others, modeled graceful pedagogy and professorship. And in retrospect, they helped to fashion my wings. I see my illness now as a gift of transformation and re-creation. Thankfully, the good days now far outnumber the difficult ones. In the process, I have learned to demonstrate grace because I have received it in abundance. As a teacher, my first-hand experience makes me acutely aware of the significant role I play in making classroom participation accessible for all my students. On most days, one wouldn’t know that I am not always well. But, now I see my students with different eyes and appreciate that their intricate life stories may not be obvious at first glance. As I slide my glasses from the top of my head down the bridge of my nose to start each new class, I am mindful that I need to see my students with lenses of grace.


●●●●● ●●●●● ●●●●● ●●●●● ●●● Twenty-three, two years later, searching for my Third Space, an in-between enunciative place, a way through pain, struggle on,

GRACE An overcoming place, my chrysalis when I was twenty-three.


Knowing “It will be like stepping into France every day,” the Proviseur prepared me as we finished the final interview for a position as an English teacher at a French International school in Toronto. I had never imagined that I would teach in a private school but the timing of this opportunity was a gift. Dad had suffered a massive heart attack that winter and I couldn’t bear not being home in Toronto. It was as if when his heart stopped, mine broke all over again. The image of him laying in the hospital bed, small and weak, is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. We had our differences over the years but in that moment when I was confronted with the possibility of not having him in my life, loving perspective bridged divides. I needed him to know. I loved him. As much as he needed to go through therapy to regain his health in the months that followed, the only thing that could ease the fear, and heal the brokenness in my heart was for all of us to be together again. This new teaching position provided the added luxury of being immersed in French while teaching English Language and Literacy at the elementary level, all in Toronto Apart from other language teachers, my colleagues were all from France. Our classes were relatively small groups of about 16 students. Students were a mix of culturally and linguistically diverse anglophones, francophones and allophones. I knew that accepting the position at a local, French international school was likely the closest I’d get to a French-immersion, cultural exchange experience for at least a couple years. And, a linguistic and cultural exchange it was! My students, their families and the staff brought new, challenging worlds into my experience each day. Through my role as teacher, I also came to know myself as a learner. I found myself in a serendipitous paradox of being at once both language teacher and language learner. Through these shared experiences, I came to appreciate the importance of honouring students’ ways of knowing and drawing upon the diverse resources that we all variously bring to our learning.


●●●●● ●●●●● ●●●●● ●●●●● ●●●●● Twenty-five, starting new. English teacher,

équipe française, (second) language learner, mal à l’aise. Myself-student-teacher languages intermingling beginning to wonder

DREAM A new kind of place possibility space, my classroom when I was twenty-five.


My Box When I started my Master of Arts, I realized my privilege afresh as I looked around my classes - a privilege made possible by the sacrifice of my parents who had sought to give me more opportunity then they ever had or could have imagined. As I read scholarly research over the course of my first term, I developed a sinking awareness that the thesis that I would eventually produce in order to complete the program would likely be inaccessible to my parents who had so lovingly nurtured me and my reading and questioning of the world. I struggled with the disconnect that as a teacher-researcher I was advocating inclusive literacy practices in classrooms while using academic language and scholarly form that were by definition exclusive. I began to wonder how would my research questions and eventual findings about alternative literacies might find expression authentically in ways that would resonate with culturally and linguistically diverse participants, and be accessible - provocative - for teachers, students, parents, those outside the university. Arthur Bochner’s article “Criteria Against Ourselves” unfolded as an epiphany for me. He writes: “Traditionally, we have worried much more about how we are judged as ‘scientists’ by other scientists than about whether our work is useful, insightful or meaningful - and to whom. We get preoccupied with rigor, but are neglectful of imagination… Sometimes I feel that criteria are the very means we ourselves created to contain our desire for freedom and experience, a way of limiting our own possibilities and stifling our creative energy…Instead of asking, how can this be true? We could ask, what if this were true? What then? (2000, p. 267) I began to wonder again: How does poetry create open spaces for the expression of truth? Might poetry bridge my (re)newed academic identity and my fascination with language? Would I dare to risk? How can the Arts inform research such that its processes and renderings become more accessible, desirable, and provoking? I continue to question, wandering through wonder in order to grow.


●●●●● ●●●●● ●●●●● ●●●●● ●●● ●●●●● Twenty-eight, letters, count me, CTL, SLE, CIDE, MA, OISE, UT, SSHRC, RX, GLP. Can U decode me? Deconstruct me? Relate to me? A theoretical place, my academic box when I was twenty-eight.


Names My time at the Village of Hope (VOH) lead me to consider afresh the importance of names. Over the first few days, I found myself serving as nurse in the orphanage medical clinic, measuring and weighing children, and helping to translate medical records. Before the children saw the doctor, I was responsible for updating each child’s chart. “Comment t’appeles-tu?” I began. Little brown eyes stared back at me and a small hand reached to grab hold of my arm as the little boy tried to stand on the scale. How could he not know his own name? I wondered. Patrick, a local Burkinabé youth who served as a house parent for the older boys, suggested that I ask them for the boy’s father’s name. In their villages, children are called by their father’s name first. Ouedragou, Sylvain. Campore, Rasmata. “Quel est le nom de ton père?” I persisted. “Papa.” Naturally, the 6 year old child standing before me had only ever known his father as “Papa”. And, now his papa was gone. I was in a different world - a world in which children’s relationships with their parents are cut short by illness, by poverty and by an absence of options to live alternatively. When I had stepped out of my academic box in Toronto to travel to the Village of Hope, none of the theoretical reading I had done on educational policy and literacy in Burkina Faso had prepared me for the reality I encountered when I arrived. I was not unaware of how the global inequities manifest in diverse ways in different local settings. I had interned in the Middle East and North Africa with Habitat for Humanity. I had volunteered in Honduras in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, and I was preparing to return to India again after this project in Burkina. Nonetheless, I was unprepared. The children at VOH seemed like ghosts of Ethiopian children I had seen on World Vision commercials during drought and famine. Only now, I could not change the channel. I needed to respond ethically, morally, practically. Immediately. My purpose for going to the Village of Hope was far from participating in a medical service, but that was the most pressing need upon arrival. Perhaps, this was my first lesson in making Comparative,

upon arrival. Perhaps, this was my first lesson in making Comparative, International and Development education theory practical: Attend to what is VITAL first. Updating children’s medical charts after summer vacation was the first step to getting them ready to start a new school year. Children had returned to their villages for the summer vacation. It was as important for them to maintain their connection to their village communities as it was for them to be attending school and having adequate nourishment and health care. The children had been given a bag a rice to take with them to support basic nutrition over the summer – the rice could be supplemented with other food their home village caregiver might find and together, they could be sustained over the summer months. Nonetheless, most children, particularly the younger ones, returned to Village of Hope malnourished and ill. Before children could begin school, they needed their basic needs to be addressed. In the life of a child, a lost mother, father or both parents, an empty stomach, an infected body with malaria or meningitis, all trump learning to read printed text at school. From the outset of my Bridging Literacies project, I needed to put my work and the children’s and teachers’ lives into perspective. One morning as I was walking back to my hut, a young girl slipped her hand into mine. Alimata stopped me and tried her best to articulate her heart in French to me – “je veux que tu m’aime – être amie avec moi. J’ai perdu ma mère. J’ai perdu mon père, Je veux que tu m’aimes.” Her expectant eyes glimmered with hope, and her voice was soft as she whispered her story to me. In that moment, I came to appreciate the heart of James 4:17 - you cannot visit orphans and widows in their distress without entering into their daily lives. Alimata is the name of a one child at VOH, a name that represents countless interwoven life stories. She had been at the Village of Hope for 5 years and was just entering grade six. She spoke Gueswinde, some Mooré and has learned French at school. She is an orphan. She is also a resilient, plurilingual, hope-filled child. Alimata taught me afresh as a teacher and a researcher to linger long over the intricate details of students’ lives and to invest the time in listening to their individual heart stories.


●●●●● ●●●●● ●●●●● ●●●●● ●●●● ●●●●● Twenty-nine, Two hundred seventy-nine times, kilometres, measured to find,

HOPE faith and love unexpectedly Four hundred twenty times, kilometres, travelled again, journey home,

!"#$ %$& ' rooted, then routed back again, An intimately connected place, my globe, when I was twenty-nine.


Identity Métissage at Weekend Breakfast Table Flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. On their own, these ingredients can’t be fully appreciated. When we carefully measure them, gently mix them together with sugar, cinnamon, butter and cream, and given them due time to rise in a hot oven, they combine to make an absolutely delectable start to our weekend time together. As we sip our coffee and bite into fluffy, fresh cinnamon rolls dripping with icing, we remember: we are better together. Linger and listen at the table. Sweeter, stronger and fuller than we are apart. ... a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12; TLB) We are a métis civilization. (Saul, 2008, p. 3) We are in the middle of our stories and cannot be sure how they will end; we are constantly having to revise the plot as new events are added to our lives. Self, then, is not a static thing or a substance, but a configuring of personal events into an historical unity which includes not only what one has been but also anticipations of what one will be. (Polkinghorne, 1988, p. 150) Les processus créatifs permettent aux littératies d’aller au-delà des littératies multiples, de les prolonger, de les transformer et de transformer les apprenants. (Masny & Waterhouse, 2009, p. 359). Through writing autobiographically teachers and researchers constitute their lives and mobilize their identities and agencies in ways they otherwise might not: through the act of writing autobiographically, they continually face who they have been and who they are becoming in the particularity of their situated bios and ecologies. (Hasebe-Ludt, Chambers & Leggo, 2009, p. 34)


●●●●● ●●●●● ●●●●● ●●●●● ●●●●● ●●●●● Thirties, my twenties reinterpreted, choosing love, unconditionally, Japanese, Indian, Irish, American no hybrids, not half-bred anglophone, francophone, allophone interwoven threads unfinished Canadian, I am. My wholeness place, body, mind, heart, one braided space, when I am in my thirties.


The Art of Technology Your transaction has been completed successfully. The automatic message popped up on my screen after I clicked the button to submit my thesis electronically. My transaction had been completed successfully? Was that message the official acknowledgement that I had met the program requirements for my Master of Arts and could proceed with doctoral studies? I found it rather anti-climactic and unsatisfying that I had invested two years of my life in a process and a product that culminated in an impersonal, computer-generated identifier: http:// hdl.handle.net/1807/18108. My thesis examined teachers’ practices of in/ex-clusion of culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) children in one Frenchlanguage school and through the process of writing, my thesis became an identity text for me. (Cummins, 2006) My initial interest in studying teachers’ practices with CLD learners had autobiographical roots from my own experiences both as a student and as a teacher. Beyond these commonalities, the process of writing the thesis itself played a significant role in my life as I negotiated my identities as a teacher-graduate studentresearcher, French-as-a-second-language learner, English-French bilingual, daughter-sister-fiancée, assistant-colleague-friend, and homeschool-community-juggler. I wrote largely in English, but transcribed teachers’ voices and preserved them in French throughout the thesis. I integrated narrative classroom vignettes, photographs from observations, and venn diagrams to represent my theoretic framing of alter(n)ative pedagogy. To authentically represent the final focus group with teachers on francoontarian identity, I transcribed our conversation poetically and crafted a multi-vocal poem in French as a bridge between my discussion of traditional Literacy and alter(n)ative pluriliteracies in practice. The act of writing the thesis was simultaneously an academic and a creative process. In my mind, one could not be separated from the other; I

could not engage partially - either academically or artfully. In order to be truthful with myself, my participants and my audience, I needed to be WHOLE. I found it difficult to believe that I had actually finished the thesis when the automatic message came up on my screen at the end of the submission process. I suddenly felt as though I had become disconnected from my work. It was no longer tangible - only virtual. I was alone in my office without a person with whom to share the moment. What is lost through technological advances? What might be artfully gained? Can assessment and evaluation be(come) organic process? How? Because I found the electronic submission process destabilizing, I decided to take up the ancient art of bookbinding. I wanted to compare the process of bookmaking by hand and the process of on-line publishing. I attended my first class this fall and sat with a group of women from diverse backgrounds around a studio table with our instructor. We were present together to learn how to tear cumbersome sheets of handmade paper down to size; how to divide sheets into signatures, how to puncture holes delicately using an awl and cradle; how to wax linen thread in order for our stitches to hold; and, how to sew signatures together to create a coptic braided spine. It was a community process, learning together and over the course of the evening, sharing our stories of how we had come to be in this place. I appreciate books bound by hand because the personal attention and care that goes into creating them is tangible. At the same time, I recognize the limits of how physical texts can be shared. Information and communication technologies (ICT) allow for virtual texts to be shared exponentially. How can the virtues of ICT be used to integrate the Arts broadly or narrowly defined in research? How can technology be used to build creative communities that multiply opportunities for collaboration, affirmation and dissemination? How do Art and technology come together to advance pluriliteracies practices? As a teacher and a researcher, I now seek ways to experiment with technology artfully as an amplifier for students’ work and their whole, plural identities.


●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●● ●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●● ●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●● ●●●●●●●●●●●●●●●● Tomorrow, yet to come. A story to be written, a poem to be sung, Will I dare? Would you listen? Can we share? vision clear

CO - CREATE An inclusive place, an integrated diverse space, when will this tomorrow be?


● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ●

IMAGES Photos from top to bottom, left to right: 1. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11.

“Blended Delivery”: Origami stork Indian pink paisely Chiyogami paper “Creativity”: tissue paper sun on water colour paper “Tangled Pins”: crayon mapping with pushpins and twine “Separation”: grey winter coat zipper “Cloud Nine”: cotton ball structure “Jars of Clay”: shattered glazed clay pot “Ancient Spheres”: Qutab complex, Delhi, India “escaliers”: stairs descending from Monmartre, Paris, France “boxes”: ink print on printed paper “Global Return”: black and white, Taj Mahal reflection, Agra India “In Progress”: cinnamon rolls in oven “Signatures”: book-binding workshop materials

Photo Triads: page 4: "Bloom" : Cherry blossoms in High Park, Toronto. Engagement photos by Karen Dyck. Used with permission. page 6: "Print": Primary printing lines page 8: "Dividing Lines": Watercolour and ink page 10: "Notes on Bach": pencil on Inventio III, J.S. Bach; G. Henle Verlag HN 64 page 12: "les bulles": tempera and soap, "Bubbles et les bulles" poem painting page 14: "Noir": Graphics, keynote slides page 16: "les papillions": printed paper page 18: "Learning to Write Again": Clairefontaine cahier page 20: "Alter-Natifs": Shimmering H20s, poem painting page 22: "After the Rain": Flowers at the Village of Hope, Burkina Faso page 24: "Fall": Leaves in Lover's Lane, Cavenish, Prince Edward Island page 26: "Flow" Watercolour


Bibliography Ada, A. F., & Campoy, F. I. (2004). Authors in the Classroom. Toronto: Pearson Education. Appadurai, A. (2002). Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy. In J. X. Inda & R. Rosaldo (Eds.), The anthropology of globalization: a reader. Malden: Blackwell Publishers Inc. Bochner, A. P. (2000). Criteria Against Ourselves. Qualitative Inquiry, 6(2), 266-272. Cecil, N. L. (1997). For the Love of Poetry: Literacy Scaffolds, Extension Ideas, and Mare. Winnipeg: Peguis Publishers.

Hasebe-Ludt, E., Chambers, C. M., & Leggo, C. (2009). Life Writing

and Literary MĂŠtissage as an Ethos for our Times (Vol. 27). New York: Peter Lang. Inda, J. X., & Rosaldo, R. (Eds.). (2002). The anthropology of globalization: a reader. Malden: Blackwell Publishers, Inc. Knowles, J. G., & Cole, A. L. (Eds.). (2008). Handbook of the ARTS in Qualitative Research: Perspectives, Methodologies, Examples and Issues. London: Sage Publications.

Knowles, J. G., Luciani, T., Cole, A. L., & Neilson, L. (Eds.). (2007). The Art of Visual Inquiry. Halifax: Backalong Books. Cohen, A. (2007). The Unfinished Canadian. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Ltd. Knowles, J. G., Promislow, S., & Cole, A. L. (Eds.). (2008). Creating Scholartistry: Imagining the Arts-informed Thesis or Dissertation. Cole, A. L., & Knowles, J. G. (2008). Researching Teaching: Exploring Halifax: Backalong Books. teacher development through reflexive inquiry. Halifax: Backalong Books. Leavy, P. (2009). Method Meets Art: Arts-based Research Practice. New York: Guilford Press. Cole, A. L., & Knowles, J. G. (Eds.). (2001). Lives in Context: The art of life history research. New York: AltaMira Press. Naipaul, V. S. (1989). A Bend in the River. New York: Vintage International. Cole, A. L., Neilson, L., Knowles, J. G., & Luciani, T. (Eds.). (2004). Provoked by Art: Theorizing Arts-Informed Research. Halifax: Neilson, L., Cole, A. L., & Knowles, J. G. (Eds.). (2001). The Art of Backalong Books. Writing Inquiry. Halifax: Backalong Books. Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (Eds.). (2000). Multiliteracies: Literacy Learning Polkinghorne, D. E. (1988). Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences. and the Design of Social Futures. New York: Routledge. Albany: State University of New York Press. Cummins, J. (2001). Negotiating identities: education for empowerment in a Prasad, G. (2009). Alter(n)ative Literacies: Elementary teachers' practices diverse society (2nd ed.). Ontario, CA: California Association for with Culturally and Linguistically Diverse learners in one FrenchBilingual Education. language school in Ontario. Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Toronto. http://hdl.handle.net/ Cummins, J. (2006). Identity Texts: The Imaginative Construction of Self 1807/18108 through Multiliteracies Pedagogy. In O. Garcia, T. Skutnabb-Kangas & M. E. Torres-Guzman (Eds.), Imagining Multilingual Schools: Smolin, L. I., & Lawless, K. (2010). Using Multiliteracies to Facilitate Language in Education and Glocalization (pp. 51-68). Toronto: Culturally Relevant Pedagogy in the Classroom. In D. R. Cole & Multilingual Matters Ltd. D. L. Pullen (Eds.), Multiliteracies in Motion: Current Theory and Practice (pp. 173-188). New York: Routledge. Denos, C., Toohey, K., Neilson, K., & Waterstone, B. (2009). Collaborative Research In Multilingual Classrooms. Toronto: Multilingual Matters. Tsing, A. (2002). The Global Situation. In J. X. Inda & R. Rosaldo (Eds.), The anthropology of globalization: a reader. Malden: Blackwell Publishers Inc.


Profile for Gail  Prasad

Negotiating My Identities by Gail Prasad  

Personal "Identity Text" created for Arts-Informed Research Methods course at OISE/UT with Prof. Ardra Cole in Fall 2009: An exploration of...

Negotiating My Identities by Gail Prasad  

Personal "Identity Text" created for Arts-Informed Research Methods course at OISE/UT with Prof. Ardra Cole in Fall 2009: An exploration of...

Profile for gprasad
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