Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Summer Teacher Institute: Exploration of the African Diaspora in the Americas

July 11th, 2009

By: Denise Woltering-Vargas

Photo: Participants of the 2009 LARC Summer Teacher Institute learning Haitian dance steps with dancer, Peniel Guerrier. (Photos by Tulane University’s Photographter Sally Asher)

Eleven teachers participated in the Latin American Resource Center’s summer 2009 teacher institute. The Stone Center for Latin American Studies, the Center for African Studies at University of Florida, Gainesville and the New Orleans Dance Festival hosted this year’s summer teacher institute entitled, Exploration of the African Diaspora in the Americas. Three of the eleven teachers participating in the summer institute came from outside of Louisiana (Illinois, Kansas and Houston, Texas). The remaining eight educators were from Louisiana. Of those participants from Louisiana, there were two teachers from the Recovery School District, two from East Baton Rouge parish, one from West Feliciana parish, one from St. Tammany parish, and two from Jefferson parish. The educators teach Social Studies, World Geography, Art, Music, Spanish, and there was one librarian in attendance.

Teachers participating in this year’s institute were able to learn about the African Diaspora in Latin America from dancers, cultural anthropologists, ethnomusicologists, librarians, as well as from other teachers. Integrating dance workshops, academic presentations, library visits, and performances, the institute highlighted the power of using local community resources to address global issues. The institute traced the African Diaspora in Latin America through in-depth looks at Africa and the Trans-Atlantic slave voyages and its interpretation through dance. Dancers from Haiti, Cuba, and Brazil highlighted specific movement and rhythms which can be felt and seen in the dances of Congo Square in New Orleans, LA. With a special focus on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, educators were able to link important resources found on campus and within the community to content taught in their classrooms. All who participated in this institute were able to physically experience some of the many connections that New Orleans and the United States as a whole shares with Latin America. The institute enabled teachers to create curricula on the diversity of Latin America and it gave them the ability to make global connections to the traditional content already taught in textbooks in the K-12 classroom. Educators were able to leave with a better understanding of New Orleans’ cultural role in fostering African Diaspora and movement from the Americas. They also learned about the valuable resources and other opportunities available at National Resource Centers on Africa and Latin America, the Amistad Research Center, and the Latin American Library at Tulane University.

Dr. Agnes Ngoma Leslie, Director of Outreach of the National Resource Center on Africa at the University of Florida led the institute with a presentation on the diversity of Africa. Dr. Leslie shared with educators the valuable resources available at the center as well as distributed curricula developed by the center. Key scholars in the field of African Diaspora and world renowned dancers continued the dialogue and extended the discussion of the African Diaspora in the Americas. Dr. Rosanne Adderley of the History department at Tulane and Christopher Harter from the Amistad Research Center concluded the first day with an in-depth look and analysis of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. They shared their research as well as some key tools and primary resources available on the web and in the Amistad Research Center to explore in the classroom.

The second day began with Afro-Cuban dancer, Danys Perez Prades or “La Mora” moving the group through the music, dance and social history of African Diaspora in Cuba. Issues of race and identity within Latin America were explored in La Mora’s workshop leading all participants eager to continue the discussion with Dr. Aaron Lorenz in the afternoon. Dr. Lorenz conducted a workshop using the Brazilian martial art, Capoeira, to explore these issues and suggested unique methods of introducing these topics in the K-12 classroom. Finally, David Dressing, the curator of Tulane University’s Latin American Library reminded everyone of the importance of primary resources and the wealth of information available to all teachers at their local library. Local teachers are able to continue to take advantage of The Latin American Library’s resources in their curriculum by setting up appointments to visit in the future.

Friday, the third day, focused the discussion on Haiti. Dancer Peniel Guerier from Haiti guided the group through the social history of Haiti and concluded his session by enabling all participants to feel the grace, strength, and power of the movement and dance of Haiti. The group was then reunited for lunch to discuss curriculum ideas and brainstorm their final products which will be turned into one cohesive curriculum unit by Fall 2009. Artist and scholar Monique Moss introduced the group to her work on Haiti and New Orleans with Samuel J. Green Middle School teacher, Nzinga. Monique taught a Latin American Studies course at Green Middle School this past spring 2009 to eleven seventh and eighth grade students. Her work is part of a project funded by the Latin American Resource Center called Latin American Collaborations. She worked with the school dance teacher, Nzinga to create an interdisciplinary curriculum exploring cultural connections between Haiti and New Orleans.

Her presentation enabled the summer institute educators to have a better understanding of how to implement the content into the classroom. Friday concluded with a final performance by the New Orleans Dance Festival performers. Beverly Trask, festival founder and director highlighted the connection New Orleans shares with the rhythms of Africa and the Americas throughout the performance.

Cynthia Garza and ethnomusicologist Ivor Miller concluded the discussions on identity and race by focusing on Peru and Cuba on the final day of the institute. Overall response from teachers was positive. One teacher said the major strength of the workshop was the: “variety of diverse richly informed and talented presenters; superior command of area of expertise.” Presenters were also positive and excited to continue the discussions generated by the institute. Future development and projects on connecting local culture to Latin America have already stirred interest among local artists, teachers and community leaders. All educators left the institute to continue work on their lesson plans which will be incorporated into one cohesive curriculum unit on African Diaspora in the Americas. This unit will be available online and in print to all educators and schools at no cost as part of the Latin American Resource Center’s lending library service. A few educators will also work together on a presentation for the National Council for Social Studies annual conference in 2010.

Coordinated through the Latin American Resource Center, this institute was sponsored by Tulane University’s Stone Center for Latin American Studies, the New Orleans Dance Festival, the Latin American Library, and the Amistad Research Center, and University of Florida’s Center for African Studies in Gainesville.

Brazil + People
Mauro Porto
Associate Professor - Communication