Making History Matter: Teaching Comparative African American and Latina/o Histories in an Age of Neoliberal Crisis

  • Paul Ortiz Temple University Press


This article critically evaluates a comparative ethnic studies course that I have taught at three different universities during the past fifteen years, called “African American and Latina/o Histories.” I am especially interested in the impact this form of education has on participants, many of whom are first-generation college students of color, as well as the ways that course alumni have taken what they have learned in the classroom into their work as community organizers, teachers, prison educators, art workers, parents, and other roles. An overarching concern here is how we can design courses that address the challenges that working-class students face in an era of mass incarceration, anti-immigrant hysteria, and anti-Black racism. As one of my students notes, “The agents of law and order encourage us to live in the shadows and their bulky flashlights keep us hiding.” In the current climate of fear, and in the shadow of family incarceration and deportations that so many of our students live under, how can educators create spaces where students are encouraged to critically examine the world they (we) live in? Equally important, how can students move from rigorous analysis to effective action and civic engagement?