The project Memorias del silencio is the outcome of a collaboration between BorderSenses and El Paso Community College’s Community Education Program. The objective of the project is to develop new academic opportunities for farm workers and to create venues that bring awareness to their condition as migrants in the United States. Through the GED courses that the CEP offers to farm workers and their families, we have offered creative writing workshops in various communities in the El Paso, Texas area. The pieces that have emerged from these workshops have been published in the book series Memorias del Silencio: Footprints of the Borderland.
The philosophy behind the writing workshops for Memorias del Silencio follows the ideologies of educator Paulo Freire who argues for a system of education that emphasizes learning as an act of culture and freedom. Thus, the workshops have been designed not only to teach the participants about literature, but to help them find new ways to reflect upon their lives, to share their experiences and become vehicles of education. We believe that by giving students the ability to understand whatever they read and the tools to develop new ways of expression for themselves, the possibility of filling in the gap that has prevailed in the official narrative of literature, history and education in general about the condition of migrants in this country can also become a reality. With the writing workshops that we offer, we want to make available to communities of migrant workers material that they can relate to, in their own language and close to their culture. We know that this approach not only teaches them about contemporary and classic literature, but helps them fully understand what literature is. In these workshops we mostly use texts from Latin American or Chicano authors in order to teach the participants about the differences and characteristics of the various literary genres. We focus on getting the students familiar on four main literary genres: poetry, short story, non-fiction (crónica) and essay. The workshops are designed to improve reading comprehension skills and we believe that by providing the students with material that they can relate to, both in terms of the content and language, we are already making it easier for them. Once the participants discover that they can actually enjoy reading, this opens many more doors for them. They read more, and since they can relate and understand the subject, they are able to think critically about these texts. It is easy for a reader to find the main idea in a text if the story is about something they have experienced themselves. The more they practice, the more confident they feel about their reading skills and this ends up benefiting the way they understand texts in all subjects. For every literary genre that we cover in the workshops the students read various examples and write their own pieces. With Pablo Neruda for example, they learn that an ode is a form of poetry and that there is someone who in his book of Elemental Odes, wrote odes for his socks, onions, salt, land, watermelon, love and the stars. The students write then odes to objects, places or people who are important to them. When students discover the joy of writing, they gain something more than literary education, art appreciation, reading comprehension or new ways of learning. They gain the possibility to make their voices be heard by those who don´t always want to hear them. By writing strong pieces, they raise their voice and force the public to listen. These pieces are both historical documents and pieces of literature.