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~ Samantha Anglen
I learned a great deal this semester at Sierra College;
in Rocklin, California. I’ve been going there for two years
now. After my second semester I attended the Indigenous
Artist Activists Awards, and Professor Melissa Leal of the
Esselen Tribe was honored. I was privileged to be in the crowd of amazing indigenous people. The Professor read a beautiful poem that she wrote and I decided that I would attend her class next semester. That is also were I met Dawn Karima who would later help me get a scholarship with WNT Magazine.
The first thing that I learned in Professor Melissa Leal’s class (Ethnic Images in Film) was the four basic rules of being an open-minded individual: learn, don’t take offense, allow yourself to feel, and action. These really stood out for me because it seems so simple to understand, yet people do this commonly every day.
The second concept that we learned in this class was the fact that we need to understand that all races are a social construct. Once we understand this concept we come to understand that race is in fact fictional. Professor Leal taught us that segregation by race has caused ethnocentrism, stereotypes, and prejudices. How can this be when race is in fact scientifically illogical and unreal? This part of her class was my favorite because the Professor asked us to let down our invisible armor and say aloud what some of the stereotypes of different races are. She begins with herself in order to make the class comfortable as she says, “What are some of the stereotypes of Natives? I’ll begin with natives have flat bread butt.” and everyone laughed, but then people started throwing things out there and the conversation got heated. She changed the subject with “What about Asians?” some girl in the back of the room said “Asians have little parts”. The teacher goes on to say, what are some stereotypes of white people? And the Asian gentleman says, “White women are promiscuous”, and to be fair the words were harsher, but you get the idea. Throughout this time while our imaginary vests were down Professor Leal made funny jokes to lighten the mood of the room and redirected the conversation when it became unproductive. I admired that about her, and thought that this was a really good way to deal with these issues. She once said in class: “That we may argue this entire semester and not agree, but at least we had this conversation”. This quote stuck with me because sometimes you can’t change a bad situation but you can change how you are reacting to it. You also can refuse to be disrespected by handling a situation of discrimination with integrity and honor. At that point the attacker is only hurting themselves and like she said “at least we had that conversation”. Then at the end of the class the Professor defined discrimination. This was a brilliant way to begin the semester it really set the tone for the rest of the time we spent together. My favorite thing that the Professor would say often was, “You have to look deeper into that.” which means that sometimes the truth isn’t so obvious, and everyone should have a healthy amount of questions when defining their reality.
During the semester we watched a lot of videos but my favorite video was “Rebel Music Native America”. In this video the Professor really helped to define the concept of colonization on Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. A lot of people in the class didn’t know that reservations were prisoner of war camps. Now today the people are battling with colonization of the mind and police brutality. We learned about Inez Jasper who fights for missing and murdered indigenous women through music and so much more. She is my inspiration for positivity and awareness. I continued to look up to her music and I listen to it daily now as a personal inspiration.
By letting our guard down the professor helped open our minds to learning something knew. By utilizing humor and positivity the Professor taught us not to take offense. By allowing ourselves to feel we could say that we noticed the discrimination, it hurt, yet we aren’t going to let that hurt consume us.
Finally, Professor Leal taught us how to take action in a positive productive way without all of the drama. Any individual can take action by standing up for someone in a crisis. If you see someone being mistreated say something. Random acts of kindness come around in a full circle, so if you are kind it will make the world a better place. Finally, you can get educated on others cultures this will prevent you being offensive without awareness. Even though the whole class was about the history of ethnic images in film we learned so much more in Professor Leal’s class that we can take on with us and share with others, so the circle of life continues.