Letting Go of the Ledge

by Community Blog on April 23, 2012

Author: Yasmina Alpargatas

My name is Yasmina Alpargatas, I am a mixed woman of the diaspora, of East African/Gujarati Indian and Uruguayan/Italian/Spanish/Guarani ancestry, born and raised in Toronto, Canada.

I can’t stop thinking about it. I’ve got to walk out of my job. Every day, it feels less and less right, being there. Every day I’m capable of taking less shit. I’m opening my mouth and speaking out. I just can’t hold it in any longer.  The culture of my work is soul crushing, and she is crying out to be released. The irony is that she sits in a cage whose door is open. And it is my mind who has been blind and is only now beginning to see the opening.

I can no longer take the individualistic attitudes of my work place that shove us into silos, that stop us from being able to support each other, listen to each other and collaborate. I work for a not for profit youth organization in a low income Toronto neighbourhood. I can no longer take the conservative “well that’s just the way it is” arguments, that function as excuses to thinking or acting in a more just way, that further bind us to the status quo and that trap us into cycles of poverty and unwellness. I can no longer take an insecure boss who exerts authority by demanding everyone to bow down to her, while she is free to make any blunder under the sky, without being held accountable. I refuse to work under someone who does not value me as a person, who does not demonstrate respect for my time and knowledge, for my feelings, with whom I have to struggle just to coordinate a moment to sit eye to eye and with whom human interactions feel contrived and unnatural. I will not bow down to her. She must earn my respect.

Am I courageous enough to respond to my intuition? Am I able to risk the security of a pretty good job doing what I love, for the unknown path?

It’s complicated. The work is important, and I love it. Creating space within the school system for real, relevant, system-flipping learning is as necessary as air and water. And unfortunately there’s simply not enough of it happening. So I am on the one hand, grateful to have access to this space to create room for discussion for learning and unlearning, for building sisterhood, critical thinking and community. While on the other hand, I am stifled working within the school system. I’m limited in terms of time and space. I work with girls, in a room in a school over lunch hour – time that they should be free to play! And when they come, they are coming with a schooled mind, thinking in boxes. It takes time to unschool, to play, to break out of those boxes before we can get into deeper places. And by the time we start to scratch the surface, the bell rings and off they have to go. Just working within that environment, where they are playing the student role, makes it harder for them not to see me in the teacher role, and for me not to assume it. How far can you break out of an oppressive structure when you work within it?

The purpose of schooling on this land was to wipe out difference. To assimilate so-called foreigners into the white, middle class, agrarian values of the colonialists. The hidden curriculum can be seen today in the ways in which indigenous knowledges and knowledges of people of colour, are not taught: the history of Turtle Island is told from the perspective of the White Man; certain behaviours, ways of speaking and dressing which fit with the white, middle class ‘norm’ are preferred to others disadvantaging kids of colour and lower class from the get go. Why do you think the push out rate for black males is the highest? Creativity is stifled. Self-directed learning is discouraged and people end up not finding their talents because they’re never given the freedom to explore them, let alone themselves.

Is there a way to negotiate doing the work in the schools, without putting up with the hassle of my organization? Is there a way to work in schools without reproducing the schooling model? What would that look like?

Or do I just walk out? Find other like-minded, kindred spirits and start my own radikal learning program/centre. That’s been the dream for years now, and I’ve been holding onto the ledge, not letting myself be fully immersed in it. Not letting myself enter the flow, and commit to building this dream. The fear of financial insecurity has always been a pillar in my way. And yet I hear the messages are telling me at this point in time, to follow my inner truth and enter the flow, trusting that all will be well and that overcoming the fear of insecurity will bring me closer to actualizing my fullest self.

So here I go! Courageously vulnerable, I am letting go of the ledge, and so excited for what lies ahead. As soon as I made the decision to walk out, the doors have begun to open. I’m re-mounting a play I co-wrote and directed to tackle the challenges of schooling, and will be co-creating another one with youth this summer. I’m creating a dance piece with my partner capturing a story about the relationship between corn and humans over time, and I’m committed to learning with my community, how to farm this summer. I’m grateful for these openings in my life and can’t wait to jump right in.