Friday, July 23, 2010

The Art of the Question

The Art of the Question

Australian writer William Alfred (Bill) Beatty once wrote, “The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think – rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with thoughts of other men.”

When I write these blogs I never expect, or want my audience to accept at face value everything I’m inscribing. Nor to remember my opinion on the subject matter more than that of their own.

On the contrary, I write in hopes of conjuring up deep thought and critical thinking so that each person who reads my work will be left with an opinion of their own – in search of drawing personal conclusions in regards to the ‘why’s’ of the world.

Over the last few days while traveling with advocates of education with over eighty years experience amongst them, I learned a lesson that I will carry with me until my final breath… that lesson being that the answer is never more important than the question itself.

I learned over the last seventy-two hours that it is indisputably the question that is the seed of what eventually grows into a journey of roots, vines and leaves of answers… answers that allow us to grow into a tree of positive change only if action is taken. Thus the term activism is born.

Jorge Moreno-Cano, publisher of Urban Latino Magazine, coined the term “literary activist” for me, and placed the burden of responsibility on my shoulders to be active with my words… to take action when those around me choose to remain silent.

But it was starting to feel like I too was becoming stagnant myself. And I began to wonder if I’d ever have the answers to the question I am asked on a weekly basis after my blogs are published…

“OK Ivan we get it… this society is screwed up… But what can we do about it?”

And then the invite came…

I was honored to be invited to partake in a mission, which consisted of partnering with a college in Massachusetts to bring further education to the South Bronx, to our people and to one of the most socioeconomically depressed areas in New York City.

It was an emotionally draining experience, but one that has the potential to alter the course of society as a whole for generations to come.

And while I can’t share all of the details as of yet, what I can tell you is that through my journey with Attorney, Dr. Narciso Alemán of United Bronx Parents, Inc. and Activist Lupe Casares of Parents with Power based out of Houston, Texas, I was enlightened in ways that are truly immeasurable.

And that as the light bulbs began to illuminate in my head, it was as if a one-hundred light bulb cha
ndelier began to glow with thoughts of what a better tomorrow would look like. If only we could educate the uneducated and transform their hopelessness into self-confidence, a belief in their communities and a belief in a brighter future for all generations to follow.

After all, it truly is about the legacies we leave behind in the end.

Dr. Alemán and Mr. Casares awakened me to the fact that we’ve been preconditioned to already know the answers that ‘they’ want us to know. That we’ve been force-fed the answers before we’re even posed the question in an unbalanced game of memorization.

Quite possibly because if we become accustomed to already knowing the answer, we’ll never go back and question the question itself.

Does that make sense?

Case in point: Who discovered America?

Well in the Catholic School system I’d been educated in, I was already pledging allegiance to the Americas and the “founders” of this country, while being taught about the demonic Indians and our savior Christopher Columbus who discovered this great new world.

To explain away those who already called this world home, they used words like savages and showed us imagery of white people being scalped to induce fear in our hearts.

The indigenous people were no better than roaming packs of wolves looking for their next meal and they seemed to prefer white meat… The Puerto Rican Nationalists were terrorists. Shit, kind of looks like CNN today showing us how all Mexican’s looking for a better tomorrow are “illegal’s” and “aliens” at the same time…

By default they’re going straight to jail… Do not pass go, do not collect $200.00… and even worse, they’re of an alien race, and we all know the little green men are coming to end the world as we know it one day. That’s enough to scare the hell out of America isn’t it?

They want us to remain scared so that they may serve as the saviors and protectors of ‘we the peasants,’ in order for us to remain forever grateful and indebted to them for saving us from ourselves, from our dirty little histories and from ever discovering our own greatness. A greatness which remains clouded and hidden from full view of the truth. A greatness they’ll never want us to discover for fear that we’d want to rediscover what we’re truly capable of.

Mi gente, we’ve been erased from the history books for decades past… and we continue to erase ourselves every time we fail to write our own stories, family histories and to support the few in existence that do…

What I can tell you with all certainty, is that we must be worth more than a welfare system, an unemployment line, a food bank line and peasant wages for quality work and commitments to better the organizations we serve…

We must be worth more than that, ¿Qué no?

Every once and a while we’re enlightened to the answers we’ve been searching for.

And I now know with 100% certainty, that until we raise the educational level of Latinos and minorities as a whole, we will “never” be able to compete, we will never be able to evoke positive change and we might not even survive all of the atrocities this world has to offer.

The truest change will come from the top, but only if it starts with those at the bottom who’ve survived against unimaginable odds and made it there with their convictions intact.

I once was a victim of the American dream and it almost swept me away to a world of plush green golf courses, expensive Cohiba cigars, bottles of exquisite tasting Merlots and filet mignon cooked to perfection.

I’ve experienced it and I wasn’t asked to leave… I made the conscious decision to come back into the community that birthed me in high hopes of shaking the next person out of the brainwashed induced coma they’ve successfully plunged us all into…

The mission is clear: To bring higher education to 100 Bronxites in Human Services so that they may serve as the next crop of leaders, activists and advocates of change…

The question remains: Who will step up and take this challenge?

Ivan Sanchez is the author of Next Stop: Growing up Wild-Style in the Bronx (Touchstone – Simon & Schuster, 2008). The book is the first memoir released by a major publishing house written by a Puerto Rican from the Bronx. Sanchez is also the co-author of It’s Just Begun: The Epic Journey of DJ Disco Wiz, Hip Hop’s First Latino DJ (powerHouse, 2009). He was awarded the National Novel honors for his first fiction offering and is currently working on several new books about NY Latinos. He is also the co-host of Rebel Radio on Urban Latino Radio.


  1. I must admit, I truly like this blog my brother!!!

  2. Liza, thanks for your words... I have to admit... I'm truly disappointed that this important topic has not spawned more conversation here... I guess like everything else... it's all about the gossip with celebrities... if it's not that... no one wants to discuss??? Speaks a lot about where we are as a society!

  3. It is sad that there exist more interest reading and knowing about celebrities and gossip then reading and knowing about our true story. We must strive towards our True Story rather than His-Story. To teach truths is more of a challenge than to teach lies. All great movements start off slow. Like Don Pedro Albizo Campos said "Tenemos que decir a nuestra patria la verdad y la enorme desgracia que gravita sobre ella."