Ep 03: What if we bring Grandma to the STEM classroom?
Welcome back to Teaching STEM #4Real! Today, we are excited to have dear friend Dr. César A. Cruz on the show! Dr. Cruz, born in Guadalajara, Jalisco México, migrated to Compton, CA at the age of nine with a single mother and grandmother. He grew up with labels from bastard, to alien, to wetback and was swallowed up by the U.S. educational system to become Caesar - no accent - as he was schooled to purposely not know his roots. César’s mother gave birth to him at the age of 16 and was forced to pause her dreams to raise him. As a result, when he graduated middle school, he was the first in his family to do so. César went on to be a series of firsts - first to graduate high school, UC Berkeley in History, and the first Mexican immigrant male to get a doctorate in the EDLD program at HGSE.
César began working as an educator in 1994 and, 27 years later, he’s shedding his labels and addressing those often placed on kids. He no longer sees himself as an immigrant but as a Mexica(n) on Mexica(n) land, currently known as California. In fact, César’s roots were on ancestral land two grandmothers ago, but two grandmothers later, he is labelled a wetback. In other words, he didn’t cross a border, a historical border crossed his people.
For the past 12 years, César has founded and overseen Homies Empowerment, a community center in East Oakland, CA offering a free food and toiletries pantry that serves over 2,000 people per week called the FREEdom Store. He is currently co-designing a high school where youth who are improperly minoritized and mislabeled as thugs and criminals are seen as warriors, healers, scholars and hustlers. Amidst it all, César is proudest to be a husband, happily married for 19+ years while raising three poems in the form of Quetzali, 9, Amaru, 11 and Olin, 13.
In today’s episode, I will be connecting with Dr. Cruz about his passion for revitalizing our students’ lived experiences and, more importantly, their heritage in our classrooms and schools to foster engagement and curiosity. Perfect for science and STEM, right? We’ll also discuss the purpose of learning, the way in which STEM is beaten out of students, and what we can do about the divide between our communities and these educational institutions. Last but not least, we’ll talk about the way in which English is institutionalized as the only language in our schools, how Homies Empowerment is bringing Grandma to the classroom, and the importance of ‘dreamstorming.’ Keep listening to hear how Dr. César Cruz is working towards equity and social justice with his school.
You can reach Dr. Cruz at Cesar_Cruz@mail.Harvard.edu
Teaching STEM #4Real is a podcast dedicated to for real conversations on educational equity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education hosted by Dr. Leena Bakshi. If you’re interested in exploring what anti-racism and socially just instruction look like in our classrooms, schools, and beyond, you are in the right place. Dr. Bakshi is also the founder of the non-profit, STEM4Real. Please visit our website for information on how to partner with us. Thank you for helping us make STEM for real.