- Guest Editors' Introduction:Teaching Multi-Ethnic Literatures of the United States: Pedagogy in Anxious Times
The classroom remains the most radical space of possibility in the academy.—bell hooks (12)
The practice of multiethnic literature produces both remarkable opportunity and anxiety.—Tina Chen (158)
The 2005 MELUS special issue, Pedagogy, Praxis, and Politics, edited by Bonnie TuSmith and Sarika Chandra, raised a number of questions about the theoretical implications of pedagogical practices in the multi-ethnic literature classroom. The essays in the 2005 special issue attempted to mediate political, pedagogical, and theoretical strategies and to "reflect on concepts of power, authority, and culture as they intersect in the classroom" (TuSmith and Chandra 12). Accordingly, they called into question the assumption that pedagogical praxis is divorced from theory, negotiating a range of topics, from the state of the field in the academy and debates over the canon to challenges teachers face in various institutional and political contexts. In the twelve intervening years since its publication, many of the same issues—including anxiety and discomfort in the classroom, color-blindness, race fatigue, institutional racism, marginalization of communities of color, and job insecurity—have continued to influence the pedagogy, praxis, and politics of teaching multi-ethnic and indigenous literatures in the United [End Page 1] States.1 Rapid political, social, and cultural changes, technological developments, and changing demographics of college and university students in the United States have also compounded these issues in the past decade. The anxieties produced by these shifting tides in academia have occasioned several well-attended panels on pedagogy at the annual MELUS conference in recent years, as scholars and teachers continue to navigate these challenges in the classroom.
Building on these recent MELUS panels, roundtables, and conversations on critical pedagogy, we issued a call for papers in the summer of 2015 seeking work on pedagogical approaches to US multi-ethnic literature in what we termed quite broadly "anxious times" to reflect the growing collective awareness of the violence perpetrated on black and brown bodies and larger political and institutional changes that threaten our discipline(s). We asked: how have our pedagogies changed to acknowledge not only the death of Michael Brown, who was shot in 2014 by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, but also numerous other unarmed people of color who continue to die at the hands of police officers, such as Eric Garner in New York City, Ezell Ford in California, Tamir Rice in Ohio, Sandra Bland in Texas, Freddie Gray in Maryland, and Luis Rodriguez in Oklahoma? We also invited contributors to consider our current historical moment, when racial and ethnic demographics are changing, the alt-right is on the rise, programs such as Mexican American studies and ethnic studies continue to come under institutional and community scrutiny or to be slashed by budget cuts, professors are reported to conservative professor watchlists, and growing movements such as "Black Lives Matter," immigration reform groups, and indigenous activists continue to challenge assumptions about a "post-racial" United States. To extend the conversations in the MELUS 2005 special issue and the journal's earlier 1989 special issue on the topic Ethnicity and Pedagogy, we welcomed both theoretical essays and articles exploring strategies in the classroom.
Edward Ifkovic, who edited the MELUS 1989 issue on pedagogy, expressed hope that teachers of multi-ethnic literature would no longer be perceived as "the enemy" of the American literary canon. The collection responded to its key historical moment following the "culture wars" and attempts to integrate the social awareness generated by the Civil Rights Movements of the 1960s and 1970s into school curricula at a time when ethnic studies programs—if they existed at all—were still segregated.2 The authors of the essays in this issue approached the topic of canonicity and student and institutional resistance to "ethnic" material (Ifkovic 1-3). Although this first pedagogical issue focused more on celebrating the few victories in the teaching of multi-ethnic literatures across the United State, it also called attention to possibilities of reconceptualizing American literature. In 1989, MELUS was already a sixteen-year-old organization, created in 1973 with the goal of "expand[ing...