Culturally Responsive Civics with Sasha Guzman

Sasha Guzman is a veteran high school social studies teacher who has spent much of her career teaching first and second-generation immigrant youth, first in Los Angeles and now in Sacramento, California. Learn about her culturally responsive approach to civics education in the interview below with Sasha and Re-Imagining Migration Executive Director Adam Strom.

Adam S: Before we get into the what and the how of your teaching, can we back up a little? Please share a little bit about yourself and why you go into teaching.

Sasha G. I am a first-generation college graduate, and a woman of color. I grew up in a small agricultural community and understood the importance of education in achieving independence for myself. I was encouraged by my parents to speak out for myself and on behalf of others. In turn, I have used that upbringing to empower my students-specifically the young women.

Where does Re-Imagining Migration Fit in Sasha’s Curriculum?

Adam S. You’ve used Re-Imagining Migration’s Turning to Action resources both in your classroom in L.A. and now in Sacramento. Can you tell us a bit about the context of those classes, e.g., who were your students and the goals of the different classes?

Sasha G. My students in Los Angeles were predominantly Latino and came from either Mexico or Central America. The RIM resources such as “Quinceañeras at the Capitol” and “Somos Mas Americanos” [A resource about a song by Los Tigres del Norte] were easy to utilize because they were culturally relevant to the kids in my classroom. However, the demographics of the community I’m teaching in Sacramento is far more diverse. There are ethnicities, religions, and languages represented from all over the world. This shift forced me to grow and expand the curriculum, which included lessons such as Wong Kim Ark, Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus”, and “I Learn America” among others. It is always my goal that students SEE themselves in my curriculum- as people of color, as members of historically marginalized communities, as young people, as agents of change! 

Adam S. As a teacher, what are skills, dispositions, and habits of mind that you hope to cultivate among your students? How are they different, if at all, now that you are teaching students with different backgrounds and lived experiences from those you prioritized with your students in Los Angeles?

Sasha G. I want my students to leave my classroom more knowledgeable about events in history and our society, but more importantly having nurtured their sense of compassion, love, and respect for those we have studied. What good is knowledge if they don’t use that information to change our society for the better? Thus, my goals have not changed, but the variety of stories I utilize have expanded.

Sasha’s Favorite Resources

Adam S. I know one of your favorites Turning to Action resources is Wong Kim Arc’s battle for citizenship. Why is his story so important for you as a teacher? What was the context? What did you want your students to take away from his story? 

Sasha G: Wong Kim Arc’s story is powerful because the vast majority of my students are his legacy and have no idea! It’s even more incredible when you consider the historical context of when his case was ruled on, and one understands how the odds were stacked against him yet he still won. The benefits of which most kids sitting in my class directly benefit from.

Adam S. I know you have also taught the story of the Quinceañera protest at the Texas Capitol several times. Can you describe the story and how you approached it in the classroom?

Sasha G. I approach the story from the perspective of young people putting themselves at the forefront of issues they care about because they have the most to lose, instead of using that as an excuse not to publicly protest. Using their cultural traditions, such as the quinceañera, as a symbol of empowerment is powerful for young people to understand how powerful and empowering their native cultures are.

Re-Imagining Migration and Civics Education

Adam S: How has Re-Imagining Migration’s approach influenced the way you approach civics?

Sasha G: Re-Imagining Migration has given me the context of utilizing migration and how my students have experienced that through their different diasporas to the United States. The lessons also align with my values of presenting history truthfully, acknowledging the trauma communities have experienced, while including successes and assets to be celebrated. Presenting culturally responsive lessons from an asset-driven perspective is a critical part of my pedagogy, so it has been a natural fit.