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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Professor Raul Ybarra’s Book Release Party Attracts Students Staff & Faculty

An impressive number of students, staff and faculty flocked to the College of Public & Community Service (CPCS) to celebrate the release of Latino studies Professor Raul Ybarra’s latest book Learning to Write as a Hostile Act for Latino Students (Lang Publishing). The book is both a memoir and a critical social study of Latinos’ challenge and resistance to writing in post-secondary education.

Several distinguished faculty including Gaston Institute Director Andres Torres, CPCS Undergraduate Chair Terrence McLarney, and Professor Lorna Rivera took to the lectern podium to share heartening testimonials and praise the numerous contributions-both social and academic-that Professor Ybarra has made to the UMass Boston community.

After rising to assume his place at the podium, Professor Ybarra acknowledged and highlighted the assisting roles that undergraduate students Maria Moreno, Maria Plasencia, Anna Frader, and Diana Zegarra played in his book’s development and revisions.

The book begins with Ybarra’s personal story but has a larger focus on the social elements that contribute to the struggle of many Latino students in higher education. His research helps explain the larger pedagogical implications that the Latino community face at the college level, such as the alarming statistics that show Latinos are the fastest growing demographic in the U.S. today, yet have the highest high school and college drop-out rate.

During the reading and discussion, Ybarra told his personal story as a young Chicano student struggling in an Anglo-dominated California school system, where he was often put down do to his skin color, ethnic background, and accent. Despite being held back in kindergarten do to his limited English, Ybarra worked hard throughout his elementary school years to eliminate his accent and perfect his English. Writing English, however, would prove to be a greater, and ongoing, challenge.

Whenever confronted with writing in high school, Ybarra pushed it away, largely because of his teacher’s constant criticism over structural and grammatical errors. Yet, those same teachers rarely put in the extra time needed to help him work through his writing difficulties.

As his writing assignments became more complex, Ybarra began ignoring writing all together and well into his junior year he lost all motivation to remain in high school. He decided to drop out because the academics were not challenging enough and the social pressures that marginalized him were overwhelming.

Because he had resisted writing for so long before entering college, Ybarra know that his basic writing course, a class that all students had to take, would be his biggest challenge. Ybarra ended up taking this course three times before passing it. Writing became more difficult and more tumultuous each time, because, as he got closer to passing the course, he realized that his challenges with writing, his resistance to it, was more than just a matter of dreading the pen and paper. It was as Ybarra describes in the book, “a period of cultural adjustment.”

Ybarra went on to receive a master’s in English, then a doctorate from the University of Chicago where he focused on why writing difficulties had been so prevalent for him and other Latino students. His conclusions were that cultural differences effect the negative impressions Latino students have towards writing and English as a discipline, which then leaves them with the option to resist, rather than conform to something that is confusing, foreign, and uncomfortable.

During the discussion of some of the preparations for his book, a smiling Ybarra recalls one late evening when he was exhausted but still had to read a stack of student essays for the next day. Yet he wasn’t able to proceed in reading them at his usual rapid pace, because he became tied up with figuring out what one particular student was trying to say on the first page of her paper. As his exhaustion and frustration grew over the student’s lack of clarity, Ybarra tried reading it aloud, hoping something the student wrote would make sense to him.

The result over this and countless other instances led Ybarra to recall one of the basic, yet unwritten principles of being an English professor. “It is not my job as a reader to try to figure out what [students] have to say; rather it is your job as writers to make it clear to me.” Ybarra emphasized how critical it is for English professors to be able to quickly size up what a student’s paper is about, given the various time constraints that typical college professors face.

When asked of some of the things that he would hope students take away from his book, Ybarra quickly responded, “Firstly, for students to realize that they are more than capable in succeeding as writers. And secondly, for particularly students who grew up in a bi or tri-lingual homes to see how their multi-lingual upbringing can serve as a unique advantage in their writing.” Ybarra added, “I am a Chicano, and I take pride in being a Chicano.” Ybarra clearly hopes to instill this same sense of pride in his students, and the positive roles that a student’s cultural background can have in their academics.

Professor Ybarra has been a creative writing instructor and student advisor at CPCS since 1995. A specialist in communication difficulties and cultural differences among Latino/a students and Anglo-mainstream instructors, professor Ybarra also facilitates writing workshops that enhance not only students’ writing abilities, but to bolster their confidence as writers. Ybarra is also the co-writer of Creating Alternative Discourses in the Education of Latinos and Latinas (Peter Lang Publishing).