Before you start the Popul/Arte series, get to know what motivates and inspires Scholar-in-Residence, Dr. Michael Wilson-Becerril, PhD.
Michael Wilson-Becerril, PhD (@mwilsonbecerril), is an activist scholar specialized in the political ecologies of violence and resistance, with an emphasis on Latin America. His everyday mission is to synthesize, disseminate, and practice the understandings and tools needed to transform violent contexts, build healing relationships, and generate durable socio-environmental justice.
How do you envision Popul/Arte making the university more accessible to the people? Why is this important?
I have been organizing for socio-environmental justice for more than a decade, since I was a teenager. I got my training as an educator. I spent years teaching politics, environmental justice, violence and conflict, nonviolent resistance and social change, and everyday-to-structural peacemaking at public as well as private universities. As much as I loved the role of intentional education and radical pedagogy in changing the world, I was disappointed by the slow pace of educational influence, which is nowhere close to the desperate and immediate work we need, if we are to meet the crisis we face currently. In short, I thought that my efforts were required more directly in organizing and building consciousness wherever people are, rather than making my efforts only available within expensive institutions of higher education. It is for these very reasons that I am so excited to partner with the LCAC to create a program that brings the best pieces of my teaching to the public through the medium of art. This matters to me, and I believe to the wellbeing of the planet, because history is made of, by, and for the people, not for pretentious academics who grow increasingly disconnected from our own communities.
Is there a pivotal experience that brought you to your research?
It's really hard to come up with a singular moment because so many factors helped to shape me into my research and teaching, and into seeing the emancipatory power of writing and education. I think if I had to condense it to one moment that really crystallized my impetus, I always think about how one time my grandfather tried to help me with my math homework. I was in 4th grade or so, and I was having a hard time with some simple mathematics (divisions, or fractions, or something like that). He noticed my frustration and sat down to help me with each problem. I was so happy and thankful. I loved my grandfather so much. He was a quiet, pensive, joyful farmer, and his family had kept him from seeking a formal education (like all his older siblings had done) because he was the youngest, so his job was to stay at home and care for his mom. He cared for her very well, because she passed away in 1998 at 100 years old. I remember always going to her house to drop off her bread for the day, a mark of how caring my grandfather was in his duty to his mom, even then, in the last years of her life. He was still there for her every day – even as he was now there for his kids and grandkids, too.
I was so thankful for his help with it that, when I got my homework back, I couldn't tell him I got a bad grade. I realized that maybe he wasn't very good at math, but he was infinitely wise in a million other ways. Why would I care that he didn't know how to do fractions when he understood the importance of caring for animals and plants? He knew what every plant in his garden was good for, and he worked hard, selflessly, to give his family the opportunities he didn't have. My grandfather's knowledge and wisdom would run laps around MIT mathematicians.
This kind of moment made me realize, early on and increasingly as I reflect on it ever since, that there is an unrecognized "wisdom of the subaltern," of the marginalized, of those excluded endemically and by design from cultural, political, and economic power, including education. I then became committed to valorizing this wisdom and knowledges that have been mostly ignored, discounted, appropriated, and repackaged by the dominant power structures that have shaped this continent for 529 years.
What do you hope participants will take away from Popul/Arte?
These days a lot of activist accounts on social media are raising awareness of the unwritten and silenced histories of not only trauma and resistance, but also dreams and work toward better futures, that are flourishing everywhere in Latin America. However, most academics remain guarded about their teaching and research, for economic reasons. This project will build a bridge between the highest levels of formal education and the most accessible ways to distribute these knowledges for free to the public, in concise and engaging venues like multimedia and arts workshops. I want people to walk away with a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the ways in which communities in Latin America have shown that a better world is possible, and how this is a history created by ordinary people "from below," rather than by the people with privilege and access who dominate our storytelling and media conversations.