The Student Newspaper of Lakeside School

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The Student Newspaper of Lakeside School

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The Student Newspaper of Lakeside School

TATLER

How one teacher and 15 students brought Latino Studies to life

It was early in the start of the school year — and early in the morning  — when history teacher Dr. Andy Aguilera (who prefers his students call him “Andy”) first asked the question to a table of eager first-period history students: “What is race?” 

This question would go on to form the basis of hours of discussion over the next few months, but for the time being, the students sat in silence trying to think of a response. Had things turned out differently nine months before, the question might’ve gone unanswered entirely. That’s because Latinos/as/x Studies in American Life and Culture was never supposed to run in the first place. 

Of course, that wasn’t always supposed to be the case. Dr. Aguilera, who recalled students advocating for a more diverse curriculum when he was applying to Lakeside in 2021, was excited when he first proposed the course back in October of 2022. “I thought, if any course is going to run, it’s going to be this one,” he told the Tatler back in April. Instead, he opened up his email one morning that spring to learn that because of low enrollment, the elective would not run. 

One peek inside Bliss 315 today, and it’s clear the class has come a long way since its initial rejection, considering 15 individuals (13 seniors and two juniors) await the start of class every morning around a table that was previously going to stand empty. Nine months later, Andy remains grateful to his allies at Lakeside who helped advocate for the class running despite initial low enrollment, and now he adds particularly “those 15 individuals in the class, who have been great all semester and remained very open minded.” 

Latino Studies is only a means to study more broadly, issues of race and ethnicity in the United States … And race is obviously a very powerful idea that can be used in very problematic ways. But at the same time, it can be used as a form of empowerment.

Part of the students’ open-mindedness that Andy refers to has to do with the content of the course, which differs from other university courses. “Those courses start in 1848, and those other fields really kind of just focus on the 20th century,” he tells me. Instead, Andy is trying to “push against that tendency” to focus solely on the last 200 years. “I’m trying to not forget this early period … even to this day, all Latin American countries are still sort of reflecting on that past and what that means to national identity and ethnic identity.” 

It’s a change that has served him well — Andy’s focus on the past, although something he hopes to streamline when the course runs again next year, has served as a foundational basis for discussions in the present. In recent weeks, students have been focusing on colorism and anti-Black bias in the Dominican Republic, in a move Andy has deliberately made to include “recent debates in Latino Studies.” Even the readings he assigns have all been from the past 15-20 years, as Andy, a self-proclaimed historiography nerd, tries to “incorporate sort of the latest literature and debates that [have] been occurring.” 

But the way Latino Studies has been run so far involves not just deliberate choices around the content but about its length as well. Teaching what is typically a university-level class to high school students — even Lakesiders, as Andy adds — isn’t without its challenges. Andy, who laughs while mentioning he could talk about any one thing for two hours, is instead forced to condense his lectures down to the 70 minutes class allows for. (The class is 63 minutes if you take away seven minutes for his students’ infamously long breaks to the WCC.) Because homework tends to stem more from scholarly readings of articles — “I’m going to quote RuPaul here: ‘reading is fundamental,’” he adds — his class has adopted a 45-minute rule for reading, where students are taught to prioritize the effectiveness of their reading rather than length. 

Last year, when Andy found out Latino Studies wasn’t going to run, he walked into one of his history classes wearing a hat with the Mexican flag and a shirt that read “Brown and Proud.” For him, the elective stands for more than just a class.

“I knew this from the beginning,” Andy tells me, referring to when he first proposed the course in the fall of 2022. “Latino Studies is only a means to study more broadly, issues of race and ethnicity in the United States … In the class, people are uncomfortable speaking about race, because they can’t define it, and they don’t understand it and they don’t want to say the wrong thing. And race is obviously a very powerful idea that can be used in very problematic ways. But at the same time, it can be used as a form of empowerment.”

Had things turned out differently nine months before, the question might’ve gone unanswered entirely. That’s because Latino/a/x Studies in American Life and Culture was never supposed to run in the first place.

Part of Andy’s motivation for the class stems from his own experiences in college at Seattle University. Andy came to a realization in his senior year that his school, which he still “loves very much,” hadn’t taught him about Mexican American history in any of his classes. “So how can you claim to fight for a just and humane world if we don’t even have that perspective in the history curriculum?”

The lack of these kinds of classes is a larger institutional problem across the Pacific Northwest. Andy recalls that nearly every single person he’s talked to is surprised that Seattle has a Latino community, “as if we’re just reserved to the southwest or Texas, Arizona, California, wherever.” Andy is “just trying to disrupt that” with his elective.

“Latinos, like everyone else, we’re humans. We migrate. We move. And Seattle is a Latino place. It’s not surprising,” he notes. 

Andy, who contributes to a blog called Latinos In Depth run by Northwestern University Professor Geraldo Cadava about his experience teaching Latino Studies in Seattle, acknowledges that teaching the course at Lakeside has been unique. In a city where the overall Latino/Hispanic population (terms which the U.S. census uses interchangeably) stands at 6.6%, Lakeside’s own Latino/Hispanic population is a little less than half that, at 3%. Nevertheless, the class has provided a special community for its students. 

“I feel extremely lucky to have finally been in a classroom environment with a supportive group of peers … it has been an opportunity for empowerment and self-discovery. I’ll miss this course next semester,” mentioned Karla O R. ’24. 

When the course begins again in the spring of 2025, it will most likely be different than its original run. Still, it remains an important reminder about advocacy, considering it was the support of students and teachers alike that forced the class to run. 

“With these types of things, we can’t just brush it aside and say, ‘Oh, like maybe next year.’ Andy says, referring to how part of his initial frustration with the class not running back in early March was that while low enrollment classes are considerably harder to run, Lakeside as an independent institution has the ability to provide those classes regardless. “So we just need to be advocates and resist [the idea] that we can’t make any sort of change. We can’t be complacent.” 

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About the Contributor
Reagan R. ’25, Life & Culture Editor
Reagan’s Starting Inventory   x1 classic New York attitude x1 semi-intact California tan x1 pair of wired headphones for TV Girl and The Cranberries x2 spoon rings from Wyoming x1 book from either Bronte sister x1 can of Arnold Palmer x5 pens from Model UN competitions x1 red composition notebook x1 pack of developed film from my Mount Baker summit x17 subsequent mosquito bites x4 “I can’t choose” decisions x1 copy of The New Yorker x2 Doc. Martens low rise boots x1 love for Victorian classics x1 tupperware container of pomegranate seeds x1 passion for journalism and advocating for immigration policy reform

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