Sequoyah’s Third Annual All-School Read Brings up Discussion of Masculinity, Immigration, and Guatemalan Culture

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Sequoyah School’s third annual Summer Reading Event, which took place on Friday, September 11th, convened for the first time virtually. To celebrate this year’s high school summer reading book, The Tattooed Soldier, author Héctor Tobar spoke with the Sequoyah community during a Q and A discussion session. Following the conversation with Tobar, student-teacher pairs led discussion groups of the text; afterwards, nine workshops that explored the book’s various themes were convened. 

To kickstart the day, Sequoyah high school senior Angelique Rivanis and sophomore Axel Stash facilitated a Q and A with Héctor Tobar. Tobar spoke about his process of writing The Tattooed Soldier, expressing that “fear of failure relaxed [him] as a writer” and noting that “working on a book for so long” is “what gives it texture.” Explaining that he drew on his background as a journalist, Tobar said he was able to weave together true stories of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots and Guatemalan immigration in order to create new, interesting, reflective characters in his fiction. By including deep character traits that reflect real experiences individuals have dealt with, Tobar noted that he was able to fold together many different aspects of life in his novel. 

Tobar also spoke on the recent riots that occurred in May, ones he thought would engulf the city, much like the LA Riots of 1992. He was grateful for the events that occurred, saying that these uprisings have changed this country for the better.

Later in the day, discussion groups explored topics related to masculinity, violence, and immigration. In his discussion group, 12th grader Eamon Lee realized that “Longoria [a character in the book] is characterized by action, aggression, and a lack of outward emotion, while Antonio [another character in the book] on the other hand is passive, more emotional, etc. It was interesting,” Lee said, “to see how once the two characters have their second meeting in the park, Antonio shifts and becomes more aggressive. Instead of being passive he takes matters into his own hands.”

Discussions of masculinity continued in workshop groups. In the workshop of high school Humanities teacher Calina Ciobanu, students discussed gender and its constructions in Tobar’s text as well as in contemporary American culture.

An Affinity Space for Latinx students who wanted to reflect on their reading of the book, share affirmations, and set goals for the year, was also offered. Senior Aaliyah Balangue felt thankful that the faculty created a supportive space for her. Balangue felt compelled to create her own prompts based on her own experience and expressed that “it was so nice because I felt like I was being heard.” Balangue elaborated, saying that having her opinions matter, which does not typically happen due to her identity, was another nice aspect of the affinity space. 

Sequoyah’s high school Spanish teacher Marisol Perez and 11th grader Marisol Prietto taught students “Delicious Resistance: How to Make Pupusas.” Anna Bluestone, a sophomore, said that “to get to hear firsthand how much importance food holds in maintaining culture” was a “really great experience.” 

Students also discussed “Numbers vs Stories: Getting the Full Picture of Homelessness in Los Angeles County,” which was a central topic in The Tattooed Soldier. Lindsay Kerby, Senior Community Investment Officer at The California Housing Partnership, taught students about affordable and supportive housing, red-lining, and exclusionary neighborhoods, a few underlying causes of homelessness in Los Angeles; students also discussed a few potential solutions to homelessness.

Guatemalan art and music were also discussed. Sequoyah high school art teacher, Aimee Zvinakis, led a tattoo design workshop and allowed students to create their own tattoo and share their work. Ben Ede, Sequoyah’s music teacher, presented Guatemalan Indigenous Hip-Hop and highlighted the music of Balam Ajpu

Sequoyah School senior, Adela Villalba, draws “They spoke the world into being/with luminous words and clear truth”

Many of these workshops were interactive. Reimagining the Popol Vuh, a workshop led by Dean of Students Viviana Palacio, recounted the history and mythology of the K’iche’ language of the Mayan People, who inhabited the Guatemalan Highlands. Students read verses of the book and proceeded to make art based on what spoke to them. In the workshop, the students read many phrases in K’iche’. Among them was: “They spoke the world into being/with luminous words and clear truth,” which Adela Villalba, Sequoyah School senior, represented in her own one-line art form (pictured to the right). 

Environmental Justice in Central America was also discussed. Chelsea Confalone, Sequoyah’s high school Biology teacher, showed students two videos that expressed the dangers of being a Central American environmental activist in Honduras, Guatemala, and Brazil. After those videos, students broke out into groups and researched specific activists. In one group, Sequoyah senior Audrey Bluestone researched Berta Cáceres, a woman who was murdered while trying to save an indigenous community from a dam that was being built in Honduras. It was presumed, Bluestone discovered, that the hitman was from the dam company.  

The All-School Read Summer Reading Event included many guest speakers, among them Manolo Argueta, father of Sequoyah School junior Ada Argueta, who talked about his lived experience in coming from Guatemala to Los Angeles. During the workshop, Manolo Argueta talked about his life in Guatemala and “what the situation and environment was like growing up.” He talked about what it was like crossing the border and what his experiences were like when he arrived in Los Angeles. Manolo Argueta noted that he enjoyed “telling everyone about [his] stories and answering [student] questions.”  “It was a good feeling,” he said, “to present to a community who participated and paid attention.” 

This event was planned by students who attend Sequoyah’s high school (Ada Argueta, Adam Lurvey, Andrea Bizarro, Angelique Rivanis, Axel Stash, Essence Williams, Owen Barbato, Ruby Wenzlaff), and five teachers (Arden Thomas, Calina Ciobanu, Julian Petri, Lindsey Graham, Marisol Perez) as part of a group called the Summer Reading Committee. 

Correction: September, 16 2020

An earlier version of this article stated that this was Sequoyah’s Second Annual Summer Reading Event.