(Adventures in Community Development)
In early 1994 Valentin Lopez made his first, and probably only, trip to the United States. His voyage from his home in San Juan de Oriente, Nicaragua (sponsored by Potters for Peace) was part educational effort for Americans to learn about Nicaragua, part fund raiser for PFP, and part marketing opportunity for Valentin. Valentin is an incredibly talented traditional Pre-Columbian Maya style potter. He can eloquently describe his work, his inspirations, and his community. He is also very much what Nicaraguans call an “indio;” very Mayan in appearance, with little Spanish influence.
I was asked to show Valentin around when some free time opened up in his schedule. Maybe get him into a classroom. Maybe introduce him to a collector.
We visited the wealthy collector first. He owned a walk-through history of Pre-Columbian pottery; Aztec to Maya; Inca to Oaxaca. Mind boggling. But the jerk didn’t buy anything. Was Valentin’s work not “real” enough? As we drove away, I wondered what Valentin thought of the encounter.
The only teacher I knew then worked in a kindergarten. So off we went to visit a bunch of 6 year olds. (Great trip so far, Steve!) We immediately noticed that the classroom was divided. “Anglo” kids sat up front. Hispanic kids in the back. The teachers seemed resigned to riding shotgun around the Hispanic kids, one girl in particular, to keep them focused on the day’s activities.
The girl giggled when I began translating. She knew what Valentin was saying better than I did. We let her translate. The change was electric. Suddenly Spanish was a benefit, not a stigma. This ‘problem kid’ was now a valued leader, showing others the way.
I had brought some coloring books on Pre-Columbian pottery designs PFP made for an education project in Nicaragua where books of any kind were scarce. The kids dove into the books after the presentation. It was the most productive day the teachers had seen.
I think of that girl. Where is she now? Did that day impart any notion that her abilities were strengths? Did she grow up to be a potter? Will she be the first Hispanic female President? Or maybe, reflecting on the worlds of potters and presidential campaigns, she just grew up to be a decent person. That’s my hope.
Dibujos de las Tatara Tatarabuelas. Ron Rivera and Barbara Donachy. Ceramistas Por La Paz/Managua, Nicaragua. 1993.