Alicia Molina

Mexico

Alicia Molina was born in Mexico City in 1945. She is a communications theorist, scriptwriter, educational television researcher and writer.

She promotes the integration of children with disabilities, which she backs-up with her published pedagogical piece,  Everyone Means Everyone: the Inclusion of Children with Disabilities in Art and Cultural Activities (Todos significa todos. La inclusión de niños con discapacidad en actividades de arte y cultura), It is an essay that proposes that art and culture are particularly useful means to assist in the inclusion of children with disabilities. To promote inclusion she has dabbled in audiovisual media as a scriptwriter and television producer, as well as a writer of children's books. Among those works, she has written The Lens through which One Sees (El cristal con el que se mira) or Cross Out the Cross Out (Tache al tache), a book that invites children to express themselves and to reflect their perspective from the depths of their being, and to not only question their own reality but to also open up and reveal themselves, which is fueled by that same limitation that excludes them.

Molina has also published several other children’s books such as The Black Hole (El agujero negro), Night of the Goblins (La noche de los trasgos), You’re not Going to Believe Me (No me lo vas a creer), The Time Fixer (El zurcidor del tiempo) and The Lens through which One Sees (El cristal con que se mira). She is the keynote speaker at the 34th International IBBY Congress.

MASTER CONFERENCE 1: CONCEPT OF INCLUSION

The motto of our congress is “May everyone really mean everyone” (in Spanish “Que todos signifique todos”). It was chosen because it points out that in our societies, everyone does not always mean everyone, at least not to everyone.

If we want to avoid this jumble, the first thing we have to do is learning about the meaning of the word todos, which comes from the Latin word Totus, which indicates that we are referring to a whole, to the tribe of tribes.

I particularly like the term “everyone” because it implies that when integrating the whole, every single person counts.

One of the basic needs of human beings is to be recognized as a part of their community, the ones close to them, their neighbors; the foundational experience of belonging to it from the very roots, in an organic way. Not just being there, but having a true, natural and active participation that is nurtured in the group and contributes that help creating and strengthening the community. From that experience, the person defines its identity.

However, “everyone” is very easily fragmented and divided into “us” and “the others”.

This coming and going from unit to fragmentation is a constant dynamic.

Sometimes we perceive the other as that which is alien and which threatens and frightens us. Then we defend and reaffirm our identity by denying or ignoring it, as if recognizing it implied a sort of infidelity or betrayal to the group.

There are also some situations in which we impose them an identity and values of our own in order to include them, forcing them to deny themselves, to hide their differences, to feel ashamed of themselves.

In our great global village, the interaction of different cultures gives place to a constant friction, where identities are frequently threatened.

Javier Melloni tells us: “each individual has and cultivates various belongings because he/she builds different links: ethnicity, nationality, linguistic community, gender, religious faith, social class, profession, even hobbies. When one of these links is threatened, we tend to defend it by absolutizing it. When one’s identity is reduced to one sole belonging, the vision of the world becomes distorted, creating an ‘us versus them’”[1]

The construction of a plural culture requires a transformation that leads us to the full acceptance of diversity and reciprocity. Octavio Paz invites us to take that leap: “In a really free society, the important thing would be to cultivate those differences: what distinguishes us is what unites us.”[2]

Then, the one who is different is no longer the enemy to be defeated, but the carrier of a new perspective, which reveals an angle of reality that complements my own. If it is true that we, as human beings, are called to discover together the mystery of that which is true; difference becomes an indispensable wealth since it makes us complementary and it becomes the nodal point for going from competition to cooperation. Otherness frees me from not growing and being locked, trapped in my own vision of the world.

Reciprocity and encounter are based on the ineludible conscience that I am also the other to the other.

The challenge is to cultivate the richness of diversity, respecting the particularities of each one, and going deeper inside the sense of belonging to a much broader “we”. Words are the bridge, and the quality of the dialogue depends on our disposition to embrace the other.

The first step in the road of inclusion is recognizing that we have excluded someone. This might appear to be a truism, but it is not. Actually, we deny with much persistence the evidence of exclusion. When we separate, discriminate, annul, we look away so we don’t see what we do.

“Sorry, I didn’t see you”. That’s what we say when we run over somebody, and that id because, in fact, the most effective mechanism for exclusion is making the other invisible. 

We don’t have to use a magic wand, like we would in a fairy tale. We make it happen, just by educating our children, so that when they look at someone who is different with curiosity, we admonish them:

—Don’t look at him —we say—, it’s rude.

With this comment we transform their open and natural curiosity into suspicious and mistrustful sideways look.

(What does the one being avoided feel? This was first revealed to me by the questions Ana, my daughter, asked when she was seven. Why is it bad to look at me? Is it also rude if I look at them?)

Another way of marginalization is leaving those who are different from us outside our circle. Making our environment inaccessible to them: stairs, narrow doorways, apparently small obstacles that are actually unsurmountable on a wheelchair, with a cane, if you need supports…

The great amount of physical obstacles in our cities, the lack of accessible transportation, the absence  of signals for those who cannot see or hear, turn the simple action of going out on the street into an exhausting challenge. They are better left alone at home, remaining invisible to us.

Architecture does not only create obstacles for people who have a disability; it can also exclude on account of luxury and ornament. When everything is so imposing, many people feel that they do not belong in that environment.

In the village of Nepantla, where Sor Juana was born, an enormous culture center was built to celebrate her life and her works. The construction was assigned to a great architect who made a sumptuous replica of El Colegio de México in that small town. Many years have passed since then, and people who live there still stay away from it because then do not feel it to be their own.

The lack of information access for speakers of indigenous languages, for blind or deaf people, for those with intellectual disability, for example, makes them feel as if they are not invited to participate.

There is a kind of arrogance that happens on a collective level, and frequently also on a personal level, which leads us to perceive ourselves as the reference, the guideline; thence come all the horrors regarding that which is “normal”.

The concept of normality cannot be found in nature; it is a construct with a difficult and controversial definition. Its origins come from the second half of the 19thcentury at the same time as statistics and the obsession of counting and comparing. The Gaussian curve, the one we studied in high school, stablishes the measure of all things and exalts how it is supposed to be.  We forget the most evident thing: each person means the 100%, the true reference to themselves.

(Here I want to tell you a personal anecdote: When Ana went to elementary school she had a classmate who had cerebral palsy in a much greater degree than hers. He couldn’t talk and he communicated through his eyes. I, in a very simplistic and foolish way, as if to minimize my daughter’s disability, commented that Jorge’s was indeed veeeery severe. Ana answered me with a phrase that marked me: Mom, you don’t get it. If you don’t compare him, Jorge is perfect.)

But let us go back to the concept of normal. What stays out of the abstract curve; that which does not meet the guidelines, is labeled as abnormal and it is separated to be treated on a special way and by specialists. We have managed to keep them at bay.  

The Greeks were wiser when they talked about the ideal.  When they sculpted the beauty of Aphrodite or Apollo they made it based on elements taken from different models. Thus, it was clear to everybody that the gods were an ideal, they were beyond reality. Nobody felt obliged to hide that they did not fit in that pattern.

Nowadays, the norm is no longer set by statistics, but by the media, throughout prototypes and patterns, which define what is normal to their own convenience and comfort.

People who are excluded because of the ethnicity, disability, social class, religion, are also not visible on that mirror which deforms reality: mass media. They occasionally appear on the news, when a hurricane or a television marathon makes them transitorily visible.

They also appear from time to time on comedy shows, when they make fun of the Native, the homosexual, the fat guy, but they are not a part of television’s daily nature; they are presented based on stigmas and stereotypes, they are not characters, but mere functions of the story. Mexicans are also not very present on “our” television. The national phenotype, the one we see in the mirror, the one we say hello to, on the subway and the market, does not appear on TV, were everyone is white (or whitened) and preferably blonde and tall.

Lastly, excluded people are also frequently absent on statistics. Their invisibility makes us ask ourselves little about them.

However, all these stigmas that separate, attack, isolate, rigorously and deeply fulfill their purpose when they make the person being excluded internalize the stigma and appropriate it. That the person is the one to say: I can’t, I don’t want to, I don’t belong.

We are all gathered here today because we want to belong and want everyone to belong; we want everyone to really mean everyone. We are at this congress because the society we desire is as inclusive society, i.e. a real community that builds social spaces that respond to diversity; one which offers the experience of living cooperatively, jointly and respectfully towards everyone, in contexts in which the heterogeneity of the group is not a limitation, but rather a richness valued by everyone.

The act of communicating is an adventure to which we, human beings, are called upon in order to collaborate in building the world and making it a place where we can grow together. Reading and writing makes that experience deeper and broader. It allows us to understand and modify reality as well as nurture and share our dreams. It permits us to eventually find our peers, the family we choose beyond time and space.

To undertake the path of inclusion is a decision that is not so easy; it requires an internal transformation. It is indispensable for each one of us to identify and recognize, with an honest and sincere look, the routes, sometimes obvious, sometimes subtle, that they have used to discriminate and put the others aside. The inclusion mechanisms and strategies consist on identifying and regressing the very same processes of exclusion.

One of the most efficient marginalization strategies has been denying certain social groups, whether intentionally or not, the access to written culture.

In the 18th Century, the slaves, the poor, the natives and the women were all excluded from it. Afterwards, it became evident that reading could make training easier for the work that needed to be done, as well as confer the ability to follow instructions. Then, only writing was denied to them, as a clear sign that they were not interested in what these groups had to say.

Nowadays there are still many marginalized groups that are functional illiterates in a world in which it is clear that information is valuable and in which finding precise and adequate information on time is fundamental.

Google[3] tells us that every other day the human race produces as much information as we have done from the dawn of civilization until 2003. That is, five exabytes each day. For those of us who do not know what that is, Google indicates that that is a quintillion bytes, and each byte is equal to eight “bits” of information, which is equivalent to two words.

In this world of global information, reading becomes crucial; we need to read and to write, to understand what we are reading and to make ourselves understood. 

Daniel Goldin[4] points out that “not knowing how to read and write condemns you to exclusion, to being an object and not being able to play the role of subject because there is a great amount of social interactions that are executed by means of reading and writing.”

“By reading and writing with make language our own and begin using it for doing personal, private and public things,” –Goldin says. “We learn to define and negotiate with reality, to create it and recreate it, to use very generous tools for exploring it and participating in it. We learn to be with others and with ourselves. To negotiate who each one is in the inside of us and what constitutes that “us”. We define the whole and define ourselves in front of it”.

Science Fiction writer Neil Gaiman[5] tells us a very illustrative anecdote: he says that at one time when he was in New York, he listened to a talk about the building of private prisons. The prison industry needed to plan its future growth, and they needed an indicator for it. The question was: How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 to 11-year-olds couldn't read. And who certainly couldn't read for pleasure.

Gaiman himself points out that this is not a simple rule that can be applied mechanically, since criminality is multifactorial, and if this were the only determining element, there would be no delinquency on countries where everybody reads. However, there is a very real correlation, and the mere fact that the lack of reading is considered as an indicator, should be an important warning sign for all our societies, that made us act so that no child, no matter the conditions or challenges, is left without access to reading.

Since the advantages of reading will be widely discussed throughout the congress, in order not to mystify it, it is necessary to point out that reading does not makes us better persons; it only opens new worlds and experiences for us, expanding our choices. That can make a great difference.

However, learning how to read and write is not enough in order to become a reader. Discovering the pleasure of reading is necessary, and so is daring to venture upon the adventure that awaits on each text, developing and nurturing our narrative intelligence, that is, realizing that we are nothing but a tale.

Our lives are meant to be told to one another. In order to understand reality and give it a meaning, we tell it to ourselves, we share it with the other, we build it and rebuild it. We, as human beings, organize our experience, build our personal identity and incorporate culture into our lives, through a spoken or written narrative.

If words name things, narrative allows us to order them, to interpret the relation between actors and actions, to bind the past, the present and the possible, to rehearse the search of meanings. Such is this, that the joy that overflows from us, the fear that torments us, the panic of nightmares, they mentally disorganize us and we say they are “unutterable”

Our immediate experience, what happened yesterday or the day before, belongs to narration; with it we represent our lives and the lives of others.

An indicator that we have built a healthy personality is our ability to coherently integrate what we think and feel, what we have lived and dreamed, in order to describe our lives inclusively and honestly. Psychoanalysts recognize that neurosis is the reflection of an insufficient, incomplete or inappropriate story about oneself.   

On the book “The Culture of Education”, Jerome Brunner[6] comments that “story making, narrative, is what is needed to let the children develop a mode of thinking and feeling that helps them create a version of the world in which, psychologically, they can envisage a place for themselves –a personal world”.

According to this important pedagogue, there are two ways in which human beings organize and manage their knowledge about the world and structure even their immediate experience: one seems to be more suitable for dealing with physical matters, the other for dealing with people and their situations. These are conventionally known as logical scientific thinking, and narrative thinking.

Through our narrations we build a version of ourselves in the world and it is through narration that culture offers models of identity and belonging to its members. Every day, everyone tells a story. Every day, the others tell us their versions of the stories we live, and thus we learn that there are different points of view and ways of organizing the experiences we share, in such a way that by weaving stories we build our vision of the world. 

We narrate to communicate, but also to comprehend. We narrate for the other, but also for ourselves. We describe our dreams as a way of beginning to make them come true, because, as Efrain Huerta said: “Everything looks like its own dream”.

Books make it possible for us to expand our world, to allow us to be questioned by stories that are different and in a certain way the same as ours, but with other feelings and perceptions of reality, with different dreams and fantasies. This contact, this dialogical and discursive process strengthens the construction of our own selves, and opens us to encounters with others.

Literature is the deepest way of getting into the other’s shoes that has been invented, a way of getting inside their skin, of breathing and feeling with them.

Children need a great variety of books that allow them to fully enter a world that is so rich in narrations and stories, books in formats that are adequate to their specific conditions, books in their own language, bilingual books, books in braille for those who cannot see, books narrated in sign language for those who cannot hear, books in simplified language for those with intellectual disability, books about the most varied topics and in the most varied styles.

They also need to be a part of reading environments that stimulate their interest through dialogue with books, about books and about what the stories provoke in each person. 

They require mediation and accompaniment of other readers that transmit to them the enthusiasm, the joy, this virus which travels through secret passages and passes on the passion for reading.

Fiction books are indispensable, that kind of literature that narrates alternative worlds and experiences, because, as Octavio Paz says, “The experience of literature is, essentially, the experience of the other: the experience of the other that we are, the experience of the other that are the others”

And yet, many of these others are not in literature, their experience does not count, since it is not told. They also seem to be invisible for literature.

Those who have been excluded, when they finally gain access to books, they can’t find themselves in them. Books are not there for them or for others. Not being able to find our own experience reflected in the stories we read is somehow not being a part of the cultural universe, of the collective imagination. That which is not named, cannot be seen nor understood.

It is also possible that they are reflected as the one-dimensional man. Thus, the deaf will only be deaf, as if it were the only characteristic he possessed. The black man will only be there to play the part of “the black man”, the homosexual only for his sexual choice, as if that characteristic totalized the individual. Then, the differences only separate and exclude, since all possibilities of finding common places are erased.

Those of us who write nowadays have a great challenge ahead of us: making visible those who have been invisible until now. But how can we do that if we are not in touch with them, if they are not a part of our reality. The first challenge is learning how to see, committing to be inclusive, but not in the sense of being just politically correct, but as a result of a deeper, richer and more diverse view of the world.

Those who promote reading nowadays are called upon to making the experience of reading for pleasure accessible to an increasingly broader “everyone”. We need to widen the doors, to call each person, to diversify the languages and strategies.

When the experience of literature is fulfilling and profound; when we discover that a book is a place we can inhabit and that we do not want to get out of it, we begin to feel the need to tell our own story to ourselves and to the others.

That is what we need, to take the leap from reading to writing in order to find new voices that narrate their experience in the first person, creating a larger, richer, more complex and diverse range of stories.

Chimamanda Adichie, in a conference that has been widely spread, explains us how the world is simplified and flattened when we have one single story, one sole version of reality, which becomes petrified with the rigidity of a particular way of thinking.

The problem with stereotypes, –she says– is that they are not necessarily untrue but simply incomplete. They cause that a story in particular turns into the only story.

The inclusive society we want to build must be sustained in the right that each one has to choose, define and tell, to oneself and to others, one’s own story; it should open spaces for weaving and integrating the stories we all make together, the ones that define the outlines of that new and very broad everyone.

Reasoning together we will discover a great amount of things about the world and about ourselves. We will never know if we learn to narrate by living or if we learn to live by narrating. It is probably a bit of both.

 

[1] Javier Melloni, “Hacia un tiempo de síntesis”, p. 24

[2] Octavio Paz, “Pasión Crítica” in Djelal Kadir, The Other Writing: Postcolonial Essays in Latin America’s Writing Culture, p. 59.

[3] Cited by Neil Gaiman on “Why our future depends on libraries, Reading and daydreaming.” http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming.i

[4] Goldin, Daniel. “Qué aprendemos cuando aprendemos a leer”. Revista Ararú No. 31, August 2000.

[5] Neil Gaiman. ibid.

[6] Bruner, Jerome. La educación, puerta de la Cultura. Ed Visor, Colección Aprendizaje. Madrid,1997.