Transformative Knowledge

A Chicano Perspective

One of the articles in Being Global Neighbors (IC#17)
Originally published in Summer 1987 on page 48
Copyright (c)1987, 1997 by Context Institute

Robert Vargas, Ph.D., is a community activist, futurist, organizational development consultant, and a "maestro" (teacher) of social healing in the Chicano-Indio tradition. Initially recognized for his pioneering efforts in developing mental health programs for multicultural communities, Roberto has since devoted his energies towards enabling people to discover their leadership capabilities. Roberto shares his knowledge on human/social transformation and life-style activism through consultations and workshops for agencies, communities, and organizations throughout the United States and in Canada and Sweden. Currently teaching at the School of Social Work, San Jose State University, he has authored several publications including Razalogia: Community Learning for a New Society and Provida Leadership: A Raza Guide to Human/Social Transformation.

– Lila Forest

Many of us share the vision of a society of love, respect, and universal well-being. This is an idealist proposition but one that can be realized, given a shared cultural strategy, one that includes the experience and knowledge of transformation being discovered among our diverse cultural communities. I share with you here some of the cultural strategy being developed by the Chicano (or Hispanic) community of the USA.

THE CULTURAL STRATEGY

Chicanos are Americans of mixed Latino and Indio (American Indian) descent who number 18 million and who have contributed greatly in building this nation as its primary source of cheap labor. As a people, we have been involved in a survivalist struggle to actualize our potentials, from the time of the early Spanish conquest of the Americas to our present battle for economic and social justice in the United States. For many, this commitment to struggle is a way of life inspired by the hopes for a better future for our children. Of late, many of us have grown to realize that there will be no better future for our children unless there is a sustainable future for all people. Consequently, we see the need to apply our experience and talents to the greater effort of healing mother earth, using what we call the Cultural Strategy.

The Cultural Strategy involves a holistic understanding of the problems facing humanity and a plan of action which is simultaneously economic, political, and spiritual. The multiple problems threatening our future from the poisoning of our environment to current military build-ups are products of the dominant socio-economic and cultural systems. In other words, the problems involve both institutional systems and the attitudes and values of people which (consciously or unconsciously) support these systems. For example, we cannot say the problem is solely due to our exploitive economic system; it is also the product of the attitudes of apathy, consumerism, individualism, racism, and selfishness that maintain this system.

In response to this analysis, the Cultural Strategy seeks to evolve new ways of seeing, interacting with, and being in the world that can create the new cultural and social systems we desire. This strategy is an action plan that involves radical self-discovery, life-style activism, group action, and the challenge of creating knowledge supportive of our idealist visions.

TRANSFORMATIVE KNOWLEDGE

Knowledge is required to guide and support the process of human/social transformation. We need ideas like "new age" to inspire our creativity, "social healing" to validate our new style of activism, and "inner to outer" to explain the dynamics of transformation. Having recognized a similar need in our Chicano social struggle, we began to clarify a number of concepts for the empowerment of people which now serve as useful tools for transformative work. These tools are intended to assist people to actualize their personal and group potential for achieving shared growth and well-being.

Our initial context was the social activism of the early 1970s, in which we, as our community’s first sizeable generation of university students, sought to develop theories of education, law, psychology, and mental health relevant to our community. With others entering mental health, I organized mental health centers for our community, while also clarifying new theories of therapy meaningful to people subject to multiple levels of oppression and racism. An outcome for our efforts was the development of a community learning approach called "Razalogia", which serves to facilitate personal and group power, develop multi-cultural unity and the elaborate knowledge for human/social transformation.

RAZALOGIA

Razalogia means "knowledge of and for the people". It also identifies a community learning method developed by Chicanos to facilitate personal power, shared action, and knowledge for transformation. Parallel in principle and practice to many other forms of popular or liberation education, Razalogia offers several unique principles, having been developed by oppressed people living in urban America.

EL NO

Through countless small group meetings in which participants took turns sharing about the struggle of being part of a minority in this country, we clarified a chief source of our powerlessness. It called itself "El no". Literally meaning "the no", it is the denial of one’s personal value and power. It is the internalized sense of powerlessness which exists as result of the daily negation of our human potential by racist or sexist messages communicating "You are of no value!" The consequence is an internalized life perspective echoed within one’s mind as "No valgo (I have no worth)" or "No puedo (I can’t)", in other words, el no.

This concept has had multiple benefits. It has assisted us in aiding people of numerous cultural groups to discover their inherent goodness and power. Shared appropriately, the phrase itself touches a deep emotional cord not only in Chicanos, but in all people. People seem to say, "Aha, it’s not me that’s messed up, it’s this attitude I have been socialized to accept". With this insight, they can share their particular El no’s and how they originated for them. For many, these expressions of insight begin a radical transformation, as they come to realize that their problem is an internalized attitude that can be changed.

On another level, the concept of El no aided us in more correctly conceptualizing our role as mental health workers: to facilitate personal and group power. It affirmed for us our pursuit of knowledge regarding the process of empowerment.

CONOCIMIENTO (OR UNITY) PRINCIPLE

Our advanced industrial society has been very destructive to community, to the degree that many people have forgotten how to be community, to share a "common-unity" of concern and support. Consequently, we saw the necessity of incorporating into all dimensions of group work a conscious effort to develop community, which in itself can lead to increased levels of personal and group power.

The Conocimiento Principle recognizes that common unity begins with the process of shared awareness and understanding, or conocimiento. In essence, we must learn the basics of who each person is before we can evolve the trust and bonding required for unity and shared group power. With this principle in mind, all group efforts balance the focus on a task with a conscious effort to maximize relationships of shared awareness among participants. Meetings are begun by communicating the equal values of becoming community and accomplishing the task. There are shared introductions, the modeling of "who am I" by the facilitator, and the use of smaller groups or even dyads (two’s) for doing conocimiento or working on the task.

The Conocimiento Principle emphasizes the necessity of consciously creating community within the group to heighten the potential for personal growth and shared action. Increased bonding and trust in the group can lead to deeper sharing, greater insights, increased commitment to action, and the inspiration of feeling that you are greater than one person – you are part of a community.

PROGENTE AND PROVIDA

The utilization of Razalogia, the conscious effort of creating knowledge for transformation, combined with the insights provided by El no and the Conocimiento Principle led to numerous other ideas for facilitating transformation, including the terms "Progente" and "Provida". Progente literally means "for the people". It has become a powerful word for qualifying such fundamental concepts as "power". In our work to develop personal and community power, it was important to qualify the type of power we desired to encourage, not the power characterized as control and authority (power of A over B), but the "New Age" notion of progente power, power with and for the people (power of A for B). Similarly, progente has been used to qualify the type of learning or research we desire, i.e., "progente research" (research for the people), or to refer to this type of work. For example, when my young daughter asks me where I am going, my response is often "to do progente work". Immediately she knows that I will be facilitating learning and moving the agenda of transformation.

Similarly, provida means "for or in respect to life". In contrast to the New Right’s idea of pro-life, which is laden with the contradictions of advocating for the fetus while supporting military build-up, provida speaks to a holistic respect for life. It’s a concept consistent with our American Indian tradition, which recognizes our unity with mother earth and all our ancestors and descendants in past and future time, and consequently our need to care for her so as to care for ourselves. Provida serves to qualify the type of leadership and traditions we are evolving in our community. Provida Leadership is everyone making their unique contribution to the creation of a healthier world. The Provida Way of Life is seeking those life practices that heal and support the development of a new society.

APPLICATION

We initially used Razalogia to develop knowledge for struggle against the injustices still being committed against our people. Understanding and practicing it has led to the idea of "transformative learning", a learning approach for assisting all people to create knowledge for social transformation. Its application at the School of Social Work at San Jose State University (California) has led to the elaboration of such ideas as "transformative leadership", "edu-powering" (the process of drawing out the inherent power of people), and the application of "praxis" (the reflection on experience to create transformative knowledge). Also, the yearly process of utilizing the Razalogia process in the form of leadership development workshops for each new class of multi-cultural students has repeatedly developed a conscious respect for differences and a realization that differences provide alternatives for transformation.

In Sweden, Razalogia inspired numerous workshop participants from over 18 nations to develop strategies to counter the racism evolving in Sweden. Participants were divided into their respective groups to identify health characteristics of their cultures and their unique El no’s. The insights gained were that each culture has its own unique life perspectives and strengths that could serve to enrich a universal human culture, and that most cultures are struggling with similar El no’s based upon insecurities and insufficient mutual validation.

The basic lesson from these sessions, and similar ones throughout the United States, is that we can all learn and gain from each other. The more the people of our various cultures can feel confident about themselves, the better able they are to appreciate the differences in others. The more each of our cultural groups can develop the traditions of sharing love, respect, and validation among their own, the easier it will be to share love and respect with people who are seemingly different. The task of healing our societies and create the world of our vision requires a sharing of efforts, knowledge, and love.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Acuna, R., Occupied America: The Chicano Struggle Toward Liberation, (San Francisco, Canfield Press).

Peccei, A., One Hundred Pages for the Future, (New York, Mentor Press, 1982).

Gonzales del Valle, A., "The Intercambio: A Model for Developing Social Work Leadership", School of Social Work, San Jose State University, CA, 1987.

Vargas, R, and Martinez, S., Razalogia: Community Learning for a New Society, (Oakland, Razagente Associates, 1984).

Vargas, R., Provida Leadership: A Raza Guide to Human/Social Transformation, (Oakland, Razagente Associates, 1985).

Vargas, R., "Community Learning and the Process of Empowerment" (Dissertation). School of Public Health, University of California at Berkeley, 1986.

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