Friday, February 18, 2022

3 Things You Probably Don't Know About Me


I believe in the power of story, which is why I’m a storyteller. First as a journalist, then as a theater director, photographer, and visual artist (not illustrator) and now as a children’s book author.  

The body of my artistic work represents my desire to create art that provokes the audience/viewer/reader into discourse. Challenging the viewer/audience/reader to see their reality a little differently through those avenues of discourse and creating connections where they may or may not have expected or imagined is my goal. 

My creative projects are informed by my life as a kindergarten teacher, author/artist, and activist/ community organizer.  My work has always been steeped in race, class, and gender inequity. In fact, I would say that I bring race, class, and gender analysis to everything I do.  It’s unavoidable for me.

For much of my career as a public-school educator, I have declared that teaching is an act of social justice for me.  As I reflect on all my broad life experiences, I realize that all along all roads have led to social justice.

Over 30 years of activism and community organizing has shaped me and lead me to stories of resistance and resilience and stories of the human experience(some in metaphor.) All strands of my life eventually  lead to my desire to do my part to leave the world a little bit better (I’m long past the illusion that I will change the world.)  And so, my journey has brought me here.

I write children’s books hoping to provoke young people to engage in discourse. It is my hope that through that discourse we can build the conditions for social justice and equity to occur. It is my wish that we can find ourselves connected to each other so that we might make our way to a more humane existence using the power of story.

In previous posts, I’ve talked about both my teaching process and my writing and artistic process.  Not much has been shared about my life as an activist.  Often in allyship,  I find myself standing for rights of others whether their identities reflect my own directly or indirectly.  Here are three things you probably don’t know about me.

1) During the civil war in El Salvador, the US government spent over a billion dollars.  I was interested in understanding how my tax dollars were being spent, so I volunteered on a delegation that flew to El Salvador to monitor the elections during the war.   At the heart of the congressionally sanctioned delegation, run by a small Los Angeles non-profit organization, was the expectation that we would observe and monitor the first set of Salvadoran municipal elections that allowed multiple groups to participate.  It was a tricky and dangerous time. I brought back stories for my congressman and learned to protect the right of others to vote in a struggling democracy.

2) During the Democratic National Convention in 2000, protesters filled the streets of Los Angeles to make their voices heard.  The protests lasted the entire week.  It was an intense time between the LAPD and those who participated in street actions, the majority of which were robust yet peaceful.  I volunteered with the National Lawyers Guild to observe and monitor clashes with protesters and police. I learned to protect the voices of citizens who spoke truth to power challenging the status quo to strengthen the democratic process.

3) After my daughter was born, standing for rights in dangerous situations was no longer possible. So, I softened my approach and took her instead to lobby in Washington D.C. for education justice with other activist teachers know as the BATs (Bad Ass Teachers). I learned and I hope she learned that it’s not enough to vote or speak out in the streets, you must participate in meetings and policymaking and hold leaders accountable to keep a democracy.

By Zeena M. Pliska


Carmela Martino said...

Thanks so much for sharing about your activism, Zeena. I was especially touched by this statement:
>>I have declared that teaching is an act of social justice for me.<<
I commend your bravery and fortitude.

Linda Mitchell said...

Love this post. I had a rough week here in public education. My governor just made a mess of things mid week. The frustration and anger have only been turned up. It's really good to read positive story telling.

CS Perryess said...

Hello Zeena,
This is a fabulous post. Why am I not surprised that you're a Bad Ass Teacher?
I bow to you,

April Halprin Wayland said...

Zeena ~ Of COURSE you're a Bad Ass Teacher! I like what Carmela wrote, so I'm copying her: I commend you for your bravery and fortitude. What a leader & teacher you are!