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Critical Race Counterstorytelling Through Media and Satire

Critical Race Counterstorytelling Through Media and Satire

Written by Albert Vazquez
June 08, 2015

Counterstories and Our Students Our students have lived experiences that often leave educators in awe of their resilience and courage. Being from a predominantly black and brown community in South Los Angeles, the narratives and unique experiences of my students can get lost in the larger scope of problems facing the community. As I sought to infuse my district mandated curriculum with elements of social justice and an authentic appreciation for the voices of my students, I looked to Critical Race Counterstorytelling to help my students not only identify issues close to them, but move towards action against a dominant narrative that devalues their voices.

Paolo Friere first identified critical race counterstorytelling as a way of socially marginalized people to reflect on their lives and bring critical awareness surrounding social and racial injustices (Friere 1970). In Critical Race Counterstories along the Chicana/Chicano Educational Pipeline (2006), Professor Tara Yosso identifies these counterstories as “valid and valuable data” that “challenge majoritarian stories that omit and distort the histories and realities of oppressed communities.” This notion of somebody’s experience and storing being actual “data” with real meaning is what not only captivated me but lent weight to my students’ voices.

The first step in advocating for change is bringing light to an issue. Internet sharing and social media allow causes to go viral and spread the call to action. The juxtaposition of a ludacris misconception or stereotypes to the harsh and often depressing reality of a situation creates lasting images that can spark a desire to get involved. I wanted to take my students’ counterstories along with an interests in a modern day political or social topic and have them advocate and become activists in their own way.

Introducing counterstories to students

In order to have students fully bought into the power of
counterstorytelling and the idea that their own voices can spark change, I
first had to introduce them to the concept of counterstory telling.  We started by looking at a traditional
examples of counterstorytelling as told in Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales’ legendary
poem, I am Joaquin.  After having students break down the
narratives that “Corky” Gonzales is challenging, we then look at a different
version of a counterstory that combines today’s media and satire to challenge
the dominant narrative.  We used archived
videos from the MAPP project, By Any Media Necessary ( ) to understand how the purposefule use of satire and counterstorytelling can
raise critical awareness and promote action.
Once students have the initial buy in, they can now move towards
identifying issues close to home.

Selecting Issues

Having students select their own issues is key to this activity
because it allows them to voice their true experiences.  After all, a counterstory cannot exist if it
doesn’t come from a students’ lived experiences.  Because undocumented people represent a
growing number of community members, my group of students gravitated towards
that as their topic.  It’s important to
note that tackling issues within a struggling community can force us to cross
paths with some rather controversial issues.
Keeping in mind that the issues will be initially satirized as part of
the counterstorytelling process in this activity, it’s important that students
have a clear vision for their counterstory as to prevent this from solely
becoming a parody or spoof.  It is at
this point that students must also identify the action they will be asking the
audience to take.  Will they be asking
for viewers to support legislation or rally in support of a cause?

Creating a counterstory board

Because of the technical aspects of the project, students must
plan the vast majority of details in advance to make the actual creation of
their counterstories more manageable. The storyboard creation process helps students organize all their thoughts surrounding their counterstory.  Some helpful tips:

  • Start with the end in mind – What “action” do students want to encourage?
  • Don’t lose focus – It’s easy for students to veer off in a comedic direction and forget about the actual purpose of the project
  • Details, Details – The storyboard needs to include as much detail as possible

Story Board example.pdf