How has race and intersectionality impacted your life?
I am an Asian brother whose ancestral homeland of the Philippine islands was a Spanish colony for 333 years. Being a first generation born Filipino American, and now as an adult—I see race has played a pretty obvious role in my life. Growing up, it’s the common responsibility of first-generation born U.S. citizens to assimilate. Being an older brother and one of the oldest out of my big group of cousins, I've felt that way, too. At a young age, it was about keeping my cultural identity and traditions private.
I discovered my cultural liberation later on. In college, I stepped outside of my predominantly White suburb. I started to join different cultural organizations, from the Black Student Union to Students for Caribbean Awareness to the organization for Latin American students. There wasn't one for Filipino American students or Asian American students, but I was very active and kind of expansive in that way. Specifically in the Black Students Union, which was at the forefront of not only the racial justice issues on campus, but also the community organizing. It was really the foundation of my understanding of organizing—which was building community, building relationships, and then through them being able to build power in ways that impact institutions and policies.
My college experience carried over into my teaching experience at Bergenfield High School. I was always an active member, but after my fourth year was a turning point because we were in contract negotiations. I connected with a small group of colleagues from my department who wanted to support our local union and leverage our ability to negotiate fair working conditions within our contract. Long story short, we also encountered roadblocks along the way, both internally and externally, so we subsequently organized our own people, our own members. We actually ended up running a campaign to organize for local elections within our union, and won all five in 2014. We then started to pivot that momentum towards organizing within the community around some of the issues. My heart was in Bergenfield, which had this unique position as one of the most diverse communities in Jersey at the time, and we partnered with various organizations within the community to help celebrate that. We also organized around local political elections.
On intersectionality, one of the things that I had the privilege of not thinking carefully about is being a cisgender man in a patriarchal system. I also recognize that it is my responsibility to be intentional and vocal about racial justice in ways that help disrupt anti-Blackness. It is important for me to share the emotional burden that often disproportionately impacts my Black colleagues. I'm still wrestling with how I show up in spaces.
Why is talking about race in the subject(s) you teach necessary?
Decolonizing my mindset and unpacking the racist institutions and systems in which we exist always was at the heart of my teaching.
I've always framed my thinking around racial justice and racial advocacy, because I come from a background of student activism in college. So when I entered the classroom, decolonizing my mindset and unpacking the racist institutions and systems in which we exist always was at the heart of my teaching, whether it was in world history or economics, U.S. history or personal finance. Talking about race, it's almost like I don't know an alternative. I don't know how you can not talk about race, not contextualize any of the subjects we teach without a critical race lens.
Why is this organizer’s guide necessary? How do you anticipate folx using it?
Organizing is at the heart of union activism, so how do we … prepare educators on the ground to organize for policy change at the board level? My hope is that we build a movement.
After the Tell Me Who You Are authors spoke at the New Jersey Education Association convention, and after some conversations that we had in the debrief about ways we could help get racial literacy required in the state of New Jersey, my mind went towards how we can organize and advocate to move that type of policy at the local and state level. Organizing is at the heart of union activism, so how do we leverage some of our resources to prepare educators on the ground to organize for policy change at the board level? I'm already thinking of ways that we can build momentum toward the statewide movement, and of course, being grassroots and ground up, we also have to think about ways that it's tangible and accessible for teachers to organize within their own school communities. My hope is that this guide not only makes organizing accessible. My hope is that we build a movement, within the next few years when it releases, to have a real impact.
How do members of the community engage with your work? Who are the people involved, beyond educators?
I definitely feel like “students first” is the way to think about the sequence of organizing the community. Even if you look historically at the Civil Rights Movement, it was the students and youth movements that were the guiding light for the direction of how we move. In terms of engaging student organizers, I think racial literacy is certainly a framework that allows us to all be on the same page. So it's not we as adults coming in with our own agenda to impose on students, but rather a partnership, an awareness-growing, relationship building, shared power dynamic. The student organizations that we partnered with included some of the most active ones, from the Model United Nations to the National Honor Society, to what was then called the Gay Straight Alliance, now the Gender and Sexualities Alliance. We also engaged with the Parent Teachers Association.
Finding allies around racial issues within your community can definitely be challenging. Bergenfield, as an example, was a diverse community, and there were always racial tensions present within the different groups. We were intentional about reaching out to groups that we would presume to be allies, from the public library to some of the Latino Action Network folks who were working locally. Within the Filipino community, we reached out to this very large activism within the churches. Tactics and strategies of engagement might differ based on the context of the community. Where I live now, which is a predominantly a White conservative area, I would navigate the organizing efforts in this context much differently than I would in Bergen County or Bergenfield, or Princeton or Camden or Newark or Paterson. But always student-led, educator-driven, parent partnership, and then administrator buy-in. Engage all stakeholders.
What would you like to tell any educator looking at your work right now?
I think that the framework of racial literacy really flips the war mindset, to an education and healing process for our students, ourselves, our communities.
We live in a moment when we have to be fearless. We have to pick up the mantle, for generations of organizers and freedom fighters who have gotten us to this point. I feel like educators in particular are on the forefront, at the frontlines of this battle for racial justice. And I think that the framework of racial literacy really flips the war mindset, to an education and healing process for our students, ourselves, our communities. As a collective whole, we could be the game changers, if we really own this moment.
GABRIEL A. TANGLAO'S Lesson plan:
TYPE: Workshop Activity TITLE: Power of Storytelling with TMWYA CONTENT AREA: Teacher Educator Professional Development
DESCRIPTION:This is a teacher PD using Tell Me Who You Are.
Click below to download a PDF of Gabriel A. Tanglao's workshop activity.
CHOOSE Educator Organizer's Guide
Click below to download a PDF of Gabriel A. Tanglao's guide.