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Workshop on the Histories and Cultures of the Caribbean

K–12 educators attend workshop on the Caribbean

  • Dr. Robin Derby (Professor of History and chair of the Caribbean Studies Program, UCLA)

  • Presentation: "Haiti, History and the World" by Winter Schneider, (UCLA History Department)

  • Group Activity

  • Presentation: "Pirates of the Caribbean" by Dr. Carla Pestana, (UCLA History Professor)

  • Teachers:Tamara Taylor and Reyna Kaul

  • One the most popular presentation was titled “Listening and Dancing to the Caribbean Beats,” presented by Dr. Raul Fernandez from UC Irvine.

  • Guest Speakers: Dr. Robin Derby ( UCLA ) Dr. Raul Fernandez ( UC Irvine) and Dr, Mrinalini Tankha (UC Irvine)

  • Sandra Gillet and Liliana Diaz During a Curriculum Activity

  • Painted on a Calabash: Coq Baron Samedi by Andre Pierre (Part of the UCLA Fowler Haitian Collection)

  • Haitian Art Session at the UCLA Fowler Musuem

  • Caribbean Literature and the Enviroment by Dr. Elizabeth DeLoughrey (UCLA English Department)

  • Discussion During the "Culinary Influences in the Caribbean"

  • Coconut and Plantains both have origins fromn Southeast Asia

  • Tamara Taylor, Kindergarden Teacher at Normandie Elemantary School

  • UCLA Librarian Jeniffer Osorio Lead a Digital Resources Session

"These workshops are of great intellectual and educational value. They offer the invaluable opportunity to collaborate with academics in the field and other educators." -Reyna Kaul, teacher at Alliance Marc and Eva Stern Math and Science School

-By Veronica Zavala

UCLA International Institute, August 2, 2017 — A professional development workshop for Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) K–12 teachers, provided an interdisciplinary overview of the history and cultures of the Caribbean. Organized by the UCLA Latin American Institute (LAI) and funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Title VI Program, “Histories and Cultures of the Caribbean” took place June 19 -24, 2017 on the UCLA campus.

The workshop included lectures from faculty and advanced graduate students who have studied the Caribbean. The majority of speakers were from UCLA. However, other academic experts from UC Irvine, San Francisco State, Chapman University and Otis College of Art & Design share their knowledge during the workshop. The presentations covered a range of important topics such as the Haitian and Cuban Revolutions, an overview of pirates in the Caribbean, sugar plantations, Puerto Rican migrations to the U.S., African based religions, literature, food, and music. 

Dr. Robin Derby, Professor of History and chair of the new Caribbean Studies Program at UCLA, provided the opening remarks in which she highlighted the complexity of cultures and regions that encompass the Caribbean. As a leading scholar in Caribbean studies, she provided a bibliography which includes a list of readings, films, music and Cuban themed teaching resources for the participants. Dr. Derby said, “Teachers were incredibly eager to learn, which made it a really fun and engaging group to work with. As a person who studies popular culture, I loved the challenge of sharing popular cultural resources that make the historical issues more fun to teach, which I thought would be useful in the elementary school context.”

Dr. Kevin Terraciano, Director of the Latin American Institute and Professor of History at     UCLA, gave a presentation on the colonial history of the Caribbean. He captured the attention  of the teachers by having them analyze a primary document, El Requerimiento, (the  requirement), a speech drafted in 1512 to be read aloud when Spaniards encountered native  peoples of the Americas. “The document declared Spain's right to wage 'just war' against  native peoples in the name of Christianity and set the tone for encounters between Europeans  and Taino and Carib peoples,” said Terraciano. “Indian and African slavery in the Americas  began in the region. But it was also the first site of racial mixing between Indigenous, Africans, and Europeans. Studying the Caribbean is key to understanding the history of Latin America.”  

The LAI workshops offer a great opportunity for speakers to present their research to a different audience. For example, Winter Schneider, doctoral student in the History Department, remarked: “it enabled me to step out of my research for a moment and translate what I consider to be the most important critical aspects of Caribbean history and gave me hope that my work can critically impact the ways that history is taught to students before they get to college.”

Ariana Valle, doctoral student in the UCLA Department of Sociology, presented on U.S.-bound migrations from Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. She highlighted the value of taking her research outside university spaces, “It was rewarding to know that I was contributing to a conversation between academia and our community, especially that this information would be distilled to young students as part of their everyday education.”

These professional development workshops offer a variety of perspectives and expose teachers to interdisciplinary research. One of the most popular presentations was, “Money and Power,” by Dr. Mrinalini Tankha (UC Irvine). She discussed macroeconomic questions of monetary policies, everyday financial practices, and the circulation of multiple currencies in Cuba. A participant, Dora Vargas, who teaches 4th grade at Sixth Avenue Elementary, said, “all presentations were of great value; in particular, the presentation of Money and Power by Dr. Mrinalini Tankha was of great value because it made me aware of the currencies that Cuba is now using. I was not aware of the dual currency.”

The workshop included a visit to the UCLA Fowler Museum where teachers had the opportunity to view a selection of artwork pieces on Haiti. Terri Geis, Director of Education and Interpretation, remarked: “The teachers were so inquisitive and excited about the opportunity to view artwork pieces from Haiti first-hand—many of them had wide eyes as they entered the room and saw the ornate pieces. Together we carefully examined paintings, sequined and beaded flags, sculptures, and drawings from the Fowler’s collection and the group thoughtfully discussed the ways in which these pieces express Haitian religious practices and beliefs. It was a very inspiring afternoon!” 

For Sebastian Torres, a 5th-grade teacher at Eastman Avenue Elementary, learning about the slave  trade from a different historical perspective encouraged him to expand his current US colonial  history lesson plan, “In our fifth-grade curriculum, we introduce and go over colonization. We  tend to focus on the British colonies and how the colonists interacted with the British soldiers and  British citizens. However, we do not focus as much on the slave trade. This could be because we  don't have enough resources on the subject. After this workshop and after sharing this with  colleagues, we will have plenty of resources, including visuals and videos that our kids will  understand.”

Kindergarten teacher at Normandie Elementary School, Tamara Taylor, commented: “One of the most significant realizations I experienced as a result of participating in the workshop, was the importance of recognizing how the Caribbean is so much more than a vacation destination. It was also fascinating and frankly disturbing to learn of the role the American government played in exploiting certain Caribbean islands. I am very excited about teaching my kindergarten students about several of the Caribbean islands. I am going to tie in historical figures, culinary traditions, and cultural influences--the works! My students are primarily African American and Latino.”

Participants are required to complete assignments, including two lesson plans based on the workshop theme. In return, they receive LAUSD salary points.  For this reason, the workshops include curriculum sessions lead by Dr. Ingrid Fey (Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, LAUSD). She encourages participants to think outside the box and helps generate ideas for classroom applications by interacting with faculty and other educators.

All participants enrolled in the Common Collaboration and Learning Environment (CCLE) online forum, which allows teachers to extend lecture discussions and to access information, readings, videos, and online resources. In this way, teachers can continue to exchange and share ideas that they can bring into their classrooms. The CCLE page, Dr. Fey, and the Latin American Institute provide guidance and feedback on teachers’ assignments beyond the workshop. 

“I found this workshop extremely useful in meeting my interest in the Caribbean. I hope to continue participating in future workshops. The LAI Staff of the workshop were well organized, very professional and kind. Their hard work in creating workshops like this is greatly appreciated.” -Dora Vargas, 4th-grade teacher at Sixth Avenue Elementary. 

To learn more about the Latin American Institute outreach programs please contact LAI’s Outreach Coordinator, Veronica Zavala ( 

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