literature Archives - The Jose Vilson


Huckleberry Finn and Jim, Legos

“They’re doing that thing again,” racially underrepresented people in this country must have whispered to themselves (and tweeted). When news broke out that the more than 200 instances of the word “nigger” would be substituted by the word “slave” in Huckleberry Finn, most of us said, “Of the 100 things on our list that need improvement in this country for racial relations, you chose THAT?!”

Erasing the n-word from one of the literary canon’s biggest children’s books is akin to erasing the “3/5ths” in the US Constitution as it pertains to slaves. Books, whether biographical or fictional in nature, serve as documentation of a history. Because Mark Twain decided to use that language in the book, he too shone a light to the customs and history of the time, no matter how deplorable we consider it. Once we try and erase a history, we beg our society to repeat the mistakes of the past. If someone erased the 3/5ths from the US Constitution, someone with little knowledge of US history could make a more profound case that the US Constitution did, in fact, address every single person living in the United States, and not strictly older, White, upper-class, Protestant males (despite the abundance of evidence to the contrary).

I get it, too. The word nigger rarely gets used except in the sometimes public confines of Black, Latino, and Asian zeitgeist and in pop culture as a reflection of those communities. Some Whites still use the epitaph as a means of degradations, but many of them, too, have gotten a pass for using it. It’s rather complex, and that’s why I would prefer it be in the text. Well, that is unless the educator usually in charge of helping students decipher text doesn’t know how to carefully manage race discussions.

Then, maybe I don’t want it taught. Maybe.

Because, when used in the book, it’s a harsh reminder to our communities that the word primarily ostracizes on a structural level. If we can’t have those discussions in earnest, then maybe we need a re-read of Huckleberry Finn. Maybe it’ll push us to keep having these discussions and stop acting like they never happened.

We need to uproot the causes and analyze what caused the weeds, but should the farmer decide to erase “weeds” from his or her vocabulary, their children won’t know what to do when they spring up again. Nameless, and still harmful.

Jose, who teaches math, folks. Math.


No Line On The Horizon

August 16, 2010

TS 2030 Cover

John Holland, the self-proclaimed Emergent Learner, sent me the greatest news I’ve gotten all day. The first (real) book I’d ever been published in is now in pre-order courtesy of Teachers College Press! I almost moonwalked out of my house when I saw the posting. For a writer, getting published through another publisher in a book is the equivalent of getting a nod for the All-Star team in the major leagues, getting a screenplay picked up by a producer, or getting a painting up at the big art museum. (Self-publishing is cool, but that’s another conversation.)

For someone who’s not a full-time writer, this only makes me that much more ebullient because I thought it’d take damn near forever to get published. People have no idea what it takes to get published in any genre, much less education or poetry. Very few publishers actually want to admit they’re publishers or work in the book industry, very few authors know exactly what it takes to get published, and very few people believe many books can sell well anymore since blogs and tweets take up so much of a reader’s word limit a day.

Unless people start believing that a full composition of literature merits one’s full attention, and is worth discussing, then we as a reading public may continue seeing the waning enthusiasm for creative writing. Teachers like me fall into this lot, as many of us have become confined to the idea that our stories aren’t worth telling. The mundane corporatization of public education (and education thought) begs that our language change from the ethereal to the ephemeral, the multitudinous to the myopic. We have so many exciting stories to tell, and so many of us who know how to tell it well, and so few people who outwardly ask to hear more of them.

I’m one of the fortunate ones who got the chance to have a slice of their stories told, and I invite those of you reading this to not simply read this book because you like my writing, but because you want to hear more from people like us, who’d share our experiences so candidly  in hopes that someone’s listening. I need to know that my writing doesn’t just advance the diversity of literature out there, but it gives others encouragement to keep at that keyboard.

Someone’s reading just beyond the horizon.

Jose, who’s still moonwalking and will continue to do so until January 2011 …