Reflections on Creative Resistance: A Personal Note and Update on our work at Academia Cuauhtli by Angela Valenzuela Ph.D.


I've been silent on the blog due to a lot of work these days that keeps me busy. Also doing a bit of traveling while keeping up with the seemingly unending craziness and horror in full display. Because of the work that many of us in the community do, it's hard not to see and indeed, important to acknowledge, the hopeful signs before us that our work and commitments inspire.

In this vein, I want to share a bit about travel to Oaxaca, Mexico, next week, as well as some wonderful updates pertaining to our Saturday school, Academia Cuauhtli (or "Eagle Academy" in Nahuatl) here in Austin Texas. 

The focus of our school is with Austin's most vulnerable community that is working-class, Spanish speaking, and immigrant, holding mostly poorly-paid jobs as frontline workers in the Austin area.

In partnership with the Austin Independent School District and the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center (ESB-MACC) where we are physically located, our school is a language and cultural revitalization project mostly for fifth and fourth-grade elementary school girls and boys where they are exposed to a culturally enriching curriculum, including danza Mexica (Aztec dance), nurturing in them a deep sense of not just "identity," but their multiple identities where Indigeneity—including Afro-Indigeneity and Afro-Latinidad—gets centered. Our curriculum shifts from year to year, depending on what our parents and teachers seek.

Texas State University professor Dr. Chris Milk and a group of teachers are working over the Summer, as they always do, to produce a professional, standards-aligned, culturally-rich, Spanish-English curriculum that gets taught not only at Academia Cuauhtli in the Fall, but also districtwide, with mostly bilingual/dual language teachers, taking this up, we understand. Thanks to Jessica Jolliffe for another year of funding for this important work and to Chris for his leadership and commitment to this work. 

Thanks to excellent initiative and leadership by Maria Unda, Mateo Villafuerte, and Azteca Sirias, another highlight this Summer is Academia Cuauhtli's second annual Aztech Kidz Code Summer Camp. It takes place at the end of July and early August at the ESB-MACC. 

At this camp, children and youth will learn to code, produce their own games, and learn now to monetize then to plant seeds in their minds of possible futures in technology, graphics, and computer design that are fully consistent with Indigenous identity, epistemologies, and aesthetics. This is coupled with danza Mexica (Aztec dance), where "danza" means ceremony and not dance. So happy to see maestra Katya Guzman and maestro Mario Ramirez offering instruction again this year.

Regarding Oaxaca, Mexico, 13 of us, all educators, head out on Sunday. We will be meeting with our friends and colleagues at La Universidad Autónoma Benito Juarez de Oaxaca (UABJO), or the Autonomous University of Benito Juarez in Oaxaca, Mexico. While there, we'll be part of a symposium at the University and will visit schools taught by Indigenous teachers so that we can deepen our sense of Indigenous pedagogy, curriculum, and practices, while deepening our relationship to students and faculty at the university.

Thanks to San Diego State University and Chair of the Dual Language and English Learner Education Department, Dr. Margarita Machado-Casas, as well as to Language Institute Director Fernando Martinez for making this possible. Fernando and his colleagues prepare Indigenous, pre-service teachers to return to their communities to teach in ways that are decolonial, grounded in community-based knowledge, values, and ways of knowing from an asset-based perspective. In the U.S., we might call this is a Grow Your Own Teacher program that is also about language and culture revitalization similar to Academia Cuauhtli.

As horrible as the world is right now, Academia Cuauhtli remains an enduring bright spot, a true beacon of hope that fosters resilience and makes our current toxic political life as a country, not just bearable, but rewarding and fulfilling.

Ours is a way of knowing that Dr. Roberto Cintli Rodriguez in his book 2021 titled, "Writing 50 Years (más o menos) Amongst the Gringos," describes as "creation-resistance." 

This maps on to other concepts like "transformational resistance," advanced by Solorzano and Bernal (2021), as well as the notion of writing from a "theory of the flesh," as put forward by Moraga and Anzaldúa (1981) where our best thinking is born from that tender and frequently fraught place of lived experience where pain, love, joy, and crushing exploitation reside. 

Drawing on Vizenor (1999) and Indigenous scholarship, Sabzalian (2019) marshals the concept of "survivance," where surviving and resisting work creatively to negotiate meaning within educational contexts amidst colonial dispossession. Sabzalian also notes how survivance—and I would add, creative and transformational resistance—disrupt individualized notions of "resilience" and "grit" that unjustly place the onus of achievement and conversely, failure, on the students themselves. Props to University of Oregon Professor Leilani Sabzalian for winning the Outstanding Book Award of the Year in 2020 by the American Educational Research Association for her book titled, Indigenous children’s survivance in public schools. I highly recommend it for the Ethnic Studies and Native American and Indigenous Studies college classroom.

It's all a mix that, at its best, invokes what our ancient ancestors termed, floricanto, translated literally as "flower and song." And how better than to create just such a world in the now, in the present, with the children who will also someday be ancestors to the coming generations? 

I saw an amazing Netflix movie this week titled "RRR" (meaning, “Rise Roar Revolt”), out of India that I highly recommend as it, too, speaks to the power of flower and song to dismantle symbolic orders and tumble empires, helping me to think of floricanto creation-resistance, and survivance as liberatory and revolutionary praxis as non-violent, social justice mechanisms for change.

Taken together, these are ways of knowing that are not always explicit—albeit powerfully tacit— where our heartfelt, collective need for greater peace, justice and unity in the world is neither a slogan nor an idea, but instead, a creative way of life that holds an array of meanings for us. 

It means uplifting both our youth and families, together with their bilingual education/dual language teachers so that they can teach from an additive, strengths-based perspective, anchored in children's stories, histories, languages, cultures, and identities so that youth can envision positive, bold, and expressive futures for themselves— just as they are—as members of a community that has their backs.

To us all, this IS the movement that nurtures and empowers self in community. Would that all of our communities had such powerful spaces for teaching, learning, reflection, and healing.

Major thanks for UT doctoral students Patricia Nuñez and Julia Hernandez for working hard these past several months to make our trip to Oaxaca happen. A shout out to Tiffany Guridy at LLILAS, as well, for her hard work in addressing the minutia of detail associated with international travel for us all. 

As always, we are also indebted to our ESB-MACC family, Director Michelle Rojas, Lori Navarrete, Olivia Tamzarian, Ulises Gave, and all the other staff for partnering with us on this truly awesome and beautiful journey.

-Angela Valenzuela


Anzaldúa, G., & Moraga, C. (1981). This bridge called my back: Writings by radical women of color. Watertown, MA: Persephone Press.

Rodriguez, R. (2021). Writing 50 Years (más o menos) Amongst the Gringos. San Antonio: Aztlan Libre Press. 

Sabzalian, L. (2019). Indigenous children’s survivance in public schools. Routledge.

Solorzano, D. G., & Bernal, D. D. (2001). Examining transformational resistance through a critical race and LatCrit theory framework: Chicana and Chicano students in an urban context. Urban Education36(3), 308-342.

Vizenor, G. R. (1999). Manifest manners: Narratives on postindian survivance. University of Nebraska Press.