By Casey Duncan, AmeriCorps member working at Community to Community in Bellingham, WA
As part of my service as a Community Health Promoter I volunteer with Community to Community’s youth empowerment program, Raices Culturales (Cultural Roots). Raices Culturales is a bi-lingual, multi-cultural program for Latino farm worker youth in Whatcom County, ages 6 to 12 years. It provides a structured and safe space for healthy play and educational activities around healthy food and sustainable lifestyles. The youth are allowed to grow and feel whole within themselves by gaining pride in their cultural identity and exploring the interconnectedness of all peoples in Whatcom County.
This past Saturday I had the opportunity to participate in a Capoeira lesson with the Raices Culturales youth. A Capoeira Master came up from Seattle to teach the youth about Capoeira. He began by telling us of his memory of seeing people “play Capoeira” in the streets of Brazil growing up. He casually stood on his head and explained the history of this martial art form. Capoeira was derived from the music, dance and traditions from the African slaves in Brazil. The originators of Capoeira disguised this martial art as a dance in order to practice and eventually used Capoeira to defend themselves from their oppressors and free themselves.
The Capoeira Master asked the youth to explain what a slave was. What was slavery? Do slaves have rights? Are slaves paid? Are slaves happy? All of the youth emphatically answered, "No, No, NO!" And then the Capoeira Master asked, “Where does slavery exist today? Are there slaves in the United States? Can you be a slave sitting watching Television?” The youth all listened, but were unsure how to answer. He imitated a person watching T.V., stuffing his face with imaginary potato chips and his head and neck craned forward to watch an imaginary screen. He then commented, “They are telling you how to think, just pay attention.” I thought to myself, is this message sinking in with the kids?
We spent the next hour learning the different movements of Capoeira and how to play a few of the instruments together. We encouraged each other to try the different movements: walking on our hands, making small cartwheels and ducking under kicks. We all had a great time, laughing and playing Capoeira. After thanking the Capoeira master and the Western Washington University Capoeira club for spending the afternoon with us, the youth ran energetically into the van. We immediately talked about how much physical work Capoeira was just as the youngest member of our group requested to go to McDonald’s because he was “SO hungry." My heart sunk. Monica, another AmeriCorps member, and I have been making healthy lunches for the Raices Culturales group since September. Was I naïve to think that this would influence their food choices? How could an experience as small as eating a healthy meal from scratch, outweigh the influence of the collectable “Happy Meal” toys and McDonalds Playpens? I was at a loss of what to say, so I thought back to my days as a preschool teacher where I was trained that the role of the teacher is not to provide the answers or tell a child how to think, but rather to provoke the thoughts and ask the questions. Children are the best teachers of their peers.
So as we drive home, I asked the youth: What do you think about what the teacher about watching TV making us slaves? What do you think he meant by this?
12 year-old: Well he didn’t mean this literally. T.V. doesn’t exactly tell you what to think but, advertising can influence you. It can influence you in a good way or a bad way. Like, it’s good when advertising tells you to exercise.
Me: That makes me think about all those ads that tell us how smoking is bad for us. That’s an example of advertising that can influence a person in a positive way. What’s an example of some advertising that can influence us in a negative way?
12 year-old: Well, McDonalds.
7 year-old: See, I told you! Let’s get McDonalds.
12 year-old: No, that’s not what I said! McDonalds is bad for you.
7 year-old: Why?
12 year-old: Because if you drink a milkshake it has like 200 calories.
Me: So why is that bad for you? What are calories and how do they affect your body?
12 year-old: Well it can make you fat, like if you eat too much of it. And those hamburgers have a lot of fat in them and they can give you diabetes.
Me: What is diabetes?
12 year-old: It’s when you get fat and you eat too much junk food your sugar (he gestures to the veins on the underside of his forearm) goes up.
Me: What causes people to get diabetes? Can anyone get diabetes?
10 year-old: My cousin has diabetes, and when he had to have the surgery, they said it was because of the oil.
12 year-old: Yeah, the grease, like the grease in the food we eat.
Me: What can people do to prevent getting sick?
9 year-old: Eat more vegetables!
All the kids then listed off all of the junk foods that should be avoided. And the 12 year-old concluded with: Don’t eat McDonalds, well maybe only sometimes like once in a while.
After this conversation with the youth, I am reassured. These youth are the Health Promoters of their generation. I am proud they are questioning the world around them. They have been paying attention all along and they are not convinced that advertisers are always telling the truth.