“Dreaming in Quarantine”: Latino/a Literature class turns self isolation into collaboration

A word cloud created by students in the Latino/a Literature class. The words and phrases were taken from Julia de Burgoss poetry. Courtesy of Lydia Kerr and the ENGL 377G class.

In March of 2020, students across the country attended their last day of class weeks earlier than anticipated. Many suddenly felt isolated and perhaps even helpless, facing the virus COVID-19 as well as a period of social distancing that would last an undetermined length of time. 

For students of professor Lydia Kerr’s Latino/a Literature class — one that had heavily relied on in-class discussion of texts by Hispanic and Latino authors — the separation that at first seemed isolating became a chance to collaborate. 

“When we had to move classes online … my first concern was what to do with the final project for this class. Many students were already working on their own individual creative projects, presentations, and research papers,” said Kerr. “But when we moved online, I felt that we wouldn’t be able to give those projects the time and attention they deserved. I hoped that working together would take some of the stress and pressure off of individual students while also making us all feel a little more connected during such strange times.”

Creating the Zine

The class was designed to expose more scholars to the works of Latino/a authors and poets, such as Christina Garcia, Ernesto Quiñonez and Julia de Burgos. Through these texts, the class also discussed social issues and groups that began in Latino/a communities, like the Young Lords party and the Nuyorican poets.

Kerr presented the project as an opportunity to apply the concepts and ideas learned in class to the current events surrounding COVID-19. The group agreed to create a “zine,” a DIY publication that is usually produced cheaply or electronically. Zines are typically about a specific topic, ranging from social issues to television show fandoms. Since zines are so cheaply produced, they gained popularity in marginalized communities. This format seemed like the perfect one to discuss COVID-19’s effect on Hispanic, Latino and other disenfranchised populations.

Working together, apart

While some students were initially hesitant about switching to a collaborative project, they quickly came to value the connection it offered. 

“At first I was nervous because group projects are hard to do and also trust that everything will turn out,” said student Brynn Carlson. “But because we all got along as a class and had a sense of unity with each other we were all able to make it work and in the end be proud of what we came up with.”

Students felt that the project was more meaningful than a typical final paper or project, since they were able to keep in touch with each other during a stressful time and help others navigate the same things they were struggling with in the midst of a pandemic. 

“I really loved the collaborative concept, because it shifted the final project from a task to be completed to a group initiative that would both encapsulate our learning through the semester, and provide an accessible resource to our community and others,” said Alex Monroe, a senior English major. “This zine was fun to work on, and came together really beautifully after a lot of class discussion and planning.”

Addressing social issues

Topics in the zine included racial bias, income inequality and issues facing undocumented workers. Most pages related to the coronavirus pandemic in some way, and all were directly inspired by the authors and texts that the class covered over the course of the semester. 

“Most students found ways to make these connections by examining how farm workers, for example, are being affected by the present crisis, or by highlighting the legitimate fears people of color have about wearing masks, or by recognizing the mental health issues associated with the pandemic,” said Kerr. “The zine thus ended up becoming a kind of quarantine toolkit for those who are perhaps most impacted by COVID-19.”

The zine is undergoing final edits even as the fall semester begins, and students who have not yet graduated hope to present it in the upcoming Conference on Writing for Social Change in spring 2021.

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