Learning in the Making: Live! invites guest hosts of color on as equal and valued partners and collaborators, so that they can tell their stories and showcase the amazing things they are making and doing! This is because youth of color deserve to see engineers, scientists, mathematicians, artists, creators, and makers of color! In this series, we interview our guest hosts to learn a little bit more about them.
Maker Ed chats with Mario Martinez-Muñoz, guest host on Learning in the Making: Self-Love Headgear. Check out the video to see Mario in action!
Tell us a bit more about yourself!
My name is Mario. I use the Spanish pronunciation of my name as a way of reclaiming that I am a son of immigrants who don’t speak English. I am also aware that Spanish is a colonial language. So I’m always in constant battle with my colonizing ancestors, and my native ancestors from this land, and everyone else caught up in between there as well, because identity is so complex.
I’m a queer educator. I was born and raised in San Francisco. This is the land of the Ohlone people and the Ohlone people have been and will be and continue to be caretakers of this land. Go find out who is the caretaker of your land, please.
A lot of my work has centered around the behind the scenes program planning of professional development for young people and doing the frontline work of that as well. I’ve led about forty-something youth in professional development in a museum setting and it was fun. I love doing that work because I wasn’t doing that work for the museum, I was doing that work for the students or the youth who are primarily Brown and Black kids. They always put a smile on my face anytime I talk about them because those are my students!
I have not only experience in museum settings, but I’ve done different professional development workshops for adults as well. I’ve planned theme-centered summer camps. Thus far, I feel very proud of the work that I’ve done and proud of the people who I’ve worked with. I don’t think of myself as the bearer of the knowledge. I think of myself as a co-learner. I’ve definitely learned some things from the youth as well.
What excites you most about your work?
What people end up doing. A lot of the times in my line of work, it’s not about the end product. It’s about the process. In a lot of my roles I’ve got to sit and watch people go through this longer journey process. I’m not talking about them making one specific thing, but I’m talking about them taking that role: I am a maker, I am a scientist, I am an engineer, I am a artist. I think that Black and Brown folk are conditioned to be told, “No, you’re not any one of these things and you can’t be the rest of them.” But when you see someone reclaim that, and I say reclaim because we’ve been doing this forever, because we will keep doing this forever… but we reclaim our titles. It brings me such a beautiful sense of joy. It’s like we’re taking down colonization and also empowering ourselves while doing it.
Why do you make?
I don’t see myself as specific, like this is my medium and this is the thing I do. I make people laugh. I make food. I make things out of cardboard. (HEYYY! Check me out next week.) Why I make is because it stems from a place within me that is playful and just this willingness to know how things work or how I can make it work. If I have a question about, “Oh! What happens if I do this? Or what happens if this thing gets added to the equation?” My mindset is bring whatever I want to and just mess around with it. Getting to see different outcomes is why I make. On the making journey, it’s my journey or it’s the thing I’m building so it’s unique to me. So that’s why I make because it’s unique to me. And when you make, it’s unique to you and we can see the similarities and the key differences.
What dreams do you have for young people?
Letting them know that they are valued and they belong, even in places that scream outwardly that they don’t. I’ve been there, you’ve probably been there, so many other people have been there and they need to know that they belong and they’ve always belonged. They need to reclaim that and let themselves know the only validation they need is their own. That’s the key to everything. Do not seek validation from the person that’s gatekeeping you. Know who you are. Destroy the gate. Infiltrate. And MAKE!
If you could share one word of advice to give to other educators, what would it be?
Know who you are doing the work for. Sometimes we can get sucked up into an organization or we are like, “Oh my god I’m doing such great work!”, and maybe that’s not being reflected in the kids and the kids just are not interested in what you have to say. We need to ask ourselves why that is. “Why is there someone skipping my class?” or “Why is this person not happy here?” or “How can I help this person?” or “How can I support this person?” Because when we are doing the work for the people who essentially have trusted us, that is the most meaningful thing we can be doing… not doing the work of the school district or your boss. Find ways to be relevant and sustaining and joyful for the students to participate in your work. That’s why everyone likes art class! You get to do whatever you want to do in art class and no one gets to tell you. People give you tips and pointers on how to get better and master your craft, but no one is going to tell you what you did is wrong. Find what the students’ path is and support that. And disrupt the system!
Are there other makers and/or educators in your community whose work you’d like to celebrate?
Lianna Kali is this amazing, Brown Fijian educator. She’s really good at bringing both educational equity and the maker world together and merging them. She’s actually one of my mentors. I’m so happy to say. She’s so dope.
There is another amazing friend, a physicist. I’m proud to know her. She’s super nerdy and super awesome, Dr. Laserchick also known as Desiré Whitmore. She’s a Blaxican physicist and just anything I learn from her is just amazing and it’s taught in such an exciting way where she’s genuinely passionate about the things she’s doing and that passion pours out of her and pours into me and then somehow I really like physics, which I don’t typically. Dr. Desiré Whitmore is so cool MC Hammer retweeted one of her physics videos.
I also want to shout out a group I don’t work with but I feel like I need to shout out anytime: The Radical Monarchs. If you can check them out and donate to them because they’re dope. Anytime I see The Radical Monarchs pop up I’m like that’s so cool, I have to do it too!