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  • Writer's pictureNatalia Anciso

A Message to John King, US Secretary of Education: On the importance of the Arts in Education...and

On "What I Hope Students (and Education Policymakers) will see in Hamilton," an editorial piece for Medium by John King, our new US Secretary of Education...

I have been so busy teaching and working on some new pieces that I just now saw this article. I was so glad to read that on the day of his confirmation, John King, the new US Secretary of Education, wrote an editorial about the importance of arts in education and when I found out that he included me in his article I thought perhaps I misread something. I am truly humbled to be mentioned in this article in a similar vein to the likes of two of my art heroes, Kara Walker and Kehinde Wiley, as well as the amazingly talented Lin-Manuel Miranda (of which, the Hamilton soundtrack is constantly being played on my husband, John V. Nepomuceno's headphones). To even THINK, “How will we expect a student to become the next Lin-Manuel Miranda…the next Kara Walker…the next Kehinde Wiley…the next Natalia Anciso?” is a little strange to me…unreal, even.

I never fathomed that someone, much alone the US Secretary of Education would ask that very question to the world. I just do what I do. I don’t think I’m anywhere near the level of these artists. All three of these people have won numerous awards, are world-renowned, and Kara and Kehinde are two artists in particular, that I have greatly admired since my college years, and I have always made it a point to teach my students about both of them. It’s unbelievable to me, but I am grateful to be included in the conversation.

I know that I have been recently blessed with many opportunities, much of that given my work as an Artist, but when you spend the majority of your day tying shoelaces, cleaning glue/markers/vomit off tables, and asking things like “Why would you do that?” and “Did you forget to wash your hands?” to little children each and every day, you tend to forget things that happen outside your own four walls. My classroom is very much a sacred space to me, and though my other life finds me researching deeply of the myriad of social and historical issues that plague our world, and working tirelessly on my artwork (when I do have time), my other life finds me in my classroom, spending hours planning, and grading, and conjuring up the next lesson or unit plan, so I can best serve my Kindergartners by helping them read, count, add, subtract, and just be good people. I am fully dedicated to my life as an Artist and a Teacher and I am grateful to have a job that allows me to help change lives every single day.

As I mentioned before, my wish is to help pave the path for girls of color who look like me and grew up like me, and have them realize that they are worth something, that they are enough, and become successful so that they could do the same for others.

In some ways, I do fear for the young girl who will become “the next Natalia Anciso,” for the countless struggles, trials, tribulations, and other harm I have gone through in my life, is not wished on anybody. For all the times I have been dismissed, ignored, talked-over, and even ridiculed, both because of the color of my skin, and for my past station in life, I have always wondered how life would have been like if I was a shade lighter, or if my family grew up in some suburb. I'm from the Rio Grande Valley, in the rough and tumble Texas Borderlands. An area wrought with extreme poverty, high dropout rates, illiteracy, and consistent heartbreak and struggle. My family wasn't immune to the struggle, and we toiled for generations. But with the struggle, we also learned resilience, and that drove me forward in all I have done, and continue to do.

The Valley has so much culture, but as a region, we lacked many of the opportunities that people from more privileged backgrounds from more privileged localities have, especially when it comes to access in the Arts or the theater. Additionally, so many of us were so caught up preparing to make a living just to survive that the arts was not at the forefront of our interests. I come from a hard-working stock of Tejanos who spent their lives breaking their backs in the fields and laboring with their hands. I am the first in my family to graduate from college. I know where I came from, and I studied and researched my American, Texas, Mexican, Chicano, and Tejano History so I can truly know myself and where I came from. I will continue to do my Art, and share it to the world, and Teach my youth because of how I grew up and what I and my family have gone through (and continue to go through) each and every day. I know there is so much more we can do to create more opportunities for our most-deserving but underserved youth, and I'm trying my best to do my part to help.

I do know this. I am who I am, and will continue to be. Natalia Anciso. A Chicana-Tejana. An Artist. A Teacher. A girl from Mercedes, Texas.

Thank you, Secretary John King.

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