She's now on that grad student grind. Surprisingly I haven't run into her at work, but hopefully we'll run into each other more often! Steph is also a part of the People's Education Movement. Their mission is "Educators seeking to create sustainable liberatory spaces inside and beyond the classroom, to promote growth, healing, and transformation." People's Ed is hosting an event: Self-care for SistarMaestras on Sunday, October 4th, 2-5pm. Self care is something we all should practice, especially the teachers who give so much of themselves through their work. Space is limited so RSVP right away! Enjoy this excellent interview with Steph: Oblivious meets Steph Cariaga
Affiliations (arts org, fun things you do, etc) : Laila bear's mama, grad student at UCLA, People's Education Movement
What's the one word you are guilty of using too much?
Hmm... As a mom, the word "shit" comes to mind - I realized this after my daughter's been copying the things I say and thinking it's funny, so I gotta be careful of that! I think I also say "sorry" too much. I'm trying to find a balance between being accountable for actual mistakes I make, and not saying "sorry" as a perception, or habit, of thinking I'm at fault all the time.
How did you end up doing what you are doing now?
Well, being a mom and a grad student are in some ways connected to me burning out and feeling pushed out of teaching. I was teaching high school English for several years, particularly in Watts, South LA, and while I was developing really significant relationships with like-minded teachers and my students, I also lost my passion after hustling so hard against unsupportive administration and dehumanizing schooling practices. I also realized that I wasn't equipped to truly support students who were opening up to me about really challenging experiences at home and in their community, or students who just couldn't balance the demands of the work they were expected to do at school and the burdens they faced through violence, poverty, and other issues beyond their control. I think I and a few other folks were on our way towards figuring out how to better meet these students' needs, but grinding within systems that didn't allow for that kind of work to be valued nor supported, I just couldn't keep going. And it was taking a toll on my personal health and relationships.
I think becoming a mom allowed me to finally put myself first, and understand that self-empathy could allow me to become a better teacher in the long run. I know I didn't want to quit teaching altogether and that I needed space and time to reflect on my experiences working with young folks, so now I'm in grad school trying to figure out how trauma impacts students of color, and how to develop teaching practices that can help students to heal from these challenging experiences.
Through another class I've taught, called Young Empowered Women, with my friend Denise and another homegirl Amreen, I've come to understand that teaching students how to heal requires us to heal ourselves too. So I've also been working with my brilliant sistar-maestra Amreen on doing these workshops on self-care for teachers.
Which member of the Wu-Tang Clan best describes your personality?
So... I dunno if Patrick's (my husband and Laila's daddy extraordinaire) will like hearing this, but, I don't really know Wu Tang that well! I guess if I had to choose, I'd pick RZA, cuz I know he wrote The Tao of Wu, on some hip hop-spiritual-philosophical tip. I've always been into learning about different philosophies, and I've come into appreciating the tenets of Buddhism and mindfulness. And I think music can be really dope in enlightening certain things and themes, so yeah... RZA works!
Dogs or Cats, who wins? Why?
When I was young, hands down, dogs, because I grew up with them. And scruffy dogs will always win my heart. Lately though, I think cats are on some other level - like, they know shit, when they look at you. But then again, cats make me sneeze. Bah. Don't make me pick.
What is the best part of any given day for you?
Being able to wake up naturally, as Laila wakes up at the same time next to me. I'll ask her what she's dreamt about, because she always has something interesting to say. Like, "Mama moon said 'I love you,'" or "I was swimming with Turtle and shark came, and we're friends." I have no idea if she's really dreaming about these things, but it's cool to see her world. And then follow that with Patrick making breakfast for us and eating together in the morning. It's a privilege and joy to take my time, hanging out with my little family, and ease into the day.
Definitely the homegirl Tiffany Eng, cuz she has camping down to a science and art. Patrick and I have been lame and haven't joined her on her crazy fun expeditions, but we want to soon. I know that if the zombies came, Tif would know where to go and how to get there with minimal shit.
What is the last thing you searched for on google?
I tried to find an image of "dancing women of color" for this flyer I made for a People's Ed self-care workshop we're putting on for women-identified teachers. We have this dope teacher/choreographer, Nina Hall, who's going to come in and teach us some dancehall moves, and I wanted to try to capture her spirit and energy. I couldn't find one that fit, so I ended up using a beautiful art print from the artist Michelle Robinson, who goes by Mister Michelle.
If you could talk to your high school self, what would you say?
That yeah, it sucks that your dad's hella strict and controlling, but you have time to get free later. And that maybe it's not such a hot idea to sneak your boyfriend into the house, while your parents and brothers are sleeping. I can't believe I did that! Ugh, I cringe every time I think about that and what would've happened if I got caught... (Laila, if you're reading this one day when you're older, DON'T DO THAT SHIT!)
What is the best thing or meal you ever ate?
Dang. That's hard. I can't answer that, cuz it really depends on what I'm in the mood for. If it's something that makes me feel at home, I'd say my mom's Pinakbet. And watching my grandma smash the squash with her fork, and scoop it up with the other vegetables, pork, and sauce with her rice. That's a satisfying bite.
What is a memorable project that you are working on or have worked on?
The Self-Care for SistarMaestras workshop I talked about earlier. Amreen and I facilitated a similar one at the Free Minds, Free People conference this past summer, and it felt really good to be in a room with like-minded women, putting ourselves first for a few hours and holding space for our burdens, feelings, and gratitude. I'm excited to incorporate movement for this workshop, because Nina creates such a loving space for folks to feel free in their bodies, which I think is an important element to healing, especially for women. And teachers don't often get a chance to do that, since we're constantly thinking, reacting, and thinking some more. We'll have time to process the hard parts of balancing life and teaching, but there will also be time for just pure joy through dance. I'm excited for that!