When I Dream Dreams begins and ends with Tafolla's voice summoning schoolgirl memories, while the camera tracks the streets of San Antonio's West Side. But most of this 20-minute documentary consists of talking heads. The graying heads belong to Tafolla, UT Pan American professor Ernesto Bernal, retired teacher Arcadia Lopez, Texas Board of Education Vice Chair Joe Bernal, and Trinity professor Arturo Madrid. What they talk about is bilingual education.
All recall a time, before civil rights reforms of the late 1960s, when speaking Spanish in class was defined by the Texas legislature as a crime. English was equated with enlightenment, power, and patriotism; Spanish with shame. All agree that by sapping Hispanic students of self-esteem, English-only policies handicapped their education.
Passed in 1918, during the xenophobia of World War I, the Texas law that banned all languages but English from schools was at least as harsh toward students who spoke German as those who spoke Spanish. When I Dream Dreams might have been enriched by the participation of someone who grew up speaking a language other than Spanish, as well as by the perspective of an educator who supports total immersion in English from pedagogical principle, not bigotry.
A panel discussion featuring the film's participants as well as UTSA instructor Josephine Méndez-Negrete follows a screening at 8 p.m. on Friday, September 6 at the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center. It is hard to disagree with the "dreamers" in When I Dream Dreams that command of Spanish should be encouraged as an asset, not condemned as a liability. What might, however, expand and enliven the discussion is consideration of multilingualism, not just bilingualism. Elsewhere in the United States, it is not uncommon for a single classroom to contain children from Chinese, Somali, Vietnamese, Russian, Korean, Hindi, Arabic, and other backgrounds. Can a teacher be expected to teach each student math in the native tongue? When I Dream Dreams does a good job — in English — of diagnosing the disease of monolingualism. But it leaves open for discussion how best to cure it.
When I Dream Dreams
"Taped warmup to live discussion"
Prod. Brian Birdwell, Andi McDaniel, Keenan Sloan, Jennifer Smith