Silencing Culture and Culturing Silence: A Comparative Experience of Centrifugal Forces in the Ethnic Studies Curriculum

Using the metaphor of silencing, Professor Margaret Montoya documents the irrelevance of race, gender, and socio-historical perspectives both in legal education and, more broadly, in legal discourse. Although others have invoked this metaphor, Professor Montoya’s charting of the physical, rather than merely metaphorical, space of silence moves beyond this legal literature in several respects. Viewing silence not just as dead space, Professor Montoya enlivens and colors silence and other nonverbal aspects of communication as positive cultural traits. She demonstrates how silence can be used as a pedagogical tool (a centrifugal force) in the classroom and in client interviews to bring out the voices of women and of men of color. Moreover, Professor Montoya documents how silence and nonverbal communication, rich with cultural meaning, are misread to the legal detriment of the (non)speaker and others dependent on cross-cultural understanding. My own experiences in the classroom, an Ethnic Studies classroom filled with students intent on the study and progressive practice of law, validate many of Professor Montoya’s experiences and observations.

In Part I, I discuss my own experiences with respect to silence and race in an Ethnic Studies classroom. In Part II, I address the challenges my undergraduate students face in their journey to become progressive lawyers. In Part III, I examine some of the doctrinal pitfalls encountered by new lawyers aspiring to use the law as a mechanism for achieving social justice. Finally, I conclude by discussing the apparent irrelevance of Latino/a perspectives in legal education.