Developing this toolbox has been an incredibly long journey! We first came up with the idea of a “how-to” book after organizing the first Tamejavi Festival in 2002. The process of bringing Tamejavi to life was such an amazing and joyful learning experience that we were eager to share the power of what we then called cultural exchange. It was an experience that helped us discover a creative approach for bringing people together to act collectively towards achieving a shared vision. We learned that we could build change on the foundation of culture, creative expression and the belief that diversity can be one of the strongest social assets in California’s Central Valley. 

As often happens with non-profits, limited resources and the need to move on to the next immediate project left no room for reflection, let alone time to process and systematize our work experiences and lessons learned. Years passed as we organized four more festivals and continued developing our unique cultural organizing model and advancing our popular education practices. As we reached our 20-year anniversary, we decided to make the intentional effort to create this toolbox in the hope it will inspire others to take chances at discovering and believing in peoples’ creative approaches for social change.

Since the idea was born, many people have contributed to this effort. First and foremost, we want to thank the grassroots leaders, organizers, cultural holders, artists, allies and volunteers that have trusted our work and participated in our programs, resulting in the accumulation of invaluable knowledge and life experiences. 

"Building Collective Knowledge: A Creative Approach Towards Social Change" has genuine meaning, as the contents of this toolbox come from documenting dialogues, meetings, stories and creativities shared during our popular education and cultural organizing processes over 20 years. The title is inspired by Pan Valley’s unique experiences working with grassroots communities, and serves to recognize and validate the knowledge they have brought to the table. 

We lack sufficient space to list the hundreds of people who have contributed to the creation of this toolbox by participating in our programs, but we dedicate this labor of love to each one of them. 

We must also thank those who have supported this project in many other ways by sharing their knowledge and resources. Great gratitude must go to Jeanne Sakamoto from the James Irvine Foundation for her trust and patience, and to Leticia Corona from the Hewlett Foundation for acknowledging our uncommon way of fostering social change. Special thanks to Sonia Tuma, AFSC regional director, for giving us the space to complete this project.


Why is the Creative Approach for Social Change Toolbox?

Why a Toolbox?

The Building Collective Knowledge: A Creative Approach for Social Change Toolbox was created to share our experiences and vision for popular education and cultural organizing in a way that will benefit others that share our goals of being agents of social change for immigrants and refugees.
These pages contain stories, reflections and images gathered over 20 years of bringing together California’s Central Valley immigrants and refugees in residential gatherings, community dialogues, production of events, marches, advocacy efforts, along with workshop activities and methodologies that have proven successful for PVI staff and allies. The Toolbox was designed to serve three primary purposes:

As often happens with non-profits, limited resources and the need to move on to the next immediate project left no room for reflection, let alone time to process and systematize our work experiences and lessons learned. Years passed as we organized four more festivals and continued developing our unique cultural organizing model and advancing our popular education practices. As we reached our 20-year anniversary, we decided to make the intentional effort to create this toolbox in the hope it will inspire others to take chances at discovering and believing in peoples’ creative approaches for social change.

Since the idea was born, many people have contributed to this effort. First and foremost, we want to thank the grassroots leaders, organizers, cultural holders, artists, allies and volunteers that have trusted our work and participated in our programs, resulting in the accumulation of invaluable knowledge and life experiences. 

"Building Collective Knowledge: A Creative Approach Towards Social Change" has genuine meaning, as the contents of this toolbox come from documenting dialogues, meetings, stories and creativities shared during our popular education and cultural organizing processes over 20 years. The title is inspired by Pan Valley’s unique experiences working with grassroots communities, and serves to recognize and validate the knowledge they have brought to the table. 

We lack sufficient space to list the hundreds of people who have contributed to the creation of this toolbox by participating in our programs, but we dedicate this labor of love to each one of them. 

We must also thank those who have supported this project in many other ways by sharing their knowledge and resources. Great gratitude must go to Jeanne Sakamoto from the James Irvine Foundation for her trust and patience, and to Leticia Corona from the Hewlett Foundation for acknowledging our uncommon way of fostering social change. Special thanks to Sonia Tuma, AFSC regional director, for giving us the space to complete this project.

  • 1) It tells our story. During the past 20 years, we have formed an immigrant women’s learning circle, been involved in media activism, engaged in the immigrant’s rights mobilizations of 2006 and 2007, and started the Tamejavi Festival and Fellowship Program. This Toolbox, which reads more like a scrapbook of our experiences than a linear story, captures the lessons we have learned along the way and tells how our focus on culture and the arts has expanded as a result of what we have learned from our immigrant and refugee allies and participants.

  • 2) It outlines the essential values and principles that guide our work. More so than specific methodology, our foundational beliefs, philosophy and approach are the most valuable tools contained inside this Toolbox. Adopting the methodologies we share without understanding and embracing the principles and values behind them is perhaps worse than not using the methodologies at all. Central to our approach is the idea that those who experience oppression, marginalization and exclusion must play a central role in designing and participating in their own education and agenda for social change. We agree with this statement by popular education practitioner and scholar Paulo Freire: "The correct method lies in dialogue. The conviction of the oppressed that they must fight in their liberation is not a gift bestowed by the revolutionary leadership, but the result of their own awareness."

  • The Toolbox is designed to inspire ideas for convening learning groups

    3) It provides practical learning tools. The Toolbox is designed to inspire ideas for convening learning groups, developing a documentation and communications strategy, conducting a community assessment, and providing engagement tools for grassroots cultural organizers who are committed to doing this work on the ground over the long-term.

    The Toolbox has been organized in a way that allows users to refer to the various sections selectively as it relates to specific areas of work and context. We recommend first reading Section A, “The Theory Behind Our Work” and the Glossary for a general understanding of our work. Our hope is that readers will then utilize the tools as needed to bring about social change and community empowerment through the transformative work of popular education and cultural organizing.

Who is this Toolbox for?

1. Tamejavi Cultural Organizing Fellowship Program participants 
The initial primary audience for this Toolbox was the Tamejavi Cultural Organizing Fellowship Program participants. We decided to expand its reach upon realizing there is a larger audience that can benefit from our experience.

2. Grassroots Immigrant Leaders
This Toolbox holds helpful information for grassroots immigrant leaders worldwide that share our commitment to cultural expression, production, preservation and exchange as an integral part of building strong communities and societies.

3. Organizers, artists and professionals in the field of popular education, participatory action research and cultural organizing
In addition to the grassroots leaders, individuals and families that are engaged in popular education, art and culture as social practice within their communities, there is a growing field of professional “cultural organizing” practitioners. Thanks to organizations like Urban Bush Women, Appalshop, the Hip Hop Caucus and the Arts and Democracy Project, new ground is being broken in the quest to use cultural organizing as a tool to ignite social change and renew democracy.

How is the Toolbox Organized?

The toolbox is organized into an introduction, a glossary and three main sections.

The introduction outlines why we designed the toolbox; the importance of sharing what have we learned over 20 years of practicing popular education, participatory action research and developing a cultural organizing model; and most importantly, what have we learned by working with multi-ethnic groups, youth grassroots leaders, organizers and cultural promoters. This section also discusses the primary audience for which the toolbox is intended.

Section A, “The Theory Behind Our Work” is comprised of the Pan Valley Institute’s history, and the principles and values that guide our work. Our values not only encompass popular education, participatory research and cultural organizing, but through exploring other fundamental principles, we discovered that decolonization, a sense of belonging, women rights, social diversities, race, ethnicity, democracy and active citizenship are central tenants of our practices.

This glossary contains definitions of concepts that we have developed and used in our practices. It was developed in order to explain our concepts clearly to our constituency and to the community leaders from the Central Valley that participate in our programs. While some of the concepts are common, others have been created through the implementation of our work. For example, our definition of cultural organizing responds to the way we understand and practice this strategy for social change.

It includes definitions of concepts that have been utilized by community leaders from the Central Valley that have participated in our programs. It was important for us that the concept that we use make sense to our constituency that they own those words and where relevant to them and their world.

Section B, “How to Make It Work,” is divided into three sections.

Section B1: “Praxis Popular Education, Participatory Action Research and Cultural Organizing” consists of case studies and tools we have used for the praxis of popular education and participatory action research. This section includes practical tools for starting and sustaining popular education processes such as the steps for starting a popular education process and participatory action research; communications and documentation; dialogue and engagement; and mobilizing knowledge into action. This section also includes practical tools for participatory techniques and methodologies for conducting community assessments using participatory research techniques and methodologies.

Section B2: “Cultural Organizing: Creative Engagements” focuses on the cultural organizing model that PVI has developed over the past 20 years. This segment includes specific examples of strategies we have used in our cultural organizing practices, definitions of cultural organizing, who can be considered a cultural organizer, how to build and strengthen the capacity of effective leaders, and the opportunities open to leaders to practice what they learned. Vignettes of some the 24 participants who graduated from the Tamejavi Cultural Organizing Fellowship (TCOFP) program over the course of six years will be included. This section also illustrates how PVI has practiced cultural organizing, methodologies for conducting cultural inventories, ideas for fostering creative expressions and cultural exchanges, and a series of technical tools for event planning that follows the model of the Tamejavi Festivals and the Tamejavi Cultural and Art Series.

This section lists materials that were reviewed while developing the toolbox, along with recommended resources for those interested in learning more about the theories, principles and methodologies shared in the toolbox. Finally, throughout each section of the toolbox, we share important lessons, techniques and tips for how to implement the values, principles and approaches that have guided our work. Keep in mind that these tools should only be used as a guide and should be adapted to fit the needs of each individual community or group. In writing this toolbox, we have made every attempt to avoid falling into the trap of creating a “how-to” manual, as this kind of work doesn’t follow a certain set of procedures, nor does is follow a strict sequential course. Additionally, we are not proposing an academic curriculum that should be followed from beginning to end. Rather, we hope you will use this book as a foundation, a reference piece, a source of inspiration, and as a physical entity you can continually return to for motivation, creativity and new ideas.

Each tool provides a description suggesting circumstances in which we recommend it be used and examples of activities in which it was practiced. Each tool includes related popular education, participatory action research and cultural organizing values and principles to provide the context for practical application strategies, along with tips for effectively applying each tool. Also included are inspirational quotes, and in some instances, specific stories. We suggest consulting the reference section for more insight of the principles, values and techniques behind each tool.


The Pan Valley Institute

Who We Are?

Advocates | Educators | Cultural Organizers | Grassroots Leaders
Agents of Change | Activists | Visionaries | Researchers
Community Builders | Influencers

Founded in 1998 as a program of the American Friends Service Committee, the Pan Valley Institute (PVI) is a popular education center located in Fresno, the heart of California’s San Joaquin Valley. The Valley is home to large immigrant and refugee populations that struggle with experiences of social isolation, economic inequality, marginalization and cultural discrimination. Our mission is to accompany and support them in their efforts to build a productive and enriching place for themselves in their new home. We create welcoming spaces where immigrants can gather to dialogue and learn from one another and rebuild their world.

PVI has worked to accomplish this mission over the past 20 years by providing safe venues for dialogue and have encouraged immigrants to support and learn from one another as they build a sense of belonging while also become active participants and agents of change to their new society. 

We see cultural organizing as a concrete step toward building a community that is cohesive and capable of responding to social challenges. Through the use of organizing strategies like cultural gatherings, leadership trainings, thematic workshops, residential gatherings and the Tamejavi Cultural Organizing Fellowship Program (TCOFP), we have increased immigrant participation and influence across the Valley. Since TCOFP’s implementation in 2011, 24 fellows have graduated from the program and an additional 200 people indirectly benefited through their roles as learning group members. 

As advocates for local, state and national policy changes, we know the importance of working on the ground, where immigrants are at, with a focus on issues that impact their daily lives. This focus has resulted in lasting change in our local immigrant communities. We are proud to claim that we have made important contributions towards strengthening interethnic relationships amongst the Valley’s immigrants and refugees. We have helped change perceptions not only of those in the dominant society, but those that immigrants and refugees have of one another. We can also claim specific stories of leadership and economic improvement as a result of our popular education, participatory action research and cultural organizing work.

Why We Do What We Do

At the Pan Valley Institute, we believe in the wisdom, knowledge and cultural strengths that immigrants bring to this country. Through our cultural organizing work, we are attempting to rewrite the narrative and tell a new story – one where immigrants and refugees are respected, embraced and welcomed. It is our hope that the process of recognizing, celebrating and activating immigrant culture will counter systems of discrimination and policing, and will provide new understanding of immigrants as positive, productive agents of social change.

Through our work we have observed how challenging it is for immigrants and refugees to develop a sense of belonging in a new environment. We understand the stigma attached to practicing one’s culture, frustration in understanding cultural differences, confronting language barriers, lack of access to basic social services and among other concerns. But rather than watch immigrants become isolated and excluded from society, as is the case for many Central Valley immigrants, we provide the tools and resources for empowering themselves while increasing their civic and political participation.

Through cultural festivals, workshops, fellowship programs and gatherings, we provide spaces for immigrant to come together, be trained and organized for social change, and offer opportunities to practice what they learn. We support them in building cross-cultural networks and encourage them to regain, value and express their cultures. We believe that through the strengthening of their leadership, immigrant participation in public life will increase and there will be greater across and internal community cohesion. Once the Central Valley’s ethnically diverse immigrant groups have a better understanding of each other and build confidence in themselves, they will find commonalities and increase their ability to work together to act upon issues that affect them.

We strongly believe that meaningful and sustainable social change can only happen when the voices and actions of those directly affected by social inequalities are included in the process of designing solutions to the problems they experience. By creating opportunities for immigrants and refugees to engage in dialogue, reflection and analysis of the issues that they face in their own lives, they gain a deeper understanding of their place in the Central Valley and their own power as active participants in the world. By engaging immigrants and refugees in the popular education process that guides our organization, we ultimately hope to alter the social inequities fostered and maintained throughout this region. 

Who Do We Work With?

Over the past 20years, the Pan Valley Institute has brought together diverse groups of grassroots immigrant leaders from across cultures, ethnicities, genders and generations in popular education workshops and gatherings. We have learned that recently arrived immigrants and refugees are struggling with experiences of isolation, marginalization and cultural discrimination, yet they are determined to build a productive and enriching place for themselves in the Valley. 

They share a longing to contribute to their new society through more than just their physical labor. We know how deeply many immigrants want to be acknowledged as seres pensantes (thinking beings). They want to utilize their knowledge, cultural richness and home-grown organizing strategies to contribute to the civic mindedness of the Central Valley, where they want to rebuild a sense of place and home. In a region like ours where histories of exclusion, discrimination and even violence against immigrants are a not so distant memory, this journey is a critical one.

When inviting and bringing people together, we attempt to select groups of people who are active in the community that we can work with over time. One of the benefits of seeking out people that are already engaged is that it will help spread a spirit of activism throughout the community at large. We have brought together labor activists, immigrant women, grassroots leaders, cultural holders, artists, educators and political activists, and have committed to following them over time to ensure long-term success.

We are intentional in reaching immigrants and refugees of all ethnicities, cultures, generations and faiths, and in doing so, have brought together people from regions throughout the world. Mexican Indigenous participants have come from Mixteco, Zapoteco, Purhepecha and Triqui. Southeast Asian refugees: Hmong and Cambodian, and Muslim participants hail from Syria, Palestine, Iraq and Pakistan. 

Where Do We Work?

PVI’s office is located in Fresno, but we extend our reach beyond the city limits to communities around California’s San Joaquin Valley. California’s Central Valley extends south from Bakersfield to the northern part of the state in Shasta, covering 18 counties. PVI’s work is concentrated mostly in the Valley’s southern region of Merced, Madera, Fresno and Tulare counties, each with its own organizational challenges and unique sense of diversity.

The influx of immigrants and refugees that began arriving in the Valley in the late 1970s and continues today has brought new traditions, customs and celebrations that contribute to the Valley’s rich cultural diversity. In the springtime, the Iranian community celebrates Nowruz, marking the beginning of spring and a new year. During the same season, Cambodians assemble for their Khmer New Year celebration, and in the fall, the Oaxacan community gathers by the thousands in Fresno to celebrate La Guelaguetza. The Guelaguetza festival is a music and dance festival that is traditionally celebrated on a yearly basis every summer in the city of Oaxaca.1 The Hmong New Year is celebrated during the last week of December attracting thousands of South East Asian from across the country and the globe to the city of Fresno.

1 Rivera-Salgado, Gaspar and Luis Escala-Rabadán. 2018. “Festivals, Oaxacan Immigrant Communities and Cultural Spaces Between Mexico and the United States: The Guelaguetzas in California.”  Migraciones Internacionales, Vol. 9, Num. 3, Enero-Junio. Colegio de la Frontera Norte (COLEF). 

The Valley has been an attractive location for people coming from rural areas because its main source of industry is agriculture, an industry that attracts migrant farm workers seeking employment. Many of the people we work with are farm workers themselves or have a family member that works in the fields. For immigrants with a history of working in the fields, the Valley provides job opportunities in an environment that feels more like home than what they find in large cities with an urban lifestyle.

Some Valley cities have become settlements for immigrants from specific regions. For example, Madera is home to a number of families from the Mexican state of Oaxaca. It’s a prime example of indigenous immigrants settling in “critical mass,” meaning that they tend to migrate in groups that share the same ethnicity.

For many immigrants, the Valley provides a sense of familiarity that they can’t find elsewhere in the United States. As a result, they are joined by family members and are able to establish a sense of home here.

Pablo and his brother, Filogonio, came to the U.S. from the state of Oaxaca, Mexico in the late 1990s. They first arrived in Los Angeles where, instead of working as farmworkers as they had in Mexico, they worked in landscaping and at a food processing warehouse. Making their living doing this kind of work was not the only drastic change for them to adapt to; L.A.’s urban lifestyle was a major adjustment after growing up in a rural community. They lasted only three months in L.A. before finding familiarity and a better sense of home in the Central Valley.“We made the move because we are more comfortable working in the field. The fields is what we know really well,” Pablo said. “.” Pablo and Filogonio have since been joined by their entire family in the Central Valley community of Madera.

Juan Santiago, TCOFP Alumnus

How We Approach Our Work

The Pan Valley Institute bases its work on the popular education principle of allowing grassroots leaders to identify the pressing issues they wanted to address, and then determine the struggles they want to tackle on their own terms.

From the beginning, we recognized that immigrants bring with them rich cultural heritages and creative practices which needed to be acknowledged and respected as a part of the learning process. However, we did not initially understand the struggle for cultural rights and expression as a central issue, nor did we perceive cultural organizing as a key strategy of our work. It was during PVI’s residential gatherings that the issues of cultural discrimination and cultural loss became a recurrent theme. We repeatedly witnessed immigrants and refugees finding common ground through their stories of uncertainty, discrimination and distress in a new land.

But at these gatherings, we also witnessed a diverse array of immigrant participants finding great joy and oftentimes similarities through the sharing of songs, instruments, poems and stories from their homelands.

In response, PVI launched a public cultural festival to bring the voices, cultures, practices and pride of these diverse immigrant communities to the public stage. With a grant from the James Irvine Foundation, in collaboration with the Center Valley Partnership for Citizenship, and with support from many Valley organizations, the Tamejavi Cultural Exchange Festival was born in 2002. Beyond this bi-annual festival, PVI began to develop an approach to supporting Valley immigrants by organizing creative spaces, cultural practices and ethnic education programs in their own communities. We learned that cultural celebrations such as Fiestas del Pueblo, Hmong New Year and other traditional celebrations served as catalysts for broader civic engagement. These events allow participants to become socially engaged, to organize and to come together on their own terms. We have witnessed how cultural organizing serves as an outlet for immigrants to tell their own stories while bringing a new narrative about their contributions and capacities to public life.

As a result of our experiences, we have adopted “cultural organizing” as a key strategy. For immigrants, particularly indigenous people, culture and art are an integral part of who they are. These traditions help develop their sense of belonging, both individually and collectively in their new world. Nurturing this sense of belonging and supporting diverse forms of public expression are essential in motivating civic and active citizenship.

Finally, it is important to clarify that, for us, cultural organizing doesn’t mean bringing “artists” together with “organizers,” nor does it mean using art as a tool to promote particular issues or civic participation. Instead, art and culture are already critical and deeply embedded survival and social change strategies within immigrant communities. Ultimately, cultural work is more than an organizing strategy; it is a human right that challenges the histories of invisibility, marginalization and social inequity that currently exist in the Central Valley.

  Guiding Values and Principles

The Pan Valley Institute’s Guiding Values and Principles
Our underlying vision and mission

The mission of the Pan Valley Institute is to create welcoming spaces where immigrants can gather to converse, create and learn as equals. We want to provide a place where we can have one conversation in many languages. Our hope is that, as a result, the Central Valley will become a place where all people are respected, cultural diversity is embraced, and members of immigrant communities take active social, civic and political roles in creating a more democratic society.

1. Knowledge and Problem Solving
Fundamentally, we have faith in people’s capacity to solve their own problems and guide their individual learning and training. We know that people can arrive at an understanding by themselves, in collaboration with others, by addressing issues that are important to them, as opposed to topics determined by “experts.” We believe in the dignity of every person’s experience and knowledge, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, culture, faith, education level and language.

2. Immigrant Leadership
We value immigrants as thinking beings and encourage the development of new immigrant leadership, including women and youth. We support current leaders who are struggling to find a place at the table, empowering them to have a greater impact.

3. Consciousness Building
We believe that through collective and individual learning, sharing, reflection and action, we can transform our communities to improve the world in which we live. At times, this will require breaking free of things we have traditionally been led to believe but that are holding us back; other times, it may require holding tightly to our traditions in the face of opposition.

4. Long-term Commitment
The work we are committed to is a long-term process and requires commitment, patience, time and dedication. There is no immediate solution to the problems we face and are working to change.

5. Grassroots Democracy/Participation
We want to develop communities that have control over the decisions that affect our lives. We believe that democracy is about the rights of all people to participate in civic life on their own terms. 

6. Strength in Diversity
We promote the building of positive, respectful relationships that transcend the differences that can sometimes be divisive. We recognize the importance of sharing commonalities, as well as disparities, to find a shared agenda as the basis for mutual understanding and action.

7. Spontaneity
Rather than a blueprint agenda, we provide the necessary space and time to learn in a way that allows the process to unfold for participants. We encourage spontaneous discussions, and let concerns and issues take form, believing that they contribute to a sustained process of learning and change.

8. Multilingualism
We are committed to enabling the participatory learning of, and communication amongst, people who speak different languages.

9. Education for Action
In order to bring about social change, we believe that the best education is action, and the best action is education. We hope to foster this education by providing a gathering place where people can learn from one another and conceptualize strategies and actions.

10. Appropriate Environment
We place great importance on our learning environment and its impact on participants’ ability to think, learn and act. We provide a comfortable space, adequate time, food and attention to other details that encourage communication, creativity and the building of relationships that are necessary for people to learn and work together.

How PVI Defines Popular Education

The Pan Valley Institute defines popular education as a democratic process for bringing about social change. It’s not a strategy or approach as much as a philosophy and a way of working that focuses on everyday people. Yet equality in popular education is found not in the philosophy, but in the practice. Ultimately, popular education is a process of transforming a disenfranchised person into an advocate.

This is what that process looks like at PVI:

  • It starts with a group of people coming together to analyze their situations, share experiences and collectively find solutions through active participation. They share a common desire for change and are committed to making it happen.

  • People from the community are involved in the decision-making process.

  • The process takes place in a number of different settings, because it’s not a classroom or parish that’s needed to make this process successful–it’s the people involved. Regardless of location, the setting is safe and welcoming.

    We recognize the value of each participant’s knowledge, thereby empowering them to act. It’s not about teaching; instead, it’s about encouraging participants to discover what they already know.

    The group facilitator, who leads the exercises and shapes the direction of the gatherings, encourages action as the solution for resolving problems.

    We understand that this process takes time and results are never immediate. It’s a fluid progression that evolves differently in each situation. We celebrate small victories on the way to bigger ones.

Principles at work in popular education include:

  • Start from people’s experience

  • Learners participate in determining what is to be learned People work collectively (in groups), share experiences, and encourage Participation.

  • Collective Study, mutual learning leads to ACTION –“we don’t know if things work unless we take actions on things”

  • Not teaching but allowing participants to discover what they know 

  • Offer Feedback about the process once projects are complete 

  • Provide a safe and welcoming learning space

How PVI Defines Participatory Action Research

Participatory Action Research (PAR) is a process of generating collective knowledge that is then utilized for changing a specific social condition that impacts the most marginalized members of society. By validating the knowledge of the most oppressed groups, this methodology allows them to enhance their understanding and use it to transform their conditions of oppression.

PAR research methods are based on the principles of popular education, subscribing to the idea that everyone involved brings expertise to the equation and provides equal value to the process. The hope is that the knowledge that’s generated will lead to action that will eventually change the problem that was being addressed, improving the lives of participants.

Because PAR is a collective process of studying and analyzing one or more pressing issues, participation is crucial. Those involved must accurately and fairly represent their communities and voice their concerns. Participants must be committed to taking action toward solving the specific issues addressed. 

Traditional research, on the other hand, is more in the hands of scholars and other professionals, who typically decide on the core topic of the research on their own. Traditional researchers also tend to establish hierarchical relations with members of the communities observed, who are viewed as subjects to be studied and not agents of change.

In traditional research academicians have total ownership of the knowledge resulting from the research, even though in most cases the knowledge gained is enhanced by the information from participants observed or surveyed. In traditional research, there is an obvious gap between those who research and those who are researched. In light of these distinctions, we also recognized that both methodologies could function synergistically, provided that equal control of the process is maintained, and that equity is established among those with formal knowledge and those with knowledge based on life experience.

How PVI Defines Cultural Organizing

At the Pan Valley Institute, cultural organizing aims to revitalize and sustain immigrants’ artistic expression and cultural practices in order to support them in their efforts to become more socially and politically included, and to help build stronger, more active communities. Our guiding principle when engaging in cultural organizing is that the participants must always choose how to express their culture and how they want to participate in civic life. Following this general premise, our approach makes the following assertions:

1. Cultural rights are human rights.
Based on our central belief that the world is not static, that it is open to change, and that the poor and oppressed play an active role in creating a better future, we have seen that acts of creativity, self-expression and identity formation are central to activating this change. In a society where those who don’t reflect the image of mainstream culture are told that they have nothing to contribute and their values and culture hold no value, the marginalization can become crippling and lead to an inability to analyze and solve problems. We embrace cultural organizing as a means to create a better world for future generations by celebrating immigrant contributions.

2. Cultural organizing creates a sense of belonging.
For immigrants in strange and unwelcoming places, cultural organizing creates opportunities for them to practice and share their cultural knowledge with one another and to focus on connections rather than problems. By nurturing a sense of economic and cultural wellbeing through the recognition and marketing of cultural assets, cultural organizing promotes a sense of belonging. Using a holistic approach that does not separate organizing from the arts, people from place, or specific strategies from the complex contexts in which they are applied, we’re able to re-weave the interconnected fabric of community.

3. Cultural organizing builds cross-cultural relationships and public engagement.
Cultural organizing helps immigrants find a sense of vindication when it comes to their own identities by allowing them to decide who they want to be based on their migration journey, rather than adopting a societally imposed identity. It encourages them to hold on to their personal history and gives them the freedom to express cultural practices. In our diverse area, it implies a process of “intercultural learning” that encompasses understanding, respect for differences, and negotiating to engage in collaborative community building practices.

“Cultural organizing is the use of the arts and traditions by cultural practitioners as a departing point to promote wider participation beyond the cultural celebrations. Cultural organizing promotes art and cultural expression as a decolonizing step that ultimately aims at building voice and power among Central Valley immigrants for addressing issues of social inequality and exclusion. Ultimately, cultural organizing utilizes culture and art as a venue and resource for strengthening immigrant leadership, and for building a sense of place and belonging that inspires and promotes active participation in public life.” 

—Juan Santiago, TCOFP alumni

How PVI Helps Participants Find a Sense of Belonging

“My family feels like why bother getting involved
or doing things here if you are just a guest;
and not only that, but an unwelcome guest.”

—Minerva Mendoza

During the Pan Valley Institute’s fellowship programs, feelings of not belonging and the importance of building a sense of belonging were areas of substantial findings for the fellows. These findings corroborated what we have been observing and listening since the first time we convene a group of South East Asian and Mexican Indigenous women in 2000.

What Does It Mean to Belong?
A sense of belonging is the connection of people to a place or land, whether that be a country, city, town or even neighborhood. It’s also the commitment an individual has for caring for that place and its people. A sense of belonging is important for an individual’s interaction within their community’s sociopolitical and economic context.

Some important elements included in the concept of belonging include:

the social cohesions, networks, coalitions and ways in which individuals organize

peoples’ understanding and expressions of life, such as individual memories, stories, forms of creativity and types of foods

the formation of networks of care, commitment and solidarity

the sense of dignity that stems from feeling a part of something larger than one’s self

In direct contrast to a sense of belonging it that of feeling unwelcome, a dominant feeling experienced by many immigrants of color and poor communities, whether they are documented, undocumented or naturalized. Rather than being viewed as agents of change, public opinion focuses instead on victimizing and criminalizing immigrants, exposing them to exclusion that leads to feelings of rejection and isolated living. Because they are make feel like a social burden with nothing to contribute, they lack the confidence to get involved and participate civically.

Most immigrants we work with have been living in the U.S. for long periods of time (20 to 40 years) and are here to stay. However, the more they feel rejected and unwelcome, the more connected they feel to their homeland, sometimes even forgetting the unjust circumstances that forced them to leave. They want to make a home and be accepted here, while not being forced to abandon the memories and cultural heritage they brought with them.

The most common approaches to supporting immigrants and refugees focus on integration, placing all the responsibility on them: If they would only speak English, figure out how the government works and learn to navigate the system, then they would be fully integrated members of society. While these are important factors, our experience shows it to be a one-dimensional strategy that excludes the contributions immigrants can bring to the process. Helping them feel a sense of belonging and giving them reasons to invest in the community results in a more inclusive integration process. We should expect them to adapt while also respecting their right to be different.

Active Citizenship

Immigrant civic participation is often discussed in terms of naturalization and legal citizenship, and voter registration and voter turnout. While both of these areas of immigrant civic engagement are important to PVI, we also recognize a broader array of civic engagement values and principles as central to our Cultural Organizing work. Within and beyond cultural expression, exchanges and organizing within immigrant communities we believe in the full and meaningful engagement of immigrants in civic life. The principles of full engagement embraced by PVI and activated through our Cultural Organizing work include paying close attention to the value of:

  • • Developing and nurturing the individual leadership, voice, skills, knowledge, and strengths of immigrants engaged in public problem solving at all levels despite their immigration status.

  • • Building strong social and professional networks and institutional relationships, that enable people to work together across common boundaries, and effectively address the issues they care about in a way that builds deep and sustainable work for the long haul.

  • • Strengthening immigrant institutions including the resources, governing structures, and organizational capacities that enable long term support systems and broad-based problem solving in the public arena.

  • • Mapping and supporting community capital, or the mentors, elders, informal associations and helping systems that enable individual immigrant leaders and immigrant groups to engage beyond their own local communities and beyond their communities of origin.

  • • Inspiring immigrants to engage in civic life as full contributing members of society and democratic life including as thinkers and actors around local problem solving, public debate, and policy-making.

    In keeping with our popular education, participatory action research and cultural organizing values and principles we believe that civic engagement begins when immigrants work on issues that affect their own lives, not just in citizenship classes or voting booths. Through learning together and by building relationships with diverse Valley stakeholders it is our conviction that immigrant communities can make important and absolutely essential and necessary contributions to the civic fabric of our region and nation. 

  • In response to the realization of the centrality of culture the Pan Valley Institute decided to launch a public cultural festival to bring the voices, cultures, practices, and pride of the diverse Valley immigrant communities to the public stage. With a grant from The James Irvine Foundation, in collaboration with the Center Valley Partnership for Citizenship, and with support from many Valley organizations the Tamejavi Cultural Exchange Festival was born in 2002. Beyond the bi-annual festival, PVI began to develop an approach to supporting Valley immigrants organizing creative spaces, cultural practices, and ethnic education programs in their own communities. We also learned that cultural celebrations such as Fiestas del Pueblo, Hmong New Years and other traditional celebrations could be catalyzed as a strategic intersection for broader civic engagement. For many of the immigrant participants in PVI’s cultural programs, the cultural offerings they organize in their own communities are the only opportunity they have to break with the social isolation they experience on a daily basis. Cultural celebrations are also a great occasion for immigrants to become socially engaged, to organize, and to come together among themselves and on their own terms. We have witnessed how cultural organizing is a means by which immigrants tell their own stories and bring a new narrative about their contributions and capacities to public life.

The Role of Immigrant Women at PVI

Betterment and Wellbeing of Low-Income Families

We, the women of the San Joaquin Valley, and members of the immigrant women’s network “A Road to the Future” let the following be known…

The network of immigrant women “A Road to the Future” in defense of the betterment and wellbeing of low-income families, including immigrant families, demand the respect and implementation of our basic rights to education, dignified work, health and the right to preserve and exercise our cultural identity. Fresno, Calif., 2003


One of the Pan Valley Institute’s first projects was the Immigrant Women’s Network. The group was compiled of 10 Latino, Mexican Indigenous and Southeast Asian women who were identified for their leadership potential and invited to participate in a popular education process from 1999 to 2003.

In 2000, they produced a calendar documenting their migration journeys, followed by a book, “Immigrant Women: A Road to the Future.” They have gone on to become influential, income-generating leaders and role models within their local communities while maintaining their relationships with one another and continuing to collaborate with the Pan Valley Institute.

From the very beginning, it was our intent to identify women who were capable of emerging as grassroots leaders from the largest immigrant populations: Indigenous Mexican and Hmong. These women have set the stage for what it means to build interethnic relationships while strengthening the leadership role, presence and voice of women in shaping a newly emerging immigrants’ rights movement, all while redefining their own traditional roles. These women have brought authenticity and simplicity to the path that leads to social change. Their first call to action was to give visibility to immigrant women who play multiple roles. More than caretakers, wives and daughters, they fill the positions of breadwinners, activists and cultural holders, reclaiming a place at the table in the battle for immigrant dignity.

Our work with this group of women was our first attempt at bringing together people with diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. They came to the Valley from far apart places of the world and had dissimilar migration histories. It was during our work with this group that we initiated our popular education and participatory research practices, and took the first steps towards entering into the cultural strategy that we currently call cultural organizing. We did not have any curriculum or sophisticated popular education techniques; just principles we relied on to guide our work. It was indeed a collective learning journey, and the foundation on which the next 20 years were built.

“The great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed
is to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well [….]
Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed
will be sufficiently strong to free both.”

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1993:26)


The Pan Valley Institute (PVI) has spent the last 20 years working with diverse communities in the Central Valley. From Hmong and Syrian refugees to indigenous Mexican migrants like Mixtecs, Zapotecs and Triquis to Mexican mestizo farmworkers, we strive to build a community space where these diverse communities can feel welcome and empowered and find a mutual sense of empathy. Toward this end, PVI has developed this Decolonization Toolkit based on a long-term engagement with grassroots organizations in the area through a series of popular education processes and community convenings. The main goal of this decolonization section of the toolbox is to introduce the core concepts of decolonization to community-based organizations using the principles of popular education. We want readers to apply these core concepts in their organizing projects and train others on how to use them in their own social justice work.

One of the main challenges we faced in developing this section of this toolbox was to find a common thread in the migration histories of such diverse groups of people we work with in the Fresno, Madera, Merced, Tulare counties: Hmong refugees from Cambodia, long-term legal mestizo migrants from Mexico and recent undocumented indigenous migrants from Oaxaca. The concept of “colonization” and its effect on colonized subjects proved to be useful in understanding the process of immigrant incorporation of each of these groups, how they navigated their own identity formation (as refugees or undocumented migrants), and the type of political decisions they made as they settled in communities within the Central Valley.

A key insight is that the political identities refugees and migrants exhibit once they arrive in the U.S. start forming at home in the context of their own histories in their countries of origin. In the case of Hmongs and Mixtecos, that political identity is one of indigenous people. Once they arrive in the U.S. as refugees and undocumented migrants, they start navigating a new political landscape, adapting their own histories and incorporating new references that are prevalent in the U.S. Political identities such as “refugee” and “undocumented migrant” are labels they acquire upon arrival to areas like California’s Central Valley.

Core concepts from the decolonization literature allow us to find common ground in understanding the sources of oppression and path to liberation. We cover three thematic areas: 1) Understanding Oppression covers the positive aspects of histories and identities, as well as the adverse ways immigrants have internalized the negative feelings of marginalization they bring with them from their own countries; 2) Understanding Power Structures centers around understanding the historical legacy of racism and prejudice against indigenous people and how this is manifested in lack of economic and political opportunities, both in their countries of origin and here in the communities where they now reside; 3) Paths for Liberation discusses the importance of developing a prophetic imagination to allow immigrants to visualize the transformation of the world they want. How can they live their lives not as passive victims of oppression, but without becoming the oppressors or reproducing injustice in their struggles?

The Importance of Decolonization

One of our goals at the Pan Valley Institute is to help immigrants and refugees celebrate and maintain their native culture in their new land, but that can be a struggle due to a long history of colonization. Follows is a brief history of colonization and how its damaging impacts can be reversed through the process of decolonization. 

When the colonization of the Americas began in the 1500s, indigenous people were forced into a new lifestyle and repressed of their cultural and historic knowledge and their creative expression. Their languages were labeled as inferior to that of the Spanish conquerors. This classification of indigenous people as inferior continues to this date. For example, in Mexico, if someone is heard speaking an indigenous language in public, they are labeled inferior and often called “indio,” which means indigenous, but in a pejorative manner.

Decolonization is the process of undoing the impacts of colonialism by which indigenous people regain and validate their cultural identity and world vision. It also challenges labels attached to them like “inferior” or “indio”.

The aftermath of being called an “indio” explains the domino effect that discrimination can have. For some indigenous parents, it justifies why they refuse to teach their children their native languages. This imposed sentiment of inferiority has also lead parents of indigenous children to reject, ignore or deny their heritage, and instead welcome a culture outside that of their native land. It’s a consequence of a childhood where they were bullied because of being indigenous. A cost of assimilating in order to be accepted is that they tend to leave their indigenous background behind. This is what scholars call internal colonization.

One approach to decolonization or addressing internal colonization can be to offer opportunities to communities impacted by colonization for reclaiming and validating their cultural heritage and identity. For centuries, indigenous people have been made to feel inferior and worthless, resulting in psychological trauma. They may come to believe that the work they do, or even their very existence, are meaningless, and internal colonization can result. People reject their indigenous culture by abandoning their native language and adopting the predominant one. They may also reject their family history and native culture.

At PVI, we have learned that a key component for gaining cultural pride is to offer opportunities for indigenous pople to regain knowledge of their own history. Knowing and valuing the richness and diversity of their history, validating their accomplishments, strenghs and creativities is a first step for building cultural self-reliance. Decolonization gives immigrants the right to speak their own language, honor their native traditions and regain their own sense of identity.


This glossary provides the definitions of terms and concepts frequently used by the Pan Valley Institute. The terms have been defined through a process of collaboration with community activists that have participated in PVI’s programs, projects, activities and committeess. We place a great deal of attention on language, and want to make sure that the words we use speak specifically to our work and are relevant to the communities we work with. This glossary brings together these terms and their definitions as they relate to our mission to the best of our ability. It was first developed for PVI staff, committee members and constituencies participating in our work. We understand that the use of these terms isn’t always necessary when practicing the work we do, so this gloassary is meant to serve more as a guide for practicioners. We recommend being sentitive and avoiding the use of words whose meaning may be irrelevant to the average person.

American Friends Service Committee: The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is a Quaker organization that promotes lasting peace with justice as a practical expression of faith in action. Drawing on continuing spiritual insights and working with people of many backgrounds, AFSC nurtures the seeds of change and respect for human life that transforms social relations and systems. AFSC has over 77 programs across the world that, while incredibly varied, all have at their core the mission of promoting social justice and ensuring that the voices of marginalized communities are heard.

Capacity Building: Capacity building, or to “build capacity,” means to develop new skills or to build upon existing skills, traits, knowledge, abilities and other facets related to increasing personal growth and character. 

California’s Central Valley: The “Central Valley” is one of the largest regions in California, running from the upper Sacramento Valley area in the north down to the Kern County and Bakersfield area in the south. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, “the Central Valley is one of the fastest growing regions of California.”1 In 2003, there were 6.2 million inhabitants in the Valley. By 2040, that number is estimated to reach12 million. 

Community Visits: A community visit is an opportunity to observe people in their everyday lives, in familiar geographic social and cultural context. It’s also a demonstration of respect and committment by showing people we don’t expect them to come to us; we will go to them, connect with their community and get real insight into where they live. There are different circumstances in which community visits can take place: when you are invited to attend community events, intentional visits to familiarize yoursef with where people work and live, and the homes or places of work of potential allies and partners. 

Colonization: Colonization refers to the historical process of expansion and domination of Western European countries to the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania. The main European countries active in this form of colonization included Spain, Portugal, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Germany, and, beginning in the 18th century, the United States. Most of these countries had a period of almost complete power in world trade at some stage in the period from roughly 1500 to 1900. In many settled colonies, Western European settlers eventually formed a large majority of the population after killing or driving away indigenous peoples. Examples include the Americas, Australia and New Zealand. Western European settlers formed minority groups, which often used more advanced weaponry to dominate the people initially living in their places of settlement.

Community Assessment: A community assessment’s central intention is to directly engage people within a community with issues that are important to them, and to organize opportunities for them to join in a creative learning process that is based on common action and shared reflection. Reflection is a critical part of popular education. We see a community assessment effort as an exercise to provide opportunities for reflection at key junctures in a popular education process. These include opportunities for community people to 1) reflect critically about key community problems, challenges, and opportunities they confront; 2) choose and organize the creative cultural action they will take in response; and 3) decide how effective the action was and apply what was learned to continued creative and civic action.

Cultural Organizing: For PVI, cultural organizing is a community-building process in which people share cultural traditions and artistic expression with one another to build stronger, more active communities. We propose that it is not the cultural form itself, but rather the sharing, exchange and engagement that leads to increased community participation and action. A central guiding principal for PVI in this work is that the community engaged in cultural organizing work must always choose how to express its culture and how to participate in civic life. 

Culture: By culture, we mean people’s mythical and/or religious beliefs, their ways of seeing and interpreting the world, their artistic creativities, social and political negotiations and practices, plus the economic development, social and political strategies for improving their quality of life. 

Cultural Rights: In the context of working with immigrant and refugee communities, by “cultural rights,” we mean a process of vindication of identities, recapturing of histories, and the freedom to hold and express cultural practices and creativities. We also believe that immigrants have the right to decide and engage in the formation of new identities that emerged through the migration process, and the inclusion of new cultural values in a humane and respectful way, rather than by imposition. 

Cultural Oppression: Cultural oppression refers to, but is not limited to, the social isolation, discrimination and lack of resources or space to practice one’s culture. It also describes the inability to have a voice in public affairs, which is a frequent occurrence for immigrants and is often a result of their ethnic and/or immigrant background. 

Cultural Exchange/Sharing: Cultural exchange is defined as a means by which communities come together across cultural lines to learn from one another, to re-assert their cultural traditions, meanings and voices to themselves and others, thereby establishing the sense of belonging and connection necessary for meaningful participation in civic life.

Cultural Kitchen: The cultural kitchen is a practice of cultural exchange through a culinary experience that brings diverse people to the table to dialogue about who they are through traditional dishes and flavors. Its is also a space to validate and reclaim the food-based traditions of indigenous people.

Cultural Organizer: A cultural organizer is someone who listens carefully to the needs and concerns of their communities. He, she, they become a community leader who pays close attention to the importance of culture and art, and uses the power of culture and cultural history to bring people together to build relationships. A cultural organizer also facilitates and strengthens the cultural voices of immigrants through vehicles of creative expression like art, storytelling, poetry and other forms. Cultural organizers work collectively in partnership with local immigrants to begin identifying ways to address their social oppression and isolation, and to begin to instill a strong sense of belonging and identity.

Cultural Holder: A cultural holder is someone that has deep insight and understading of the beliefs, values and world interpretations of a specific ethnic group. A cultural holder also has deep understanding of the cultural traditions and its practices. In indigenous communities, cultural holders play a key role in keeping the identity of their people alive, as most of the history and culture have been passed down through oral tradition and by practice. 

Civic Engagement: Immigrant civic participation is often discussed in terms of naturalization and legal citizenship, as well as voter registration and voter turnout. While both of these areas of immigrant civic engagement are important to PVI, we also recognize a broader array of civic engagement values and principles as central to our cultural organizing work. Within and beyond cultural expression, exchanges and organizing within immigrant communities, we believe in the full and meaningful engagement of immigrants in civic life. 

Dinamicas: Dinamicas are learning activities frequently used in popular education. Dinamicas have different purposes; there are learning, energizing and relationship-building dinamicas. Sometimes, dinamicas are used in regular meetings; however, putting a dinamica into practice does not necessarily mean that a popular education process is in place, since popular education is more about principles and values than techniques and tools.

Decolonization: Decolonization is the process by which a colony achieves its independence from a colonial power to which it was subjected. Decolonization is the opposite process of colonization. More recently, the term "decolonization" has been used to refer to a posture and cultural operation, aimed at revealing and reversing institutional, cultural and epistemological situations affected by the eurocentrism and other mechanisms of subordination and power. This meaning is driven by the current postcolonial and colonial calls. Decolonization also refers to the process of consciousness-raising by populations who underwent a process of colonization and freeing themselves from ideas and concepts internalized by the process of colonial domination and imposition. Decolonization refers to the process of ideological, mental, cultural and political liberation of the people and inhabitants who underwent the process of colonialism.

Guelaguetza: A Zapotec word that means offering or gift, making reference to the reciprocity or mutual help (ayuda mutua) between fellow citizens. The Guelaguetza festival is an annual summer music and dance festival that is traditionally celebrated in the city of Oaxaca. A number of musical and dance interpretations from the diverse regions that comprise the state are performed, so it is presented as a pan-Oaxacan festival. The event dates back to the 19th century to the festivals called Lunes del Cerro (Mondays on the Hill) that took place the two Mondays following July 16th, at Cerro del Fortín.

Intercultural Learning: Intercultural learning refers to the acquisition of new knowledge about other cultures, understanding and respect for differences, and to the most basic human understanding that occurs when individuals come together in dialogue or in expression with people of different cultural backgrounds. This experience creates a two-way flow of “intercultural” knowledge and self-reflectivity since when participants learn about other cultures and their unique facets, it encourages them to learn more about their own.  

Learning Group: Learning group refers to a group of people or a small support network consisting of community members, local artists, organizers and others who gather around a specific theme or topic. While intensively engaging in dialogue and relationship-building within a popular education format, learning groups work collectively to express and communicate with others in the community about issues, concerns and interests related to their theme or topic. Learning groups are generally led by one or two cultural organizers.

Pan Valley Institute: Founded in 1998, the Pan Valley Institute (PVI) creates safe spaces for immigrants and refugees to learn from one another and design organizing strategies for promoting social change and building community. To increase immigrant participation and power across California’s Central Valley, PVI brings a diverse range of grassroots immigrant leaders together through cultural gatherings, leadership trainings, thematic workshops, retreats and its fellowship program —the Tamejavi Cultural Organizing Fellowship Program (TCOFP). From 2011 to 2017, 24 fellows graduated from the TCOFP, and approximately 200 people indirectly benefited from the program in their roles as learning group members. 

Popular Education: Popular education is a community education effort aimed at empowering adults through cooperative study and action, directed toward achieving a more just and equitable society. Popular education prioritizes what we like to call “everyday people:” the poor, oppressed and marginalized people of the world. Popular education is based on the assumption that the world can be changed, and that everyday people can make that change if given the opportunity to understand the world around them. It is essentially inviting people to learn about the world in order to make it a just place for them, their families and their communities. 

Participatory Action Research: Similar to popular education, participatory action research (PAR) is a process of collectively generating information and knowledge to change a problem or situation in one’s community. Instead of being studied by outside expert researchers, a community or group of people control the research process themselves by determining what issues they want to address, what they need to find out to address the issue, where they will find the answers, and ultimately, what they will do with the information they uncover. 

Residential Gatherings: Residential gatherings are retreats intentionally organized to remove fellows from their daily activities and bring them to a remote space in which they can avoid distractions in order to engage in deep learning and reflection. The residential gatherings also offer fellows a place and time to engage in informal interactions, build meaningful relationships, unlock creativity, acquire skills, and to practice and learn cultural organizing and popular education. Residential gatherings are only a first step in creating a space where people can reflect and build consciousness though deep dialogues centered around common problems that result in visions for solving such problems.

Reflection Circle: This is a space where people working together in cultural organizing or popular education gather to share what they have learned and draw experiences from the learning process, as well as plan for further steps and actions. 

Sense of Belonging: A sense of belonging is the connection of people to a place or land, be it a country, city, town or even neighborhood. Sense of belonging is also the commitment an individual has for caring for that place and its people, and is important for an individual’s interaction with his or her community’s sociopolitical and economic context. Some important elements included in the concept of belonging include: the social cohesions, networks, coalitions and ways in which individuals get organized. It also includes people’s understanding and expressions of life, including their individual memories, creativities, stories and food-related traditions. Having a strong sense of belonging is important for the formation of networks of care, commitment and solidarity, and promotes the sense of dignity that stems from feeling a part of something larger than one’s self. 

Tamejavi: A word inspired by the creative antics of poet Juan Felipe Herrera, “Tamejavi” brings together syllables from the Hmong, Spanish and Mixteco words for marketplace: TAj laj Tshav Puam (Hmong), MErcado (Spanish) and nunJAVI (Mixteco). The combined syllables spell Tamejavi, representing a public place for the Central Valley’s diverse immigrant and refugee communities to gather, engage in cultural sharing and celebrate their work through building a sense of place and belonging.

Tequio (Voluntary Community Work): This is the term for voluntary community work that all adult male members of an indigenous community in Oaxaca have to perform. Usually, this work is related to the maintenance of community infrastructure (roads, community buildings, water sheds, schools, etc.). In some communities, tequio is compulsory to maintain a good standing in the community. 

Toolbox: The Toolbox is our first effort to share our journeys, experiences and vision for cultural organizing more broadly beyond our immigrant participants, allies and partners. The toolbox include stories, reflections, images and specific workshop activities and methodologies that have been compiled by PVI staff, friends and partners over the past 20 years. 

Tamejavi Cultural Organzing Fellowship Program: In 2011, we launched the Tamejavi Cultural Organizing Fellowship Program (TCOFP). Since its formation, the TCOFP has enabled PVI’s network to identify, train and support cohorts of “cultural organizers” who are deeply committed to the wellbeing and cultural resilience of their communities. Twenty-three fellows and four apprentice fellows representing a multigenerational group of men and women from Mexican Indigenous, South and Southeast Asian, Palestinian, Pakistani and Iranian communities, have graduated from the program.

Tamejavi Culture and Art Series: For the culmination of the pilot phase, the first cohort of TCOFP fellows produced events that were presented at the Tamejavi Cultural and Art Series (TCAS), held in four cities across the Central Valley. TCAS intends to be a cultural and artistic space for fellows to tell the stories of their community assessment findings. It provides a stage for local artists to shed light on their cultural assets and the diverse cultural richness immigrants are contributing to their new place.  

Tamejavi Fellows/Alumni: Tamejavi fellows/alumni are emerging leaders from the Central Valley’s immigrant and refugee coomunities who took part in one of the three cohorts of the Tamejavi Cultural Organizing Fellowship Program (TCOFP), which was implemented and coordinated by the Pan Valley Institute from 2011 to 2017.

The Grand Finale: The Grand Finale was not staged by one organization or production company, but was rather the collective effort of an entire community concerned with the cultural pride and strength of the region’s diverse immigrants. For some, it was the first time they saw their cultural heritage appreciated in public, beyond their own community. For others, it was the first time they shared the stage with fellow immigrants from different homelands.

Usos y Costumbres (Indigenous ways and customs): Usos y costumbres (indigenous ways and customs) is a set of community institutions and practices designed to maintain the primary civic, religious and political pillars of indigenous communities in Mexico. Part of these institutions are the Cargo System, Tequio and the Comite de Bienes Communales (Committe of Community Territory). The Cargo system is a community-based institution to elect community leaders and the members of the cabildo (local government). This practice allow for a great degree of autonomy within indigenous communities form the state and federal governments, since in communities governed by usos y costumbres, mainstream political parties do not participate in local elections. In the state of Oaxaca, the elections of local authorities at the municipal level is recognized by the state constitution.

Public Policy Institute of California. (2004). Just the facts. California’s central valley. Public Policy Institute of California. Retrieved May 18, 2005, from


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