To deal with a problem, one needs to have the right tools. Without the right tools, it is challenging even to understand where to start when dealing with the problem. Liberation and dealing with injustices that surround people is a big problem that has faced human beings in the past and even today. However, some people have demonstrated that they can liberate themselves from injustice through education. Education is a liberating tool as it paves the way for knowledge and critical thinking. By being educated, people can know their rights and if what is being done to them is fair or not. Negative external factors can restrict one's life, and therefore, a person needs to have the knowledge and critical thinking skills to be able to mitigate such restrictions. Without education, one cannot prove their innocence, and if what is done to them is unfair. In reflecting on the power and significance of literacy, Baca proposed the question: To what extent education can mitigate the restrictions that have been imposed by external factors upon one's life?
In his essay "Coming into language," Jimmy Santiago Baca, an illiterate Hispanic man, presents the struggles and hardships that he went through in 1960 and 1970s for being racially branded as a murderer. As a result of lacking education and literacy skills, the judges made him a perfect excuse for blaming Baca for the crime that he had not done. Baca's access to education was restricted. Ignorantly overlooking the power of knowledge, he dropped out of high school without having attained an adequate level of literacy. By recording his metamorphosis from an illiterate, wrongfully imprisoned Hispanic male to a thoughtful and motivated individual, Baca implies to his audience the power of literacy as his self-education experience grants strength for him to mentally resist and prosper during the long, dark years of injustice he has suffered. He writes, "Writing bridged my divided life of a prisoner and free man" (par.32) signifying the importance of education that helped him to be a free man after being accused falsely, and unable to defend himself due to lack of even basic speaking skills, and most important, literacy skills to enable him to understand the injustices he was going through. The fact that Baca was able to be set free implies that education is indeed the path to liberation and answer to injustices. Although the prison's reclassification panel despised his hunger for education as they neglected his request for a G.E.D. and unreasonably confined him to a subterranean cell, Baca tenaciously and dauntlessly resisted this inhumane treatment by building up an unquenchable hope and faith for life through his hard-won literacy (Baca, 2014). Although physically confined to prison, Baca was mentally emancipated because he could "respond, escape, indulge, embrace or reject earth or the cosmos" (para. 17) through language. Through his actions and ability to resist unfair treatment, Baca implied to his audience that education was power and path to liberation as he was now able to understand the injustices he was put through in prison.
Baca demonstrated a lot of courage and strength to use his time while in prison to learn and improve his writing and reading abilities. He also started having a significant impact on his sister as he asked for a favor that she being told that she was intimidated because she could not read and write. Literacy and ability to read and write had indeed opened Baca's eyes on the intimidation and injustices he and her sister were undergoing (Baca, 2014). Through his actions, he implied the value of literacy as a boundless basis for self-exploration: an essential step of humanization, which allows one to recognize, reflect, and assert the meaning of one's existence. Towards the end of his essay, Baca wrote, "I wrote to avenge the betrayals of a lifetime, to purge the bitterness of injustice" (para. 33). This statement is vital for people who have been through injustices and hardships to reflect how they have got where they are today.
Baca demonstrated ability and adversity to challenge himself and not allowing others to stop him from achieving his goal. His choice of words and strong metaphors allows his audience to imagine the injustice he experienced and have a bitter feeling as if they were already locked in prison. Also, his metaphors vividly bring out the association between literacy and one's psychological freedom. For instance, Baca stated in his essay, "[Through language] I was launched on an endless journey without boundaries or rules in which I could salvage the floating fragments of my past..." (para. 17). Through his determination to acquire literacy while in prison, Baca no longer lives for nothing as he has achieved an understanding of his existence and thus liberated himself from a society designed to simply make people obey stereotypes rather than their thoughts.
Faith in education's liberating force motivated Baca to fight against the darkness of injustice. As he struggled to pave his way to achieving literacy, he writes, "The children in the darkroom of my heart, who had never been able to find or reach the light switch, flicked it on now." (para. 17). This statement from Baca implied that the language he acquired was the ladder that enabled him to climb up and flick the once unreachable switch to light up the "darkroom of his heart." This metaphor enables audience to envision a young child standing on tiptoes to grasp the light that shines from education as it is his only means of being rescued from long, dark years of illiteracy and ignorance. He uses the word 'darkroom' to show how lack of literacy and language made him stay without knowing many things that surrounded his life that were unfair to him. Light provides the vision; as it shines down, people no longer tumble in the darkness just the way Baca was able to have vision through acquiring literacy. Although he was detained in dim prison, the light shining from literacy provided him with the freedom to see clear images of everything that was once narrowly defined as, unchained, he progressed through a realm of blazing thoughts. This indicates to the readers that the power of literacy remedies one's lack of basic comforts and thus lays a cornerstone to reach psychological fulfillment.
Finally, literacy has a significant impact on people trying to fit into society. The various injustices and intimidation that people face in their daily lives are because they are not part of society to be given a fair trial. Baca's text points out to the struggles of race and feelings of mistreatment of such people in the society, and how they challenge and protest silently to improve their well-being. They usually do not accept a change to be like everyone, but they get an education and enlighten others so that they can fight for equality of those who have experienced the same. Baca reveals that literacy can give one the power to impact one's life positively and be able to express their opinion. He writes, "Through language I was free. I could respond, escape, indulge, embrace or reject earth or the cosmos" (par.17). The above statement meant that through literacy, Baca was able to do anything that he was allowed, like expressing his opinions in writing. Anyone in his situation can, therefore, be able to express his or her feelings as long as they have the knowledge to understand what is happening in their surroundings.
Language possesses the liberating power to alter one's perception, assert one's existential purpose, and eventually change a person. Inspiring audience with the salvation that he achieved through education, Baca writes in hopes of conveying the liberating power that he was granted through literacy for people who are resisting and protesting oppression. The title of his autobiography, "Coming into language," is a direct metaphor for Baca coming to a resilient, purposeful life with literacy as a medium. The forceful and evocative tone he develops throughout the essay sharply reinforces education's power in emancipating oneself from external oppression. By documenting his mental emancipation and metamorphosis, Baca reminds us that knowledge is power. Through acquiring education in prison, Baca challenges his audience to do anything to gain knowledge as it is the only way to liberation.
Baca's documentation and arguments on literacy enable his audience to understand the importance of having knowledge and having an understanding of what is happening around. Many people have been falsely tried and prisoned for many years due to lack of knowledge of what was happening around them, and whether they had done wrong or not. One may wonder if education matters a lot in life, but to fight all injustices in society, one needs to have a clear picture of all that happens in the society and how people are being treated. For instance, through literacy, people are able to understand if the people in society promote justice or injustice and decide how they will relate with one another to have a peaceful society. Through education, people can also understand how the issues arising in society need to be addressed to avoid conflicts. Indeed, education is power, and power is what people need to control society and deal with all the injustices in society by promoting fairness and fighting for the oppressed.
Baca, J. S. (2014). Coming into language. Pen America: The Freedom to Write, 3.
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