I moved to the United States from Spain 15 years ago. I still remember the challenges of navigating a new social and cultural context as an English learner and newly arrived immigrant. It took me years to find my voice and become the person I wanted to be. Mostly, this happened when I realized that I didn’t need to “fit in” or change myself, but I couldn’t ignore my immediate context either. By learning to merge the two, I found a new way of being.
During challenging times, I occasionally met a person who spoke Spanish, a “Hispanic,” as it is known in the US. Those were moments of joy. Being able to use my mother tongue, and connect with someone who shared similar struggles, gave me hope and strength. Having spent time in Nicaragua and Peru during my college years, I understood their hopes and dreams, also their fears. But as a white person, I also knew the experiences of Latinas and Latinos were impacted by the color of their skin.
In the United States, Hispanic Heritage Month–which runs from September 15 to October 15–is a time to recognize and celebrate the many achievements and contributions of Hispanics. Schools and organizations may learn about Mexican migrations and communities, inspiring Latinas, or have students develop a Heritage Project to learn about their ancestors.
Despite these attempts, Hispanics are often perceived as a homogeneous group, when in fact there is great racial and cultural diversity within this group. “Hispanic” heritage includes a diverse range of cultures, nationalities, histories and identities. Although the term has been used to influence positive change, many stories have also been erased and the term has been widely criticized. If you want to learn more about when the term Hispanic started to be used in the US, check out this great article.
While it is important that educators celebrate the accomplishments of influential Hispanics such as US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor or activist Cesar Chavez, it is also necessary that schools intentionally build connections with those Hispanics who live and work in the community, and examine the perceptions that students hold.
You can involve children in this process by asking them to interview and/or write a short story about Hispanic individuals in the community, it could be their own families or others living in the neighborhood or town. How do they celebrate this month? What are their hopes and dreams? What can they learn from their traditions, language and values? Then, invite students and/or their families to share with your class.
As an example, a local organization asked community members to share their stories and answer the question “How has your culture shaped you or impacted your daily life?” You can see their stories here. What a great way to know more about Hispanics living in our communities!
When we take the time to know more about Hispanics or any other racial and ethnic group in our community, we are increasing our racial awareness, modeling for children how to nurture bonds with others and planting the seeds to reduce discrimination. I hope that you will take time to learn about Hispanics in your own community, examine your perceptions and support students in doing the same.