Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from September 15th – October 15th in commemoration of the histories, cultures, and contributions of American citizens and immigrants that have ancestral ties to Latin American and Hispanic countries located in North, South, and Central America. Countries like Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Chile celebrate their anniversary of independence from Spanish colonization and rule. Celebrations include parades, festivals, concerts, and posts on social media wherever people who are tied to these countries are located, whether it is in the countries themselves or in spaces where descendants have immigrated to. Designating a month to bring attention to any group of people helps to raise the consciousness of all people. These designations are one step in the right direction, but only a small step toward the notion of full inclusion for all people. There is much work to be done if we are ever to see all groups being honored and celebrated every month, every day, all year. Let us work toward daily celebrations of our diverse and complex identities in our common humanity. 

In this month’s post, we invited Kelsey Milian, one of Katie’s students at Furman University to share her poem, Buenos Días Niña to honor own voice stories from the Latinx community. We then share how Alyssa Cameron’s fourth graders become inspired by the true story of Latina role model, Sylvia Mendez. 

Buenos Dias Nina is Spanish for “Good morning little girl”. When I was 19 years old I would take the Miami metro mover and buses to a very affluent part of the city for a summer internship. Every morning, I would sit at a bus stop around 6:15am and be greeted with “good morning little girl” from small Latinx women who reminded me of my mother. It was this very bus stop that I write my poem and made connections to a life opportunity my family made sacrifices for and one in which I would never stop working for. 

My poem “Buenos Dias Nina” celebrates the family members that have made sacrifices in order for their children to have a different life and many more opportunities than they had. 

Buenos Días Niña by Kelsey Milian

17 stops.
Palmetto Station to Douglas Road and
30 minutes of music that seem to cloud
my thoughts with summer plans.

The city is hot and humid.
Today more than ever before.

I sit down next to large handbags,
cheap flats, and petite women.

They remind me of an alternate universe.
My life.
And my mother’s life.

Those women stand here as early as 6:15am.
Conversation after conversation.
Bus after bus taking them to Hialeah.
Taking them home.

A new brown skinned woman approaches
the bench every 15 minutes.
Besos, names, and preguntas about how their families is doing
Are the normal intros exchanged. 

I sat there and listened to their conversations.
Some would realize they had forgotten their laundry at the bus stop once reaching Hialeah.
And some would begin working at a new home in Coral Gables.

But it hit me.
To the point that I began to taste
the salty drops of my subtle tears.

They were the maids.
Las que take care of
someone else’s children.
Las que spend hours cleaning
the homes they wish to own one day.

My mother was one, a time before I appeared and
a life we would have continued if opportunity was not earned. 

But,
my destiny was different. 

I sat on that bus stop bench waiting to take
the next route to a future mis papas
dreamed for me.

Lo que soñaron para us.

Those women represent a culture and people
I refuse to forget.
Respecting what they do,
their sacrifice and ganas
goes noticed. 

I hope mis sueños go noticed too. 

I was born in Eastridge, TN, but was only there for 15 days until my family moved to Mexico and Guatemala, where they are from. After I turned 6, my family moved to Miami, FL where I was raised in a hub of Latinx an Carribean diversity. I am a Sociology and Educational Studies major at Furman University. Along with my many aspirations, I hope to attend graduate school and receive a PhD in Ethnomusicology or Sociology of Education. At the same time I hope to publish my first poetry book that speaks on what it means to be the daughter of Latinx immigrants and my own journey to make my dreams a reality. –Kelsey Milian

Kelsey’s story is a reminder that racism and classism are still a very present part of contemporary life in America.  Many of our students know this reality, yet some of them have no experience, no point of reference that will allow them to recognize the injustice and inequity of it. Carefully selected literature read aloud and followed by open conversation can part the curtains on windows they never knew existed. In chapter five of Reading to Make a Difference: Using Literature to Help Students Think Deeply, Speak Freely, and Take Action, we introduce Alyssa Cameron’s fourth graders in South Carolina. Using the instructional framework (see introduction), Alyssa moved her students from reading an intentionally selected text to thoughtful conversations and student-driven action. When reading the book, Separate is Not Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh, the students learned about the discrimination including school segregation that Sylvia Mendez and her family faced as Mexican Americans living in California. This true story was eye opening as the students began to deepen their understanding of the racism that permeates through the United States in the past and into the present. The students were so moved by Sylvia’s story that they wanted to take action to inform others of the life and the actions of Sylvia Mendez and her family. They created a play for younger children, a presentation with slides for administration, and a letter to the editor of the “Who Was?” series requesting a book be written about Sylvia Mendez. This example demonstrates one way we can honor the contributions of Hispanic Americans. The graphic below illustrates the process these students followed in moving toward action. It begins with a small set of texts carefully selected to validate the experiences of some students while exposing others to information that may be new to them. Guided conversations typically lead to insights and connections and further reading. Time for reflection and writing often brings up the urge to take a stance and take action.

framework image.png
image from Reading to Make a Difference by Lester L. Laminack & Katie Kelly

For more information about this project and many others, you may want to read our book: Reading to Make a Difference: Using Literature to Help Students Think Deeply, Speak Freely, and Take Action.

For a list of additional books featuring Latinas, check out 60 Empowering Books Starring Latina Mighty Girls and 20 Latinx Children’s Books That Should Be On Your Shelf.  

Other resources: