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.
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.
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.