Culturally Responsive Teaching

Tips and Resources for Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

Teachers can promote cultural literacy in the classroom by honoring the contributions of people from a wide spectrum of traditions.

September 12, 2022
kharoll Mendoza / Shutterstock

Imagine for a moment that people used the term “Englos” for a multiracial, multicultural group consisting of Scottish, Irish, British, Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, Americans, and people from the Caribbean islands. Yes, we all speak English. But culturally, how closely related are we? “Ay mon” versus “G’day mate.” Baked beans and black pudding versus grits and hash browns. Left-side driving versus right side. Monarchies versus democratic republics.

Imagine the differences in cultural celebrations, community values, faith and political ideologies, even fashion and sports preferences, all melded into one singular identity. How would you celebrate Englo Heritage Day? Just choosing food would be a virtual impossibility. The best thing would be to highlight the differences in the various cultures represented.

‘Hispanic’ Culture Is Not a Monolith

What is Latino/Latina/Latinx? What is Hispanic? As a person of color who has been identified as Black, black African American, Afro-American, POC (person of color), and a few less pleasant monikers, I can say it’s complicated. The Census Bureau uses both Latino and Hispanic to describe ethnicity and not race, meaning that people from the Hispanic community could be Black, White, or any shade in between. They could be descended from North, Central, or South American Indigenous nations; Spain; Africa; or the Caribbean—and, as with most Americans, an ancestry test could also reveal European lineage.

Hispanic people might speak Spanish as spoken in Colombia, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, or the Dominican Republic, or they might not speak Spanish at all. They might speak Portuguese, as in Brazil. Or perhaps people descended from Spanish and Portuguese speakers now only speak English, either by choice or because of the pressure their parents felt not long ago, before being openly bilingual was recognized as the perquisite that it is today. Who are the people, described by these monolithic terms, that we celebrate during Hispanic Heritage Month?

As we arrive at yet another American celebration month, let’s look beyond the Hispanic Monolith to highlight diversity.

4 Ways to Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

1. Celebrate through music exploration:

  • Choose songs from different Hispanic cultures, and have students complete and showcase artist bios, instrument physics and construction explanations, or genre history presentations.
  • Re-create dance performances, or expose the campus to dance styles through media or music and culture connection presentations that uncover not only the “how to dance” but the “why people dance.”
  • Create a class playlist of songs from different cultures and artists. Let students find and vote on the songs they want included. A Google or Spotify search as simple as “traditional Cuban songs” or “Mexican pop hits 2020” will yield results.
  • Compare and contrast historical and traditional music and dance with pop music and dance in different Spanish- or Portuguese-speaking Latin American countries.

2. Celebrate through the arts:

  • Compare and contrast art pieces and artists from different epochs, styles, and media; then re-create works in the styles of art pieces discovered.
  • Explore the lives of artists and write modern-day social media threads or entertainment pieces on interesting historical characters.
  • Translate and perform a skit or scene from a play written in another language. Use people from your learning community to help translate, or an online translator if that’s not a possibility.

3. Celebrate through history and literature:

  • Complete an “On the Day You Were Born” one-pager for one family or community member. Use a search engine to pull news headlines from a Latin American country on that day.
  • Find and interview someone from the Hispanic community about their family’s journey from their Hispanic country of origin to where they are now. Don’t know anyone? Conduct a mock interview with a little-known historical figure or leverage email and social media:

Explore books and poetry of authors from Latino communities. Discuss what experiences your students have in common with the protagonist and what experiences, if any, are unique to the culture. Ensure that your class and campus libraries include some of these selections.

Write bios on great authors from diverse Latin American communities. With older students, compare the popularity of, for example, Shakespeare and Austen to the fame of authors that you discover. Discuss the disparity in prominence and possible reasons for that disparity.

4.  Celebrate through celebrations:

  • Research traditions surrounding national holidays for diverse Latin American countries and what is being celebrated. (This is especially compelling for districts with large, diverse Hispanic populations.) Make paper or digital gallery walks of the findings. Bonus points if these gallery walks are schoolwide or open to the community.
  • Make or bring in dishes that represent diverse Hispanic cultures to share in class or at a school festival. Google is full of recipes; just be sure to Google “Cuban (or Mexican, Salvadoran, etc.) food”: There is no such thing as Hispanic food.
  • Research and consider holding respectful observations and celebrations like Día de los Muertos or Las Posadas. Remember: respectful celebrations do not involve caricaturing celebrations with make-up and dress-up.

What do the terms Latino/Latina/Latinx and Hispanic mean to people in our communities, and how can we focus less on terms and more on celebrating people? We can extend our own cultural literacy by delving into the colorful palette of unique traditions and customs that represent Americans who identify as any one of those terms. While we’re at it, we start by asking whether they prefer Latino/Latinx, Hispanic, or Colombian/Dominican/Puerto Rican/etc. Providing a safe space for people to self-identify is one of the easiest ways we can honor and respect human diversity.

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