Help Hispanic Students Feel a Sense of Belonging this Month and Beyond!
"Ni de Aquí, ni de Allá'' is a Mexican saying I first heard in a movie I saw in my childhood. The character in the movie immigrates to the United States and tries to fit in while holding on to her native roots, feeling lost and ultimately embracing her cultural identity, "Neither from here nor from there." This saying resonated because I grew up in Tijuana, a border city to San Diego, California, and it took me a while to recognize that feeling as a positive trait, which now is labeled as "bicultural." Being bicultural is a lovely mixture of two cultures, mixing traditions, languages, and celebrations. Growing up,I felt awkward visiting my grandmother in Mexico, asking myself why there was fruit in the piñata, not Kit Kats. Football to me was rooting for the San Diego Chargers, and I ate pan de muertos while classifying my Halloween candy. Shifting my mindset from awkward to favorable took many years of identity recognition. And I was not alone.
In 2010, 9 million people in the United States identified as bicultural. According to the 2020 U.S. Census, there are now 33.8 million. Can you imagine the number of students who feel "Ni de aquí ni de Allá" who are lost in recognition of cultural identity when, in fact, it's a mixture and not a lack of it?
According to the 2020 U.S. Census, there are now 33.8 million. Can you imagine the number of students who feel "Ni de aquí ni de Allá" who are lost in recognition of cultural identity?
In 1968, the United States highlighted the history and contributions of Hispanic Americans that shaped our country by establishing Hispanic Heritage Week in 1988, President Reagan extended it to a month-long celebration.
As educators, we have the opportunity to support our students in viewing heritage as an asset. Our heritage is a bridge to the intangible virtues we inherit, and it's our responsibility to continue bridging with the younger generations in our classrooms. Hispanic Heritage Month supports the community by preserving traditions and a sense of belonging and pride by sharing stories, traditions, food pedagogy, movies, literature, and more. As educators, we have the power to continue celebrating our students' identity by intentionally incorporating lessons that highlight the Hispanic Community's contributions in various areas, such as leadership, policy-making, sports, and arts, to name a few. The benefits of doing so go far and beyond. It builds empathy, increases self-esteem, promotes social-cultural integration, and increases academic achievement through engagement. Including cultural celebrations will help any student feel “neither from here nor there” to feel they belong HERE and THERE.
Here are five ways to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with your class:
- Diversify your classroom library with books that provide a window or mirror of a culture. A few of my favorites books from Hispanic authors are: Chicano Jr.'s Mexican Adventure by Raúl Jiménez, Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor, Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan.
- Teach students through Food Pedagogy. Invite Hispanic students in your classroom to share stories with the class by sharing traditional plates with personal connections to their culture. This can be done by sharing a picture of the dish and the celebration, sharing the recipe, or if permitted - bringing it into the classroom to allow students to try the recipe. This can also be something that you can lead as the instructor - inviting everyone to experience a new culture through food.
- Integrate storytelling into your morning meeting spotlight. Utilize your morning meeting time to share a brief story about Hispanic Americans who have impacted history. Bring students into the mix by providing short blurbs (this is a roundup I put together as an example which features several Hispanic Americans who have made an impact) about several different Hispanic Americans and allow them to choose who they want to hear more about. You can share a video or slide deck to bring their story to life.
- Play Games!: There are several fun games that you can play to merge play with cultural storytelling. Some of my favorites include:
- Loteria (Mexican Bingo)
- Play Mariachi music in musical chairs,
- Try to learn the chorus of a song or dance to Selena or Carlos Santana's beat.
- Invite students to share their culture through what they wear. Students can wear traditional clothing or team jerseys from the celebrated country and then share why they chose that outfit and provide insight into who they are and what those artifacts mean to their cultural background
With the number of bicultural individuals growing rapidly, there is a significant population of students who may feel lost in recognizing their cultural identity. Many of them feel caught between two cultures, experiencing a sense of not fully belonging. It is essential to recognize that being bicultural is a beautiful blend of traditions, languages, and celebrations. Hispanic Heritage Month provides a valuable opportunity to bridge the gap and foster a sense of belonging and pride among these students. By intentionally incorporating lessons that highlight the contributions of the Hispanic community, educators can celebrate and embrace the cultural diversity of our students and peers and help make every student, regardless of their background, feel that they truly belong.
Teresina Ruiz has taught for over 20 years in language-immersive environments. She supports the San Diego Diocese as a Diversity Equity and Inclusion committee member and is a UDL presenter for Catholic Schools. She is currently a Vice Principal in San Diego, CA.