hhmOften, during our monthly celebrations of ethnic heritages, we will have students, parents or community members discuss their ethnic group and their arrival in the United States. This can be especially true during Hispanic Heritage Month. The assignment may have worthy intent, but there are several pitfalls to the typical “immigration” report or panel.

Here are a few to consider during Hispanic Heritage Month:

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1. Keep in mind that some of your contributors’ ancestors may have been forced to come to the U.S. or were already here. Include those experiences by asking:

  • Were some in your family forced to come to America? How does your family deal with painful memories and events? How do you support each other and thrive in the face of adversity?
  • Are you descended from native groups who were originally here?  What regions did your family/tribe live in?  Were your ancestors forced to leave ancestral ground?  How have your family and group survived in the face of such tragedies?.

2. Whenever possible, have more than one representative of a culture present so that students can see that people within cultures have unique experiences and opinions. Sometimes, in an attempt to be inclusive, we’ll introduce a culture and unknowingly create more stereotypes by asking questions such as “What do Mexicans think about..” as if any culture could be of one mind. Instead, ask question such as:

  • What languages do you speak and what languages are spoken in your family?  Do you have relatives who are bilingual or don’t speak a language in common with you?
  • On what issues do people in your group most disagree? Are there different values within and between subgroups? For example, on what do younger and older members of your family agree and disagree?
  • Have you emphasized different aspects of your culture at different times of the year or different times of your life?.

  3. For ethnic panels and festivals, please don’t present Spanish-speaking and other ethnicities as only “international”. This reinforces the notion that there are “real” Americans and “foreigners.” Unless you are purposefully showcasing other countries, remember that the Spanish-speaking cultures you are exploring are here and, therefore, are American. You can ask questions such as:

  • What has being “American” meant to you? What have you had to give up to be American?  What have you gained?
  • Have you ever been to another country and experienced your Americanness?  What was that like for you?
  • How has your (or your parents’) choice of neighborhood, religion, school and friends strengthened or weakened your cultural connections and your sense of being “American”?.

A wonderful book to help us think “Beyond Heroes and Holidays” is edited by Enid Lee, Deborah Menkart and Margo Okazawa-Rey. It is a practical guide to K-12 Anti-Racist, Multicultural Education and Staff Development.