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Elevating Hispanic/Latinx History All Year

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Amidst the Civil Rights movement, which brought awareness to the importance of multicultural identities in the United States, Congress began honoring Hispanic culture, history, and the contributions of Hispanic individuals and communities with a yearly dedicated national week. Educators across the nation were urged to join in observance through celebrations and activities. 

In 1988, after it had been argued that one week was not sufficient time to properly observe and celebrate, Congress passed a bill expanding this dedicated week into a month, and President Ronald Reagan subsequently signed this bill into law. The legislation created what is now known as Hispanic Heritage Month. The month begins on September 15th, correlating with a series of national independence days of various Latin American countries, and culminates on October 15th. 

Hispanic vs. Latino vs. Latinx

The words “Hispanic” and “Latino” have often been used interchangeably, leading to the misunderstanding that they are the same. Additionally, the terms are often misused to describe a person’s race or color, when their purpose is to highlight origin and ancestry. This thought process then fails to appreciate the rich diversity of races within the various Hispanic and Latino communities. 

After years of debate whether an umbrella term would be accepted by the various immigrant communities from Latin America, contrasted by a desire by those various communities to be represented and have their needs acknowledged, the term “Hispanic” first appeared on the Census form in 1980. The terms “Brown” and “Latin American” were both considered, but “Brown” was considered too broad by demographers and “Latin American” was too othering and “foreign”. Finally, the term “Hispanic” was decided upon and heavily marketed in town halls across the U.S. and in Spanish-language media. The term took off, and soon there was a push for it to appear in birth certificates and other important documents. 

The term “Latino” refers to a majority who originated in or whose ancestry lies within Latin America.  Unlike individuals who may refer to themselves as  “Hispanic”, not all Latinos are from Spanish-speaking countries, such as Brazil. Thus, someone could identify as Hispanic or Latino, or both. However, neither term  acknowledges those who have Indigenous and African roots. In 2010, the Census acknowledged both terms, “Hispanic” and “Latino” together. The Census  identified individual countries within the category, yet excluded non-spanish speaking countries from the list. 

More recently, the term Latinx has circulated as gender-neutral and pan-ethnic. In a recent study, the Pew Research Center found that most adults who would fit into that category have not heard of the term, however. Of those surveyed, 76% have not heard the term, 20% do not use the term, and only 3% regularly utilize the term to describe themselves. It was noted that of those surveyed,  42% of young adults, ages 18 to 29, have heard the term, while only 7% of those ages 65 and older had. 

Hispanic Heritage Month Revisited 

Many calls to action have been made to revisit the month’s name in recent years, as it leaves out those who identify as Latino/Latinx and those with Afro and Indigenous roots. Black and Indigenous Latino/Latinx people, who aren’t explicitly included in the term Hispanic, have  “created safe spaces to celebrate [themselves] during the month and beyond.” Some organizations, such as the Human Rights Campaign, have rebranded  and promoted the month as Latinx Heritage Month.

According to Pew, there currently are over 60 million Hispanics in the U.S today. In the past decade, Hispanics have made up more than half of the U.S population growth. As of 2019, 4 out 5 Latinos were U.S. Citizens and 32 million Latinos will be eligible to vote in the 2020 election. The top three states with a Hispanic and Latinx population are California, Texas, Florida. Despite their growing proportion in our population, 19% of Hispanics live in poverty, and only 59% graduate high school. 

Also often ignored during Hispanic Heritage Month activities, is the acknowledgement and analysis of the various obstacles and the systems in place against immigrants and children of immigrants. Systems that have thrived for decades continue to minoritize Hispanics and Latinos in the United States. 

Many Hispanic and Latinx communities face daily oppression and systemic barriers. In schools, many teachers of students with limited english proficiency are not equipped with the adequate training and resources to accommodate and enrich ELLs in their classrooms. In Improving the Achievement of Hispanic Students, it is noted that at every grade level, Hispanic children lag behind white and Black students. Additionally, the publication shares, Hispanic children are less likely to encounter Hispanic role models in their school buildings, as the student to teacher ratio for Hispanic teachers are 64 to 1, compared to 40 to 1 for Black teachers and 17 to 1 for White teachers, making it harder for students to connect with the american educational system. 

The Importance of Celebrating Hispanic/Latinx History Throughout the Academic Year 

Along with a call to action to revisit the term “Hispanic Heritage Month” comes the idea that how it is celebrated should also see a shift. The terms Hispanic and Latino/Latinx generalize a group that is rich and diverse in cultures. By default, Hispanic Heritage Month generalizes  achievements and cultures, leaving the diversity of  race, culture, language and class within the community out of the conversation. 

During episode 2 of the Tools for Anti-Racist Teaching series, Using Media to Know Better, Teach BetterPOV's Courtney Cook, a former educator and current Ph.D candidate, shared her idea to reframe the way she teaches American Literature to her students. Her plan was to teach exclusively Brown, Black, and authors with hyphenated American identities, while maintaining the course’s name as American Literature. 

When Courtney shared that, as an educator, and someone who identifies as both Hispanic and Latinx, I felt compelled to rally behind her recommendation. Growing up I rarely read and learned about people who looked like me, and had similar experiences to me. Even in South Florida, where at least 50% of the population identifies as Hispanic or Latino/Latinx, my schools and educators mostly taught a “traditional”, white-washed curriculum. Hispanic Heritage month was often celebrated through an annual pep-rally, but rarely discussed in the classroom. 

To think that as an educator, I could reframe my own thinking, reframe the structures and systems that have been created within our own educational systems, I could help my students see themselves. We could all do that. We could utilize our curriculum as a window and mirror for students, and it begins with what curriculum and mediums we choose. 

Media Literacy Connection 

After listening to Using Media to Know Better and Teach Better, Britt Hawthorne’s question framework for selecting media heavily resonated with me. She suggests we ask ourselves: 

  • Who is this content centering?
  • What stories may be missing?
  • How will this leave your learners feeling? 
  • Who is the intended audience of this media?
  • Who is going to feel really good about it? 

Educators, I urge you to take a look at your curriculum, your lessons and the media you are using in your class and answer some of these questions. This time, I challenge you to do so as you celebrate Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month. 

PBS Resources to Supplement Teaching Hispanic and Latinx Culture and History 

Paula Hill

Paula Hill Education Media Content Coordinator | Certified Grades 5-9 Teacher

After spending my first-year teaching in a low-income urban school in Washington, DC, I returned to Florida to finish my Graduate Degree and seek further professional development. It was during my teaching there, that I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by inspiring educators and leaders who motivated, coached, and encouraged my growth and the growth of my students. It was there that I found a deep love for curriculum and curriculum development. I am now back in Washington, DC. where I’ve assumed an out-of-the-classroom role with PBS Learning Media as an Educational Media Content Coordinator. As I continue to learn and grow from others, I look forward to "paying-it forward" by helping my fellow educators and their students achieve success.

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