All children need opportunities to explore and celebrate multiple cultures, regardless of whether their school or community formally celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month. Understanding the presence and influence of Latinas and Latinos in our society will help prepare your child for participation in civic life and an increasingly global workforce.
Research on early childhood education shows that children begin to recognize racial differences as early as age two, and unfortunately, racially biased information is usually transmitted to children through families, the media, peers, or school and must be directly counteracted by parents and other adults in the children’s lives, such as teachers1. I had a moment of awareness with my own son when he was three. I consider myself a parent who very intentionally exposed my now 20-year-old son to a variety of ethnic and racial groups, and chose diverse communities in which he could interact. For example, I live in a predominately Mexican neighborhood in Chicago, but my son has always attended racially and economically diverse schools, has participated in racially diverse Little League teams, and was enrolled in programs on the South Side of Chicago in which he was the only non-Black child. From the time he was born, I read books to him that represented diverse communities. On the other hand, I “protected” him from negative images of people of color or women by limiting movies or other media that I believed had negative messages.
Despite this very intentional effort, my son picked up societal messages about who is valued and who is not. We were in a movie cinema lobby when he pointed to a poster of El Road to El Dorado, an animated film of Spanish conquistadores looking for treasure in the Incan Empire in South America. The poster depicted a dark-skinned, “goofy” looking Incan man aside two White looking Spaniards on horseback. My son, pointed to one of the White men and said, “Look Mommy, that is the good guy,” and pointing to the Incan man said, “and that’s the bad guy.” I was stunned. How did he learn this? I hadn’t been aware of any overt message he received that said that White people were “good” and brown people “bad,” yet he had somehow learned this message, or perhaps picked it up from the poster itself. I learned from this experience, the importance of being comfortable talking about racial differences and having these conversations with my son. When we are able to have direct conversations with our children about race2, children are more likely to have positive attitudes about people of other racial groups. While I would not have taken my son to view this film, the poster was enough to teach him certain messages about the Indigenous/First Nations people depicted in the film. Over time, as he got older, particularly in middle school and high school, I made sure that we both shared in learning about other cultures as well as our own, and that I let him know that I was open to having conversations about race if he so wanted. Sometimes he just wanted to be a “kid” and didn’t want to think or talk about those issues, and sometimes, there was a particular event he wanted to share with me that happened to him or one of his friends. I let him be my guide.
Let Hispanic Heritage Month be an introduction to this shared experience of learning, or if you have already been doing this, an added experience of enrichment for you and your child.
What is Hispanic Heritage Month?
National Hispanic Heritage Month is a month-long celebration of Latino history and culture that runs from September 15th to October 15th. Started by Congress as a one-week event in 1968, and later expanding to one month in 1988, the celebration begins on the 15th rather than the 1st of the month because it coincides with independence day in several Latin American countries (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica), followed by Mexico on the 16th, Chile on the 18th, and Belize on the 21st.
Who are Latinos?
The U.S. Latino population is the second fastest growing racial or ethnic group after Asians, numbering 57 million and making up 18% of the U.S. population. Latinos can be considered a multi-racial ethnic group representing 20 different countries. People of Mexican heritage are the largest sub-group accounting for 2/3 of the Latino population. Other major sub-groups include the second most numerous Latino group, Puerto Ricans, followed by Cubans, Salvadorans, Dominicans, and Guatemalans4. Contrary to what most people believe, the increase in the Latino population is mostly due to births and not due to migration. In fact, the share of Latinos who are immigrants is on a steady decline among all subgroups.5
How can all parents celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month?
Hispanic Heritage Month is a way to learn more about the ways in which Latinos have contributed to the United States and the history of diverse Latino groups in the U.S. As parents of non-Latino children, it’s a great time to learn about other cultures and racial/ethnic groups with your child and model the appreciation of diversity. The U.S. is more diverse than ever and it’s a wonderful time to affirm the contributions of Latinas and Latinos and their rich cultural backgrounds. For children who are of Latino heritage, helping them to develop a positive sense of group identity can give them a positive sense of self as well as help them navigate experiences of discrimination in the future. In fact, the research suggests that Latino children most grounded in their culture tend to have better educational outcomes than those who have lost a sense of connection to their culture. The ability that many Latino children have to move easily between cultural contexts and adapt accordingly has been termed “navigational capital” and is an important form of cultural capital.6
Expose them to music in Spanish. If you have preschool or early elementary children, José-Luis Orozco’s music is a great option. If you are Latino, his music helps to promote traditions and bilingualism. His latest album called ¡Come Bien! Eat Right! promotes healthy nutrition.
Honor Latinas and Latinos in the U. S. For example, read “My Beloved World,” the autobiography of Sonia Sotomayor, a New Yorker of Puerto Rican heritage who became the first Latina on the U.S. Supreme Court and the third woman to serve on the Court.
Visit a Farmer’s Market and give thanks to the United Farm Workers Association, founded by Cesar Chavez. Cesar Chavez was a Mexican American civil rights leader who dedicated his life to non-violent protest in support of humane treatment of migrant workers. The union fought against pesticide use, low wages, and cruel working conditions. Watch the movie Cesar Chavez.
Print out some of Frida Kahlo’s most famous works of art and talk about how the art makes your children feel.
Try some recipes that your children can help prepare. Learn about the origin of the recipe, such as the Latin American country it comes from and any other facts about the dish. This is a great way to expose children to the diversity within Latin America. Here’s one idea for a Mexican recipe. Or visit Latin American restaurants in your community – try Papusas at a Salvadorian restaurant, Argentinian Empanadas, or Ecuadorian Yucca bread.
Learn new phrases with your children such as “Te amo” (I love you) and incorporate them into your conversations all year round.
Visit your local library and find out what inventions we use today were created by Latinas or Latinos, find out who was the first Latino congressman, etc.
If your school does not celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, partner with your school social worker and teachers to develop Hispanic Heritage Month events at your school. Through celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month at school, Latino students learn that they are more than a stereotype and non-Latino students can understand the contributions of Latino students and their culture to the school.
Watch videos on Latino Americans PBS series with your children representing two different Latino groups and discuss the differences and similarities with your child. Watch this Latino Americans video series on PBS.
View the collections of stories, music, and other resources on the NBC news website in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.
Enjoy the festivities and have fun! These activities you do together will not only prepare your child for a globalized world, but also create memories they will treasure of the valuable lessons learned and the joy in spending time together.
1Husband, T. (2012). “I don’t see color”: Challenging assumptions about discussing race with young children. Early Childhood Education, 39, 365-371.
2Vittrup, B., & Holden, G. W. (2010). Exploring the impact of educational television and parent-child discussions on children’s racial attitudes. Analysis of Social Issues and Social Policy, 11(1), 82-104.
3The preferred designation is Latina/o, and is used in this blog. The word “Hispanic” can exclude people such as Brazilians, who do not share the Spanish language or heritage from Spain as well as indigenous groups in Mexico, Central and South America. See Chapter 2 of the book The Latino Condition by Suzanne Oboler for more information about terminology.
4Krogstad, J.M. (September 15, 2016). Ten Facts for National Hispanic Heritage Month. Retrieved from Pew Research Center at http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/09/15/facts-for-national-hispanic-heritage-month/
6Trueba, H. (2002). Multiple ethnic, racial, and cultural identities in action: From marginality to a new cultural capital in modern society. Journal of Latinos in Education, 1(1), 7-28.