Reflecting on National Hispanic Heritage Month

September 28, 2014

This lesson uses Hispanic Heritage Month as a jumping off point for discussing how ""history"" is shaped and what we can do together to include a larger variety of voices and narratives in our study of history.

To the Teacher:
 

September 15 was the start of this year’s National Hispanic Heritage Month.  Like American Indian Heritage Month in November, Black History Month in February, Women’s History Month in March, and Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May, this is intended to be a time to reflect on, acknowledge and celebrate contributions to our society by groups of people who have often been underrepresented in our history books.
 
But these months can also be a good time to pause and question why we dedicate a month to teaching material that should be incorporated throughout the school year.
 
This lesson uses Hispanic Heritage Month as a jumping off point for discussing how "history" is shaped and what we can do together to include a larger variety of voices and narratives in our study of history.
 
(See also, Why Black History Month?
 


Gathering or Opening Ceremony

Read the following quote out loud:
 
"History is written by the victors."
 
Mention that though the quote is often attributed to English statesman Winston Churchill, its origins are unknown.
 
Ask students: 

  • What do you think this quote tells us about most official and mainstream histories that are used in schools across the country? 
  • How do you see yourself and your people reflected in history books? Is "your" story being told in mainstream American history books?

 


 

Whose (Mainstream) History?

Historian, playwright and social activist Howard Zinn tried to counter the histories "written by the victor" with his book A People’s History of the United States, 1942-Present, which was published in 2003. 
 
Though some have debated whether Zinn’s book is "good history," it has become a popular alternative and counterweight to other more mainstream histories. Zinn himself stated that "with all its limitations," A People’s History is "a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people’s movements of resistance."  This, he said, is what sets his book apart from the other historical accounts often used in schools, which he called "the mountain of history books under which we all stand."  He felt this mountain "leans so heavily in the other direction - so tremblingly respectful of states and statesmen and so disrespectful, by inattention, to people’s movements - that we need some counterforce to avoid being crushed into submission."
 
Tell students that National Hispanic Heritage Month began on September 15. Ask students: 

  • Based on Howard Zinn’s quote, why do you think National Hispanic Heritage Month might be needed? 
  • What does National Hispanic Heritage Month (as well as Black History Month and other such months) try to achieve?  What does it try to counter?  

One argument against Black History Month was made by Jeffrey L. Boney in January 2014: "Black history should be celebrated and acknowledged in America, 365 days a year-7 days a week-24 hours a day; the very same way the founding fathers are heralded and celebrated daily."  

  • Do you think the same argument could be made against National Hispanic Heritage Month (and other heritage months)?
  • Does that mean we shouldn’t celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month?  Why, why not?
  • Can you think of other ways to ensure that the history of Hispanic people and Hispanic perspectives are included in our history classes and other classes?

 


 

His & Her Story; Our Story

In small groups ask students to read and discuss one of the two poems below. Ask each group to consider the following questions: 

  • What are your thoughts and feelings about this poem?
  • How does it relate to today’s lesson?
  • What parts of your identity (Hispanic or other) can you find in the poem?
  • What experiences described in the poem are you able to relate to?

Back in the large group, ask students to share what they discussed in their smaller groups.  Ask: 

  • Are the kinds of experiences described in these poems reflected in our history books in any way? 
  • What voices might we want to see acknowledged and amplified in our current historical narratives?
  • How can we work toward including these voices in our history class this year?
  • the poem Legal Alien, refers to "Anglos."   Who are the Anglos the poem refers to? Why do you think we don’t have Anglo-American history month?

Closing or Closing Ceremony

Ask students to share one identity that they feel is minimized or disrespected (in the words of Howard Zinn) in mainstream history books.  Record students’ responses on the board, and ask students to think about ways to counter this inattention as a class over the course of the year. 
 


 

Legal Alien

 

by Pat Mora

 
Bi-lingual, Bi-cultural,
able to slip from "How’s life?"
to "Me’stan volviendo loca,"
able to sit in a paneled office drafting memos in smooth English,
able to order in fluent Spanish
at a Mexican restaurant,
American but hyphenated,
viewed by Anglos as perhaps exotic,
perhaps inferior,
definitely different, viewed by Mexicans as alien,
(their eyes say, "You may speak Spanish but you’re not like me")
an American to Mexicans
a Mexican to Americans
a handy token
sliding back and forth
between the fringes of both worlds by smiling
by masking the discomfort
of being pre-judged
Bi-laterally.

 

Child of the Americas

by Aurora Levins Morales*
 
I am a child of the Americas,
a light-skinned mestiza of the Caribbean,
a child of many diaspora,
born into this continent at a crossroads.
I am a U.S. Puerto Rican Jew,
a product of the ghettos of a New York I have never known.
An immigrant and the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants.
I speak English with passion: it’s the tongue of my consciousness,
a flashing knife blade of crystal, my tool, my craft.
 
I am Caribeña, island grown. Spanish is in my flesh,
Ripples from my tongue, lodge in my hips:
the language of garlic and mangoes,
the singing of poetry, the flying gestures of my hands.
I am of Latinoamerica, rooted in the history of my continent:
I speak from that body.
 
I am not African.
 Africa is in me, but I cannot return.
I am not taína.
 Taíno is in me, but there is no way back.
I am not European.
 Europe lives in me, but I have no home there.
 
I am new. History made me. My first language was spanglish.
I was born at the crossroads
and I am whole.