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Here’s Why You Don’t Want to Miss It And How to Get Started
Across the USA, it's National Hispanic Heritage Month. Here in San Diego, my class and I are celebrating the contributions of great artists and courageous leaders like Frida Kahlo and Cesar Chavez. But despite our region's (and my classroom's) wonderful mix of cultures, our textbooks offer few culturally affirming lessons about the wealth and richness of Hispanic culture. Furthermore, our textbooks fail to explain the powerful impact Hispanic culture has had on the US and the world. Without opportunities to learn beyond the textbook, a child reading these materials can come away with an impression of Hispanic culture that is inaccurate, misleading, or even simply dead wrong.
As a teacher and a father of children whose mother is Latinx, I have known this for years. As a result, I'm always on the hunt for lessons and materials that support a robust, culturally affirming curriculum for all students. I want my students to have what they deserve-real and genuine opportunities to learn about the rich history and incredible contributions of Hispanic culture.
But something has been missing from my curriculum, and it's time to change that. Has it been missing from yours too?
Recently, I talked with Jonathan Peraza Campos, program specialist for Teaching Central America. Jonathan explained that Teaching Central America Week, a project of Teaching For Change, has its roots in not years but decades of outreach. Its mission is to bring the respect and dignity to our classrooms that all students and their families deserve."Our project aims to bridge the past to the present to the future in a way that respects the dignity and truth of who Central Americans are." Teaching Central America Week Is October 3rd-October 9th Click To Tweet
The Educator's Room: So Jonathan, what is Teaching Central America Week?
Jonathan Peraza-Campos: Teaching Central America Week happens in the first week of October annually. Teaching Central America itself is a yearlong project with roots as far back as the 1970s with the solidarity movement in the US. In 1989, Teaching for Change was established with the motto of "building social justice, starting in the classroom." In 2017, in response to rising anti-immigrant rhetoric, which drove a false context and inaccurate perspectives about particularly immigrants from Central America, Teaching Central America was established. Teaching Central America can be thought of as a starting point, a place where educators can find materials, support, and guidance. It's a place where teachers can find factual and genuine opportunities for students to learn about this important region of the world. Teaching Central America Week is our way of helping educators to start and continue that discovery process for their students.
TER: Why is it important and critical that teachers include lessons about Central America and its region's many contributions to art, literature, politics, and other areas?
JPC: Teachers have a duty to teach students the truth of our shared history. In recent events, we have seen immigrants caged and separated from families–alongside a massive uptick in anti-immigrant rhetoric. There is a tie to every immigrant seeking asylum in the US, and that includes Central America. For example, in the 1980s and 1990s, the US saw its first wave of migrants from Central America, but few people may understand the connection of that migration to US military involvement in the region. Others may not realize how these cultures are woven into the fabric of the United States now.
The US is home to many Central Americans. In fact, Central Americans compose the third largest Hispanic group in the US. Consider our Guatemalan communities, for example, or Nicaraguan and Salvadoran neighborhoods throughout the US. All of these communities have positively influenced and contributed to the US culture as a whole.
Central Americans themselves are also a diverse group of people. Central Americans living in the US have a strong sense of identity and sense of community. They are multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, and multi-cultural. There is so much about the region of Central America to be shared. They are people with disabilities, they are famous women, and soon there may even be a Central American flying to the moon. Our project aims to bridge the past to the present to the future in a way that respects the dignity and truth of who Central Americans are.
TER: Ok, I'm even more excited now for Teaching Central America Week. How does a teacher get started?
JPC: First, I recommend that teachers go to our website and sign up for the newsletter. It's a quick form, and we will keep you updated as we provide new materials and lesson plans. Our website itself is an amazing hub of prose, geographical, historical, political, and art lessons with some truly relevant themes. Other materials are organized by country too.
One of my favorite lessons is actually the Introduction to Central America lesson plan. Here you can get exposed to a variety of figures. It's sort of like a "speed dating" of truly inspirational Central American figures. There are some dynamic people! It would make a great first lesson to kick off Teach Central America Week on October 3rd.
We would love to see educators begin to build a base that they can use to further their lifelong study. We know once you are there, you'll be amazed and want to study Central American film, art, history, our literature, and our positive and powerful influence on US culture too. Educator's come with that genius intellect to incorporate and build complex and dignified lessons for their students. We have lessons that are ready to go and widely used, waiting for those teachers to work their magic.
After interviewing Jonathan, it became clear that my students were missing out on so much of what makes Hispanic culture so important to America and the world. Moreover, I was missing powerful materials and lessons about one of the world's most important regions: Central America.
Each year, I hope that this month-long focus will spark continued curiosity and appreciation for Hispanic culture throughout the year, not just for a single month. And thanks to Teaching Central America Week's resources and guidance, we will now make sure to purposefully include famous Central American figures as well. In fact, tomorrow, we'll be reading about Francisco "Frank" Rubio, a Salvadoran-American member of the US's Artemis I mission launching soon to the moon. I learned all about Mr. Rubio by signing up for Teaching Central America's newsletter just last week and found materials for a lesson I knew my students would love.
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