Carmen Palacios-Aguirre is a minimum time member and Olivia Sandin is a part time members serving at the Read to L.E.A.D program . This program uses literacy, a social justice, and mentorship to improve youth and their college mentors’ cultural competency and sense of self.
For the month of October, we decided to do lessons to celebrate Latinx Heritage Month with our mentors and mentees. We serve a large Latinx population, and wanted our mentees to understand that their cultural identity was something to be proud of and value. We chose to call this month “Latinx” Heritage Month because it encompasses more of the population we’re trying to reach. Often times the word “Hispanic” brings the Spanish colonization into view, which many Latinx populations are wary of. Interacting with the kids and offering them different views from what they’re used to is eye-opening. We started this month by bringing awareness to Puerto Rico and having our students brainstorm action plans to help the island. We wanted our community to understand that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, and that the country needs help. We also wanted our mentees to understand the link between poverty and natural disasters, and that people living on poverty are affected more by hurricanes. We were very impressed by the action plans our mentees came up with, and how passionate they were about helping.
The next week, we put Christopher Columbus “on trial” with our mentees, and challenged them to view the “founding” of America from two different perspectives—the Taino people and Columbus’s men, and then decided if we really should celebrate Columbus Day. After reading about some of the terrible things Christopher Columbus did, the children decided we should not celebrate Columbus. Our mentors agreed—and believed we should celebrate the Taino people instead. It’s important that our children get to see history from a different point of view than they’re used to. We wanted them to understand the roots of the people in the Caribbean, as they had just learned about Puerto Rico the week before.
We also did a lesson in which the children read biographies about famous Latinx people. The younger kids made a “trading card” that highlighted the important roles of Latnix people in the larger world, and the older kids made a “Snapchat story” highlighting the role of the person they chose. The idea was that in addition to highlighting the important roles of Lantix people individually and as a community, the children would see the diversity within the community by trading cards with others and “viewing” their friends story. Latinx people are singers, writers, politicians, Supreme Court justices, athletes, and actors, and they come from more countries that just Mexico.
Finally, we did a lesson that highlighted different Latinx holidays. We got to explore holidays from around Central and South America, including Dia de los Muertos, Dia de los Niños, Cinco de Mayo, Semana Santa, Navidad, Día de los Reyes. For the younger kids, we focused on holidays that weren’t very religious based, but we did engage the older kids with those holidays. We understood that we are not there to preach, but to inform and understand. Mentioning these Holidays are important because both the mentees and the mentors can see where traditions come from and how religion is a very big thing in many Latinx populations.
This month was definitely rewarding for us. Not only did we change a lot of our children’s and mentor’s perspectives about history, we also made them aware of the current need for aid in Puerto Rico. Our Latinx mentees are very excited when we highlight their community, and how enthusiasm arises for the lessons that celebrate their holidays and people that look them. Our Latinx kindergarteners were especially excited, because these lessons first made them aware of their own cultural identity. Even better, they painted their culture in a positive light, and helped them develop a positive cultural identity.