By Iliana Flores-Dumond
Hispanic Heritage month, September 15th through October 15th, is a celebration of Latin American countries, cultures, and influence in the U.S. The month has been celebrated in schools since 1968, giving students an opportunity to learn more about nations and cultures that often are underrepresented or erased in curriculum. While having a month where we specifically celebrate Hispanic culture is a start, we should be uplifting Latinx narratives all year round.
As of 2021, 28% of K-12 students in the U.S are of Latinx descent, and the percentage is likely to continue growing every year. In Texas, 52.8% of K-12 students are Latinx. With more than a quarter of students coming from Latinx households, we need to be mindful of what inclusive education looks like. One option is culturally responsive curriculum, an educational framework that aims to make education more inclusive by adding narratives and histories of students from all backgrounds into classroom. Culturally responsive curriculum has positive impacts on student achievement, self-confidence, and feelings of belonging. In practice, this could look like reading books about characters of color in English class or including more about cultural practices during a foreign language course. If we want our Latinx students to thrive at the same rates as other students in school, we must build curriculum that includes and affirms their experiences.
Curriculum building encompasses everything from creating inclusive materials, such as culturally relevant books, to teachers appropriately using those materials in the classroom. As of 2019, only 5.3% of children’s books published in the U.S feature Latinx primary characters. The lack of representation in children’s literature amplifies barriers to feeling included for Latinx students. Where publishers are failing, schools need to pick up the slack by building representation into the class environment for students of all backgrounds.
Despite having one of the largest Latinx populations of any state in the country, Texas has failed to adopt an inclusive framework for curriculum. Texas does offer Mexican American Studies as an elective course, after years of advocacy by families and ethnic studies professionals. But attacks against teaching the truth killed the push in the 2023 legislative session to make ethnic studies courses more widely available. The resistance to inclusive curriculum signals to students that their perspective and their experiences are not valued. We can’t expect students to invest in their communities, if our state and community leaders won’t invest in them.
We must work toward meaningfully including Latinx students in our schools and teaching non-Latinx students about this rich history and culture. This curriculum could look like teaching Latin American history in our social studies classes, reading books with Latinx characters in our literature classes and featuring them in our libraries, or including elective courses that center around Latinx cultural traditions. Despite pushbacks on teaching the truth, many states have already started to include ethnic studies coursework into their catalogues, which represents huge strides towards inclusion.
All students deserve to feel valued and celebrated in their schools. Classes and books that celebrate Hispanic identities are only one piece of the puzzle. From publishers to state leaders to our own classrooms, we need to welcome and affirm every student.
All students deserve to feel valued and celebrated in their schools. Classes and books that celebrate Hispanic identities are only one piece of the puzzle. From publishers to state leaders to our own classrooms, we need to welcome and affirm every student. This Hispanic Heritage Month, check out a book with a Latinx character or ask your teachers and administrators how they plan to celebrate Latinx identities in your school. Your effort toward learning and celebrating Latinx culture is a crucial step toward making Latinx children feel welcomed in the community.
Youth Civic Education and Engagement Intern, Children’s Defense Fund – Texas
For many Latin American countries, including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, September 15th also represents their Independence Day from colonial rule. Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence later in September.