Beyond the piñatas: An authentic celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month

By Diego Ojeda

It was my first year of teaching Spanish in the United States when just a few weeks after I started the school year one of my colleagues approached me and asked me about my plans to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. I confess that I was a bit perplexed because I had never heard about this celebration. For a moment I thought she was referring to Día de la Raza, a celebration of Latin American countries where we honor our roots and our identity.  But I soon realized that we were in September and that Día de la Raza is celebrated on October 12, the same date of the federal holiday that celebrates the life of the man who left so much poverty and sadness after the “discovery” of America.

Diego in his classroom

Seeing my confusion, my colleague immediately put in my hands posters with the faces of César Chávez, Antonia Novello, Dolores Huerta, Gloria Estefan and others. Although they were quite striking posters, I felt a little embarrassed when I realized that of all those faces and names I could only recognize Gloria Estefan’s.

Twenty years later I recognize and know very well the history of each one of these Hispanic icons. However, after having lived so long in the United States, I have had many experiences that as a teacher made me think about the most appropriate  way to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. It is true that there are hundreds of Hispanics who are celebrated for their as human rights defenders, scientists, artists, or athletes. But there is another group of more than sixty million Hispanics who live in this country and for some reason aren’t as celebrated during Hispanic Heritage Month.

I have never felt celebrated during Hispanic Heritage Month.  I have always seen this celebration as something that is done in schools, in shopping center windows, bars and on TV.  While in our classes we play happy Hispanic music and decorate with lively colors, with confetti, piñatas and more, we forget the dark reality of millions of immigrant families that are separated by inhumane initiatives.

While music, dancing, food and visiting Hispanic countries somehow celebrates our culture, I think we should help our students see beyond the tacos and fiestas. Let’s help them to open their eyes so they can see all those Hispanics who with their work provide us with food, shelter, comfort and more commodities that make our life better. In my opinion, the work carried out by the majority of Hispanic immigrants in this country deserves the recognition of a smile, a shaking of hands, and a thank you. 

Let’s offer a little happiness to the worker, to the custodian, to the employee of the school cafeteria who, while being Hispanic, doesn’t feel celebrated when the whole school is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month.

Some authentic activities to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month:

  1. Ask your students to research about Hispanics who work by collecting and planting crops of food products we consume every day. They could make a graph of the places where this workforce is concentrated, the products and the salary earned for this work.
  2. Ask your students to research the most common Central American towns and cities where immigrants who cross the Mexican-American border come from in order to find a better future. They must present photos, the economy and some important festivities or traditions.
  3. Ask your students to research about Hispanics working in the construction industry. Ask them to make a graph of the places where this workforce is concentrated, the products and the salary earned for this work.
  4. Ask students to research how much money immigrants send to their home countries from the United States. Students should investigate the dollar exchange rate in these places and then compare the cost of living. What food can you buy with a dollar in the United States and what can you buy with a dollar in the Central American country researched?
  5. Ask your students to research Hispanics working in various services such as restaurants. They should make a graph of the places where this workforce is concentrated, the products and the salary earned for this work.

Diego is a passionate Spanish teacher and an accomplished world language presenter. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, with many years of experience teaching in his native country and in the United States, Diego brings a refreshing, cultural awareness and innovative perspective to the teaching of the Spanish language. Diego is co-founder of #langchat, a Twitter chat that has supported many world language educators in the US since 2011. He also is co-founder of #CharlaELE1 a Twitter chat where Spanish teachers around the world share and collaborate.  Diego is currently the World Languages department chair at Louisville Collegiate School in Louisville, KY.

6 thoughts on “Beyond the piñatas: An authentic celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month

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  1. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective and these ideas. So often we do look past the everyday realities of life for Hispanics in the U.S. While I like your suggestions, could you add a few options that focus on professional Hispanics in the community? Could you point students toward an interview or online research about local Hispanics that work as teachers, business people, doctors, pastors, lawyers, politicians, etc.? What about those that immigrated for reasons other than ‘a better life’? I think the five options given can be leading and perpetuate a stereotype. Again, thank you for initiating a deeper conversation around Hispanic Heritage month. Your students are fortunate to have you as a teacher!

  2. I love all your ideas and suggestions . I think you are such an inspiration for all your students. Thank you so much for sharing.

  3. I also have questioned myself about all those thoughts of you all the time
    When planning for Hispanic Heritage. Moreover, I think we need to make a bigger list of Hispanic contributors including local everyday heroes . I agree very much with your suggestions and thanks for them! Inspiration to action!

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