I am hispanic and I forgot it was Hispanic Heritage month. As a first generation American and as someone who used to work for 2 huge Latin American companies, I feel a little strange that I forgot to make this month into a learning opportunity for my daughter. I mean here I am in South Florida, a place marketed to many as the “doorway to Latin America” and I am just coasting through life! How could I forget a month implemented by Ronald Reagan?
Did you forget too? In the United States, Hispanic heritage month runs from September 15th to October 15th. Can we stop and just note how strange it is that our “month” runs across 2 months?” I know it is because many independence days in Latin America are in September and October, but it just feels a little contrived to me. Weird dates aside, it is a time when people recognize the contributions made by “hispanic” and/or “latino” Americans to US culture and heritage. In South Florida I tend to forget to point out to my daughter just how different we are to the rest of the country. Going to Publix and picking up a Cuban sandwich (we can argue about the authencity of said sandwich later) isn’t a viable option for people in other parts of the country. Even the restaurants we love here are great examples. We don’t have to drive far to experience foods foreign to most Americans. I mean, half a mile from my house for example is a Brazilian bakery, Casa do Pao. One mile away is a Padrino’s, my favorite local Cuban restaurant, and two miles away is Rancheritos de Boca, my favorite Colombian place.
So how do we do Hispanic Heritage Month naturally in South Florida? How can we share with our children the beauty that is the multiple cultures (because there are many under the banner of “hispanic” or “latino”) of Latin America? I’ve thought of a few ways:
- Celebrate the differences. Marketers make money on lumping people together. Its why restaurants labeled Nuevo Latino are best fan favorites. These all give off the fragrance of being hispanic without the clarity. I’m always shocked at the number of South Floridians who have lived here their whole lives, but who can’t tell you the difference between Cuban, Honduran, Brazilian, Colombian or Mexican food. If I had a nickel for every time a man said to me, “Isn’t it all beans and rice?” I could buy Mar-A-Lago. Different spices, different varieties and different cooking methods all contribute to the different flavors involved in Latin cooking. Next time you’re at a restaurant, pay attention to the different ingredients, and don’t be afraid to point out to your children that while Cubans use green peppers, garlic and onions, they don’t traditionally use chipotle.
- Explore the different histories. Did you know that there are different reasons why South Florida is such a mix of different beautiful Latin cultures? There are different reasons why Latinos came here. Some came here fleeing communist oppression in the 1960s, some came here because their home country was in the midst of a 60 year civil war and they had lost one family member too many, and some came here to share the bounty of their booming economy in the mid 2000s before settling here for good. There are diverse people behind the banner of “Hispanic” or “Latino” and our South Florida kids ought to hear these stories. The Miami Freedom Tower, Miami History Museum, and Flagler Museum regularly host exhibits exploring these varied histories, but even if you’ve missed out on them, neighbors and friends can be a great source of education for our children.
- Check out to authentic voices and stories. Nothing Against Elena of Avalor, but I would rather go to the library and check out “Biblioburro: A True Story from Colombia” by Jeanette Winter or “City of the Beasts” by Isabel Allende for my children than yet another algorithmed TV show brought to us by Disney in the effort of lumping 19 different countries together for the sake of sales goals.
- Connect with Family. For us, my grandparents and their siblings are a great source of family stories and cultural records. Usually Wednesdays brings my great-aunt to my house, and with her comes stories of Colombia, both her personal history, our family history, and Colombian national history. My 86 yr old Cuban grandmother, and I are pen-pals. Though the letters are in Spanish, I know that one day they will be a source of interest for my daughter. (probably when she does the 4th grade “where do I come from” chart public schools are always making children do). And you know, while it might be difficult if you haven’t grasped your family’s native Spanish or Portuguese (And I’m not judging you, I know that there are many many reasons why you might have never learned), braving the language rift will prove invaluable to your children. These elderly family members have a history that should not be ignored because of language barriers. The stories stay the same, even if the translations make them seem unfamiliar. You would do well to invest time in hearing them before it is too late.
These are just a few of my ideas, what did you do for Hispanic Heritage month?