I attended Juana Bordas' presentations on Latino culture in the United States during convocation and her evening presentation. Sra. Bordas focused on strengths of multiculturalism and the positive aspects that Latinos add to American society. Her story was similar to countless other immigrants in the United States (which is just about everyone at some point in the last few centuries, right?). She was born to a family of 8 in a small town in Nicaragua. When she was four, her parents decided to sacrifice their jobs, friends, extended families, and cultural connections and comforts to move to the United States to give their children more opportunities. She recalled traveling over on a banana boat, because they couldn't afford full priced tickets. The next point Sra. Bordas made really stood out to me, because I believe it is something we fail to realize far too often. She said that her mother was a very smart leader. She explained that too often we forget how smart those people are - the ones that sacrifice their lives for their children; they have a plan. Her mother saved up money to build an extra room in their house so she could run a daycare to earn extra money. Eventually, she saved up enough money over her life to put money towards all her grandchildren's college expenses - something that stands in stark contrast to the individualistic American standard of spending all your money on yourself and not worrying about leaving money to future generations.
Sra. Bordas explained the various characteristics that make the Latino community what it is - the common set of values (valuing hard work that is done with pride, joy, and energy; embracing community - always having room for another at the table or just in the house to share with, etc.), the Spanish language, a common spiritual tradition, and a shared history. The characteristics that describe Latinos are characteristics that for whatever reason Anglo culture has shifted away from in the past couple hundred years. The facts she cited about the US being the fastest Spanish speaking country in the world, the 2nd largest Spanish speaking country in the world, Latinos being the fastest growing minority in the US, and the fact that by 2050 the US will be minority-majority all made me happy. Whenever two cultures mix in a peaceful way they produce (in my opinion) a stronger and healthier society. Though it took centuries (and their is still much difficulty ahead), Latin American countries integrated the traditions of the indigenous with those of the invading Europeans, resulting in a vibrant culture that is both laid back, harding working, religious, and community/family oriented.
These values are very similar to those outlined in studies of successful schools. I want my students to feel that they are part of a community. After all, whenever we look back at our best memories, what always mattered was the people - the things were never essential - it was always the relationships we made with others. I had a good experience in high school because I had teachers that cared about me, plenty of close friends, and a school that valued community and made every student feel welcome. Those values are some of the best of Latino culture and I want to apply those when I teach. And given the fast rising number of Hispanic students, it is increasingly important to understand Latino culture in order to allow all students to feel comfortable and welcomed in class. I want to embrace all cultures in my classroom, and in the US the most obvious one to embrace at this point in time is Latino culture. There is plenty to be learned from it that directly applies to teaching: incorporating family, creating a community centric feel, and valuing work done with pride, energy, and joy. Those are all characteristics I want to model and encourage.