Parent Panic Over Hispanic Heritage Month

by Anti-Racist Parent columnist Maegan “la Mala” Ortiz

Maybe it’s because I’m a conscious Latina parent with a background in activism. Maybe it’s because I hate and don’t identify with the term Hispanic. Whatever the reason, I don’t celebrate or doing anything special for the 30 day period from September 15th to October 15th that we find ourselves in the middle of, Hispanic Heritage Month.

Some parents: Latino, Hispanic, and everyone else, feel that such a month, as random as it may be, is a great opportunity for me and others like me to teach our children something about their background, as a time to instill pride (as if that doesn’t or shouldn’t happen the other 305 days of the year).

But first maybe you need to know something about my daughter’s school. My 10 year old daughter’s local public school in diverse Queens, NYC is about 1/3 Latino but I am the only Latina who attends Parent Association Board meetings, where parents get the real “dirt” on what’s happening inside the school (the general meetings have really become nothing more than a platform for the Principal to give speeches and for parents to watch their kids get “Student of the Month” medals).

As the only Latina (and usually the only woman of color) at Board meetings, I am often looked to on issues of “diversity”, including issues of translation and bussing. There are a number of reasons why many Latino parents don’t come including the fact that many work, that they feel uncomfortable at the meetings, and that translation isn’t readily available (unless it’s done by me). But the school will never pass an opportunity to exploit a holiday to death all so that they can put a good blurb in their newsletter. This is why, in my opinion, the school has a Chinese New Year’s parade. It’s a way to look diverse without actually respecting people. It’s a way to throw crumbs to the masses dare they ever say, “What have you done for me lately?”

School had barely when I was accosted by three offensive school holidays and requests for me to do something. Hispanic Heritage Month was set to begin on September 15th, Columbus Day observed was a month away, and my daughter’s classroom teacher was planning a Thanksgiving feast.

Last year I organized the school’s first ever Latino Heritage Month event, a pot luck luncheon for the parents and a parade for the children. I did it more as an organizing tool, a way to bring Latino families into the school just so that we could all see how many we were and the potential influence we all could have. Trying to push the issue further, I asked the then-PA president about why Latino Heritage Month wasn’t included as part of the curriculum as African American History Month is and Women’s History month I was told that it wasn’t part of the NYC school’s curriculum and anyway he couldn’t find anything at the school supply store.

This year the school’s parent coordinator asked if I would be organizing the school’s Hispanic/Latino Heritage month celebration again. I conducted an unscientific poll of about 30 Latino parents with children in the school to see if they wanted to have a Latino/Hispanic Heritage celebration and if they would help to put it together.

Overwhelmingly most parents said no to having a school event but that we should do something outside the school. The sense was that the school didn’t really care about them as parents, as made obvious by a lack of consistent translation services and outright racist statements about Latino Spanish dominant families. So why then parade in front of a school and share our food, a hugely important ritual, with people that don’t respect us. After all, wasn’t it this same school system that tracked my child in ESL because she couldn’t read when she began first grade and oops, forgot to tell me?

So, like many Latino families, this month is like any other month, a month where we share our food with our family, our children, and our friends. Around that table we will talk about our stories, our histories, in our tongues. For most Latinos everyday is a day to celebrate our heritage and every day is a day to defend it.

Maegan “la Mala” Ortiz is a Queens, NYC born and bred radical Nuyorican mami writer, poeta, activista, blogger, and academic coach (trying) to work at home with her two chicas, La MapucheRican (10) and the Poroto ChileRican (7 months) and her very patient partner just known as “el Chileno”. She is an editor at VivirLatino and (poorly) maintains her personal blog Mamita Mala. She wants to write a book or two and is graciously accepting offers for babysitting.

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