Teaching Central America for Latinx Heritage Month — and All Year Long

Students at Roosevelt High School (DCPS) prepare for the role play lesson Introduction to Central America.

For Latinx Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), we encourage educators to address topics that are often left out of the textbook. In particular, we encourage educators to explore and teach about Central America. More than seven million Central Americans reside in the United States today, yet the lack of resources on Central American heritage in most schools make the rich history and literature of the region invisible. Central America is too-often portrayed as simply a strip of land on a map connecting North and South America. Students are left to imagine that their Central American heritage, or that of their peers, is insignificant. Teachers have learned little of the history themselves and there is a scarcity of literature in the school libraries.

Teaching for Change created TeachingCentralAmerica.org to help fill that gap with resources for teaching about Central America, including free downloadable lessons, bios, and poetry and prose from Central American writers that shine a light on key issues such as the need for land reform, recognition of indigenous and women’s rights, exploitative labor practices, environmental destruction, political repression and violence, and U.S. intervention.

Here are some of the comments we have received from teachers about the impact of using resources from TeachingCentralAmerica.orgHave you used these resources? Please send us your feedback and we will send you a free book!

Teaching through art using Leaving Home: Socratic dialogue with Art enabled the students to dive deep inside and make connections they had not realized were there previously. Reading and studying the art by the Mayan painter Paula Nicho Cumez and Crossing Borders Through Art: The Tortilla as Canvas enabled them to better realize what a rich cultural heritage they have and how they will contribute this to the world.—Connie Gilmore, high school language arts teacher, Nashville, Tennessee

We used the Personal Creed lesson in the second week of school as a part of a unit about Archbishop Oscar Romero. Seventh and Eighth grade students at our Catholic school were familiar with the Apostles’ Creed, having professed it at Mass, although they may not have known what each word meant. We used the poem as an opportunity to dig into unknown language using context clues and the dictionary.

The lesson set the tone for the year. The students got the message that the class would map onto previously known concepts (the Apostles’ Creed, their professions of belief as received through their families or the school), but that this would not keep them in safe or familiar territory. Rather, the poem invited them to see their faith and education as something which would draw them out into the experience (even the devastatingly painful experience) of others.—Leah Coming, middle school language arts teacher, South Bend, Indiana

As an AP Spanish teacher, I am always looking for new information and different activities to use with my students. Using Introduction to Central America, I took several of the people included in the lesson and assigned them to each student. They were to look for information about them and later on “represent” this person. They loved the idea and worked very hard to get the best grade. The one story that impacted the most was that of Oscar Romero: this student came to class dressed as a priest and told his story and it was awesome. I also included the song El padre Antonio y su monaguillo Adres from Ruben Blades, which tells the story of this priest. I modified the lesson to be all in Spanish information and they did great.—Maritza Toro, high school language teacher, Bradenton, Florida

I find that teaching El Norte in today’s class, (although a classic) is right in step with DACA. Romero fits in with the Catholic School Mission.—Eileen Kriechbaum, high school language  teacher, Faribault, Minnesota

As the high school librarian, I have reviewed the resources and included them as a feature for this month and included them in a library guide created to highlight and dig deeper into Latinx Heritage all year-round.—Kishanna Harley, high school librarian, Washington, D.C.

I used Introduction to Central AmericaLocate the Countries of Central AmericaLeaving Home: Socratic dialogue with Art , and Poetry Fires the Revolution with my middle school students and found that the lessons catered really nicely to the vast differentiation in my classrooms from grades 6 to 8. I loved how easy it was to follow the directions and set up. Prep was simple, and more importantly, the lessons were effective. I used some lessons in my Spanish classes in addition to my social studies classroom. The English department and I have done several cross-curriculum exercises based on the inspiration provided by the lessons. These lessons, too, came right on time with threats to DACA—the lessons helped put students in the frame of mind to accept outside cultures, that it is OK to be different, and that history translates in any culture. —Destiny LaVere, middle school social studies teacher, Washington, D.C.

I use the film Harvest of Empire in my Intro to Global Studies course to highlight how globalization has impacted certain countries in the context of U.S. political and economic policies and their implementation. For example, the World Wars created worker shortages in the U.S., which prompted the creation of federal government programs to bring in workers from México and Puerto Rico; the impact of NAFTA on the Mexican economy and how that triggered immigration into the U.S. from México. For the most part, students are not aware of the history of U.S. intervention in Latin America.

I ask my students to reflect on the interconnection of our foreign policies, the economic and political stability of other countries, and the subsequent immigration of the people of these countries into the U.S. I include one of my student’s reflections on this:

Previous to this documentary, I wasn’t aware of the degree to which U.S. intervention has impacted Latin America, especially Nicaragua. I understood that there was a mass U.S. occupation within Latin America which exploited workers and the environment (such as sugar and other goods) but I wasn’t aware of the U.S. supporting terrible dictators for the sole purpose of economic greed. [T]he U.S. came into Nicaragua, used them for their resources and created several internal issues between the Nicaraguan government and the people, then left and turned their back and denied entry or U.S. citizenship to the Nicaraguan citizens fleeing high amounts of danger and violence. […] Thousands of Nicaraguan people seeking asylum and an opportunity to live in a safe nation were denied entry into the U.S. It’s fair to say that the U.S. has a moral obligation to help innocent Nicaraguans because the U.S. supported the chaos which caused them to leave.

Virginia Arreola, college professor, Oneonta, New York

More testimonials.