Academic journal article Social Education

Exploring Hispanic Culture through Trade Books

Academic journal article Social Education

Exploring Hispanic Culture through Trade Books

Article excerpt

HISPANICS LIVED IN THE UNITED STATES FOR CENTURIES before the nation's boundaries were finalized. Individually and as a group, they have contributed to the growth and prosperity of our country. Joining the historic Hispanic resident population in states like Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and California are more recent immigrants from such diverse countries as Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Spain, and Honduras.

The latest United States census figures show a dramatic increase in the number of Hispanics in the United States. (1) A great portion of that number is made up of young children. How can our teachers effectively respond to the needs of Hispanic students? One way is to explore literature that immerses readers into the experiences of the people of those diverse cultures, (2) taking care that book selections feature Hispanic protagonists from different countries of origin, as well as from different regions of the United States. Hispanic students need to see their own culture(s) reflected in the books that they read. The literature draws and builds on the experiences that these readers bring from their culture. In addition, these students need their non-Hispanic classmates to know and understand the Hispanic culture, in all its diversity and richness.

Learning about the Cultures of Our Students

As educators, we know how important it is to connect instruction to our students' prior knowledge. Sometimes, this link can be difficult to achieve when the student is not from the mainstream school culture. To be effective teachers, we have to know our own culture and those cultures of our students. Hains, Lynch, and Winton referred to this capability as "cultural competence": "the ability to relate and communicate effectively when individuals involved in the interaction do not share the same culture, ethnicity, language or other salient variables". (3)

Exploring books that absorb the reader in rich, authentic cultural experiences is one way to enhance "cultural competence." When teachers share books about the Latino experience, both Hispanic and non-Hispanic pupils are likely to begin to develop, or continue developing, "cultural competence." Additionally, students will perceive that the culture has importance and value.

Incorporating literature of diverse Hispanic cultures into the curriculum will validate a Hispanic student's world. Not only will all students relate to the literature in a meaningful manner, but they will also gain a deeper understanding of their own or another's culture(s). This knowledge may lead to enhanced cultural pride and a greater appreciation for their heritage. Encountering something that is familiar may also increase Hispanic students' motivation to participate in learning.

In this article, we present a variety of trade books that depict the complexity of Hispanic cultures and elaborate on the varied lives of Hispanic people today and in the past.

We use these books as models in our classes for preservice teachers. Several books are winners of Hispanic book awards. (4) Each book relates to the National Council of the Social Studies (NCSS) Standard (I) CULTURE, and some attend to other standards as well. In the sections that follow, we summarize each book, connect it to one or more social studies themes, (5) and present teaching ideas and strategies. A full bibliography of the books appears at the end of the article.

Cross-Cultural Comparisons

By examining different foods, customs, family events, and folk tales, these primary-grade books explore cross-cultural comparisons.

Jalapeno Bagels by Natasha Wing

* Summary

For International Day at school, Pablo is asked to bring something that reflects the culture of his parents. But because he comes from a family of mixed background--Jewish and Mexican American cultures--he has a dilemma. In the setting of the story--it happens to be a bakery--Pablo finds the perfect solution. …

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