What Hispanic Heritage Month Means to Me
In the early 80s, my mother, father, younger brother, and I were a just-arrived immigrant family living in the suburbs of Washington, DC. We were the only family I knew that ate beef tongue, avocados, and tacos without the hard shell. I was a bookworm, but I didn’t read a novel by and about a Latina until I discovered Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street in high school.
And then there were exchanges like the one we had once at the local pizza place, when my dad told an inquiring hostess where we were from. “Nicaragua,” she repeated, with wonder in her voice. “I don’t even know where that is.”
Fast forward a few decades: Latinx kids make up almost 30% of the K-12 student body nationwide. In states like California, New Mexico, and Texas, the number climbs to more than 50%.
Today, I fight my way through a scrum to get at the good avocados piled high at Costco. And tacos aren’t just a food, they’re a meme—or actually, many.
All of this has changed my relationship with Hispanic Heritage Month, which began as a weeklong observation signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968, then expanded to a full month under President Ronald Reagan in 1988. Nicaragua plays a small role in its development: September 15 was chosen as the start date for Hispanic Heritage Month because that’s the day five nations declared their independence from Spain in 1821: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. (Mexico declared its independence over a decade earlier, on September 16, 1810.)
Hispanic Heritage Month used to feel like a declaration of existence, of mattering, but now it feels more like a fabulous buffet offering all sorts of Latino tidbits: books to read, shows to watch, artists to listen to, and art to check out.
As a Latinx, pinolera scriptwriter at BrainPOP, I’ve enjoyed the privilege of adding to that buffet. Mateo, a new Mexican-American character, recently joined Tim, Moby, Nat, and the crew, making his debut in our Back-to-School 2021 topic. And our new topic featuring pioneering Puerto Rican Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor—the first Hispanic woman to serve on the highest court in the land—premieres this Hispanic Heritage Month. Below are more of my favorite offerings from across the BrainPOP collection:
Mexico: Mexican-Americans make up the vast majority (over 60%) of Latinx people in the United States. In this movie, Annie and Moby explore the geography, history, and culture of our neighbor to the south.
Christopher Columbus: This movie covers the basics of the explorer’s accomplishments while touching on a complicated legacy—like his treatment of Native people—in an age-appropriate way.
BrainPOP and BrainPOP Español:
Day of the Dead: Known as Día de Muertos in Spanish, the holiday has been spreading across the globe. The movie explores its roots in the Aztec civilization, along with how it’s celebrated today.
Latin Music: A Latin music primer, this movie features tango, salsa, and merengue, and more—served with a side of delicious Latin foods!
Aztec Civilization: Did you know that the Aztecs were one of the first civilizations to send every child, rich or poor, to school? This movie takes a step back in time to consider that and other amazing achievements.
The House on Mango Street: Poet Sandra Cisneros won a MacArthur Award after penning the luminous novel featured in this movie—a treat for older students.
You can find our full collection of Latin-American Heritage topics on BrainPOP and BrainPOP Español to help bring the many stories and dimensions of Hispanic history and culture into your classroom all year long.
Sandy M. Fernández is a scriptwriter at BrainPOP.