Why should I teach a predominantly African American class about Latin-Caribbean culture?
My school, like many schools in Philadelphia, is racially isolated. Consequently, tensions exist regarding meeting the School District’s expectation of promoting multicultural studies.
Latinos are the fastest growing ethnic group in the greater Philadelphia area, with over 129,000 in the city. Puerto Ricans are the largest Latino group with an estimated 91,527 residents. Latino students represent close to 17 percent of the total School District population.
But many African American and Latino students seem generally isolated from each other in Philadelphia schools, despite the fact that they share lots of common historical and popular cultural connections.
The School District of Philadelphia’s curriculum encourages teaching about diverse cultures. In particular, the 6th grade social studies curriculum covers the Western hemisphere, which includes the history, geography, and culture of people from Latin America and the Caribbean.
My students and I have been involved in an inquiry project that explores the connections between Latin-Caribbean and African American cultures. Through completing an I Search personal narrative research project about the connections between Latin-Caribbeans and African Americans, my students are discovering they are influenced by the same kinds of music, dances, games, fashion, and political and popular cultural patterns.
Some students discovered that similar housing, employment, and educational discrimination of Puerto Ricans and Dominicans gave rise to the popular urban, hip-hop-inspired reggaeton music.
I was pleased with the poetry my students composed that embeds some of the new things that they learned. Their poems were inspired by excerpts of Sandra Cisneros’ “You Bring out the Mexican in Me.”
After reading, debating, and playing around with the poem, I turned my students loose. I told them to use the Cisneros poem as their muse; reflect on their inquiry and learning about Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Cuban culture; and compose their own “You Bring out the Latin-Caribbean in Me” poem.
The maturity, passion, and insight from my students’ poetry was inspiring.
A selection of students’ “You Bring Out the Latin-Caribbean” poems are available online.