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You bring out the Latin-Caribbean in me...

By Samuel Reed III on Dec 8, 2009 01:22 PM
Musicians play in Havana.

Why should I teach a predominately 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.

According to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 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. Of the School District’s more than 190,000 students, Latino students represent close to 17% of the total population, while African American, White, and Asian students make up 62%, 13%, and 6%, respectively.  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 sixth 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."  This lesson was adapted from my Yale National Initiative, Latino cultures curriculum unit, and from the selection "You Bring out the Latino in Me” from the anthology, City Of One : Young Writers Speak To The World written by youth between the ages 9-23.  

Prior to composing their poems, my students worked in unison reading groups to do a close reading of Cisneros poem.  This poem created a dynamic buzz in the classroom. I overheard one reading group questioning why Cisneros would “surrender my one-woman house. / Allow you red wine in bed, / even with my vintage lace linen.”

Makilah, a precocious 11-year-old, wondered out loud, “Is the speaker being nasty in this poem?" Harun, a charming yet bravado-filled boy, countered that “the poet is using metaphors." He remembered we learned about metaphors before.

After reading, debating, and playing around with the poem, I turned my students loose. I told them to use Cisneros’s 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. Zahfir, an intense but playful boy, whose peers at times mistake for an elementary student, wrote a powerhouse: "You Bring out the Puerto Rican in Me" poem. He mused “The way you walk, and talk is so lovely. / No matter what we’ll stay together. / If we don’t we’ll be the opposite of better…”

Harun offered a possible reflection of imperialism in his "You Bring out the Puerto Rican in Me" poem: “… I can feel the pain from our countries. / They wanted to kill each other. / It does not matter that our nations almost killed us / But we should live in harmony together… I will always love you. Just like the spices we export and import / You are my beautiful Puerto Rican wild flower."

Khyre rendered a muse to the Latin beat, in his "You Bring out the Latin in Me" poem, “when you move to the groove of the rhythm, / and dance to the dance to the beat, / of that smooth music, / you bring out the Latin in me…”  

Precious, an 8th grader, former student, and prolific member of Beeber’s Poetry Café Club, decided to compose a bilingual poem, “Te Quiero / I Love You” and recited the poem to my 6th grade students to encourage them as we culminated our inquiry and performance project.  

Spanish is not offered at my school, or for enough public Philadelphia middle school students. The initiative showed by Precious, who is not Spanish-speaking, demonstrates that world languages should be taught at all school levels, not just high school.

We plan to showcase our poetry along with present a Latin/Caribbean-inspired dance demonstration at our upcoming holiday assembly program. It should be wonderful to bring the celebration of life En La Ciudad de Filadelfia.    

A selection of students’ "You Bring Out the Latin Caribbean" poems are available here. Readers are encouraged to provide feedback and encouragement to my budding scholars and poets.

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Comments (20)

Submitted by Maureen Nelson (not verified) on December 8, 2009 5:00 pm

I love this. Great work. "They" always say that it's too hard to understand, give them some basics. ... Good work. They rise to the truth. I did a unit on House of the Spirits and the students made actual houses of food, characters, plants. Beautiful. Thank you.

Submitted by Samuel Reed III on December 8, 2009 6:43 pm

This is really a failure of our education system. Very little teaching is done in understanding other cultures. Social studies is completely neglected because it is not on standardized tests. Reading and math scores may be up, but what good is that if students are not learning about the world and the people they live with?

The above comment was a response to the post by Helen Gym about the "racial" conflicts at South Philadelphia High School.  I agree with this response. I think we could do more to educate our students about other cultures.  That’s what I think was so great about the work my students did with the Latin-Caribbean poems. They took such an empathic stance when composing their poems. When you read some of their voices, it is almost as if they are written by Latino students. I think when students take a closer look at other cultural groups, especially ones that have been marginalized, they began to see that kids may look different then they do, but they have more in common than they have differences.

In the past I have also done inquiry projects with my students where we explored gender and Chinese culture through viewing World Film. I remember one student complained “why do we have to learn about Chinese people?", but by the time she completed her I search project, she reported that she learned a lot and realized that Chinese students have a lot in common with her. 

 I encourage more teachers to find ways to integrate cultural studies within the core curriculum.


Submitted by Helen Gym on December 8, 2009 9:14 pm

Thanks for this Samuel. It is a shame that the rise of testing and the reduction of education to little more than basic math and reading has resulted in lost opportunities for our children to realize what education is really all about - a portal and a key to understanding where and how we live. It's notable as well that the field of multicultural studies and anti-racist education embraces joyous things like music, but also confronts hard questions about race and racism, unpacking and challenging biases and stereotypes and recognizing institutional practices that do harm to children of all cultures.

Submitted by Susan Roth (not verified) on December 9, 2009 6:30 am

What a wonderful experience for your students! So much of the violence between the kids of different cultures is based on ignorance of each other's lives, as well as not teaching social studies and language at earlier ages. When it comes to learning a new language, the younger you are when introduced, the easier it is to learn.
Sam, the world needs about a million more teachers like you! Peace and Blessings, Sue Roth

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 9, 2009 1:06 pm

Dear Mr.Reed,

I think your blog is inspiring.I never had a teacher post anything about their students on their blog.Your blog has a very good meaning.What I think the meaning is that it's all about life,laugh and love.If you don't know what I mean, I mean your blog is about life with your 6th graders,laughing with us and loving us.This blog doesn't only mean something to me, but it means something to all of us. May god bless you and your family.Your blog is the best.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 9, 2009 1:59 pm

I like how you used the students resources , including me , to help your blog and show people what type of things kids can do.I enjoy doing this for your blog.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 9, 2009 1:50 pm

hi Mr.Reed it's friend the blog you showed today was wonderful. It was actually more than wonderful it was fantastic.

Submitted by student of Mr reed class (not verified) on December 9, 2009 1:54 pm

I like the idea of learning about Latino culture. Since I am Latino myself I want people to know what Latino culture is all about. It makes me fit in more. I should make school boards make Spanish a class in middle school because there missing a valuable experience.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 9, 2009 1:23 pm

I like the way you gave the message to me. It made me want write alot about it. Every time you gave information it made me want to write a bit about all of that work. So if you are surprised to what I give you thank yourself.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 9, 2009 1:03 pm

I think that your blog was very good you gave your 6 grade student's the rite to learn about the latino people and their culture and to say that not only the high school kids could not just learn about it we can to

Submitted by Keith Jones (not verified) on December 9, 2009 6:35 pm

Mr. Reed your blog is truly inspiring, my family is blessed to have a teacher like you who really cares about our son and the other students that you teach at Beeber. In this day and age it is hard to find teachers that develop a true and genuine rapport with parents and really push for students to achieve. You are showing Khyre that it is great to think "outside the box". You are a 'Throwback" keep up the great work!

Submitted by New Teacher (not verified) on December 9, 2009 6:58 pm

Wonderful! Thank you for sharing this. It's inspiring to hear about a creative, inspired and inspiring lesson that the students loved. I'm just starting out and want to hear as much as I can about what teachers are doing in the classroom.

Submitted by small business logo design (not verified) on January 21, 2010 12:26 am

Your blog is pretty good and impressed me a lot. This article along with the images is quite in-depth and gives a good overview of the topic.

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Submitted by Nate Dunham (not verified) on July 19, 2012 1:49 pm

The poem about the imperialim of Puerto Rico got me. It made me think of my roots. We should be proud of where we are from. forex demo contest

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Submitted by Geore567 (not verified) on November 6, 2012 3:49 am
latin-Carribean is a prospereous culture. I like their culture pretty much Flat for rent London
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Submitted by michaelluke (not verified) on November 14, 2012 2:18 pm
School District of Philadelphiatooka great curriculumas they included diverse culture.visit this site was so lucky for me as I have got huge interesdt on Latine culture.

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