- Mary H. Wright Elementary
D7 Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month
September 15 - October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month, and District 7 is taking this special opportunity to celebrate and learn more about the Latinx culture represented across our schools and community.
On our website and social media pages, we will share spotlights of local and national Hispanic Americans who have positively influenced and enriched our society. Within our schools, we will celebrate and learn about Latinx culture in order to deepen our connections as a community that values diversity and inclusion. Follow along with our social media posts at #D7HispanicHeritage
As we recognize Hispanic Heritage Month, District 7 joins with Americans across our nation in celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on September 15. It was enacted into law in 1988. The day of September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and 18, respectively. Columbus Day, or Día de la Raza, is October 12 so also falls within this 30 day period.
The Library of Congress hosts this website containing many additional resources about the observance in partnership with several other organizations: https://www.hispanicheritagemonth.gov/
District 7 Hispanic Heritage Spotlights:
Joey Colon, McCracken Middle School, 7th Grade ELA Teacher
"McCracken has been celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month for several years, and we do it in several ways. We have many students here who have a rich cultural background – they have different meals at dinner, share a different language – but you don’t necessarily know where their families came from. This year, we are featuring some of these students and their cultural profiles on posters in the school to help everyone learn more about them.
My own story is that I was born in Puerto Rico and moved here when I was 11. I did not learn English until I was 12 to 13 years old. Spanish is my native language and I go between both easily, but I know that a lot of the kids who come here don’t. We have had about 5-6 students come to McCracken in the last week who are in the U.S. for the first time and are monolingual in Spanish. I remember being dropped off in the U.S. and it was the worst day of my life. I equate it to the teacher in Charlie Brown – when you don’t understand a language it comes across as just sounds that mean nothing. Hispanic parents who come here are very trusting – they have great respect for teachers. In Latin American countries, the teacher is the pinnacle of a community and parents are completely trusting of anything the teacher says. It took me 25 years to learn that in this country teachers are often viewed differently.
When I came to America, I went to live with my aunt and uncle. That’s who I call my mom and my dad now. We moved to Miami and that’s where I grew up. It was a multicultural place but was also very violent – it is not the Miami we know now. Being Puerto Rican, we couldn’t vote – we were sort of part of American but not fully. I majored in English in college and decided to become a teacher afterwards. This wouldn’t have happened if there hadn’t been a support system in America for immigration. My parents are in a strong financial position now, but they made their money when they came here.
I think there’s a belief that with immigration comes danger. And that’s not necessarily the truth. Having lived in two of the least safe places in the world (Miami and Chicago for grad school), I never saw that. Migrant communities are hard working and they stick to themselves. This is anecdotal but backed by data, and we see that here.
I believe it is important for students who come here to have someone advocating for them right away. For the child who literally doesn’t have a voice because they can’t speak the language, they need someone who sticks up for them. They deserve a fair shake, just like I had. We have several teachers and staff at McCracken who become their community. If the student earns a poor grade, the parent can’t call and ask a question about it if they can’t speak English. So, they will just take whatever happens and walk away unless they have someone they can talk to. We are trying to give them a normalcy by opening up communications for them. Parents light up when you give them your phone number and tell them they can call with any question and you will make sure they get help.
As an advocate for my culture, I hope people take away two important points as they read these spotlights: First, we are not all destitute. At McCracken, we have had Hispanic parents who are engineers for BMW. Some are professionals and others struggle with jobs and poverty, just like other races. Second, the point of diversity is to make our teaching body representative of our student body. I am glad that we have accomplished that at McCracken."
Eunice Caldwell, E.P. Todd School, 6th Grade ELA Teacher
"My full name is Eunice Hernandez Caldwell. This is my second year teaching 6th grade ELA at E.P. Todd School. I love the diversity of the students, the support and assistance of my fellow teachers and staff, and the support, training and leadership of our administrative staff.
I am Mexican American. My parents were Mexican American. They were born in San Antonio, Texas. My great grandparents were born in San Louis Potosi, Mexico. I was born in Pontiac, Michigan where my parents migrated during the Great Depression so that my father could find work to support his family. I am the youngest of 9 children and am the only member of my family to complete a bachelor’s degree (Social Work) and master’s degree (Elementary Education). My daughter, Sarah, completed a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from New York University and my son, Benjamin, is a senior in marketing at Dusquene University in Pittsburg, PA.
My father only received a 6th grade education as he left school to help support his family financially. Among his many jobs were picking cotton, migrant farm work and participation in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), one of the earliest New Deal programs established to relieve unemployment during the Great Depression by providing national conservation work primarily for young unmarried men. Projects included planting trees, building flood barriers, fighting forest fires, and maintaining forest roads and trails.
My parents and their two small children migrated north to Michigan during the Great Depression to find work. My father found employment in the steel mill industry and successfully retired as a Superintendent and labor union representative. He was a great example of a hard worker. I remember him reading the newspaper each day and discussing the news with our family at dinner. This inspired my reading and thinking about the world beyond my home. My father was also a great storyteller, which inspired my love of writing.
My mother completed a high school education. She was a homemaker all her life and encouraged my love of reading. I remember she subscribed to “Highlights” children’s magazine for me when I was in elementary school and she always found money in the budget to allow me to order Scholastic books each month. My mother always dreamed of going to college where she said she would have liked to study law. She encouraged me to do well in school, faithfully attended all school functions, and was a member of the Parent Teacher Association. She was thrilled that I was able to purse a college degree.
My favorite holiday is Christmas. I was brought up with the tradition of making tamales with my parents and aunts every Christmas and continue this tradition with my own family. We also celebrated Three Kings Day which is the 12th day after Christmas. This is when the Magi arrived with gifts for baby Jesus. We received gifts on this day from the Magi after leaving our shoes out with hay for the camels. My mom baked a King’s Ring cake (Rosca de Reyes) in which a baby Jesus figurine was baked inside. Relatives were invited to dinner to our home. The person who “found” the figurine hosted the next family get-together, which was Candlemas (Dia de la Candelaria) on February 2nd. I also continue this tradition.
The second weekend in August is our Hernandez Family Reunion. Relatives from all over the country spend the weekend together. One highlight of the reunion is the sharing of memories from the original ten siblings. We sit in a big circle and listen to the stories from the past. One year my husband recorded this sharing and I typed and produced a book which has become a family heirloom.
I am glad that our district is supporting diversity. I hope our students will learn about and appreciate all cultures."
Noemi Gallegos, Drayton Mills Elementary School Kindergarten Teacher
“I am Mexican-American born in California. My parents immigrated to the United States in the mid 1970’s and eventually brought their first six children over. They had the last three of us in California. I am the youngest.
My parents came to the U.S. for a better future. They crossed the border through the mountains as part of President Reagan’s amnesty act. I’ve heard a lot of stories about the hardships they had when they first arrived in the U.S. They had to live in houses with other families and work in the fields. They could not bring my siblings when they first came over because they were not sure how safe the travel was. The separation was hard on both ends, but I feel like one of my siblings suffered the most (the last one born in Mexico). Hearing stories about their life in Mexico and then arriving in the U.S. is hard on me. It is difficult to believe that my relatives suffered so much, but it has molded me to become a stronger person and to make my mother proud.
Growing up, I always wanted to be a teacher, but when I would ask my mom if I’d be able to go to college she would say that she was not sure because we did not have money. I ended up a very determined child who loved books and anything school-related, and I think that’s where my love for teaching came from. While in high school I overheard a friend’s older sister mention “student loans and financial aid” and I knew at that moment that my dream of becoming a teacher would come true!
My dad was not very present in our family and he passed in 1997. The cost of living was much lower in Spartanburg and the environment was safer for my brothers to grow up in, so my mom decided to move us here in 1999. She was not financially able to help me through college, so I paid for it on my own.
I have been at DMES since last year and what I love the most about my school community is that we are truly a family and have THE best administrators in town. I am happy to see our district learning about and celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. It makes me feel like I belong and that we value diversity. I hope that through this, our district sees that there is more to learn about people who come from different backgrounds.”
Patricia Chanes, Early Learning Center at Park Hills ESOL Assistant
“At the ELC, many of our students are separating from their parents for the first time. In the Hispanic culture, it is not customary to take them to daycare, but rather the mother or a relative takes care of them. I help parents with communication – with teachers, school regulations, school registration, translating weekly newsletters, and phone calls. For our Hispanic students, it is important that a person speaks their language. Parents also need this help to be able to get involved in their child's student development. I like being able to give this service to the community because education is very important and children feel better when they can communicate while they are learning English.
I like the idea of being able to share the Hispanic culture because this will enrich the knowledge for everyone and make our community stronger. An interesting fact about the Independence of Mexico is that it is celebrated on September 16 because that was the day when the war started. In other countries, they celebrate independence day on the day the war ends.
I would like to share my favorite Christmas tradition! The houses are decorated with Christmas motifs. The Nativity is put out, except for the King (Baby Jesus), and the Christmas tree is put up and decorated. The child God (Baby Jesus) is not put out until December 24th. Starting on December 16th with the posadas (it is a commemoration of the trip that, according to the Bible, Joseph and Mary undertook from Galilee to Bethlehem when she was about to give birth to Jesus), a group of neighbors meet at one house dressed in clothing to represent the shepherds. Each person carries a candle and walks several blocks, while praying, to another house. When we arrive at the house, someone knocks on the door and asks if there is any room available. The answer is “no” and the group of neighbors will sing a song only for the posadas. After the song is over, the answer is “yes”. The posadas continue for nine more days, until December 24th. When the neighbor lets the group in, they let the children break a piñata and give them gifts in a bolo (bag with goodies like fruit, sweets, and peanuts). On December 24th we have Christmas dinner, a big family party that is shared with friends and neighbors. It is celebrated with music, dance, drink (ponche de frutas) and traditional food (tamales, pozole, bacalo, romeritos, mole, etc.). It is customary to put a shoe of each person who inhabits the house under the Christmas tree on the night of December 24th for the gifts you will receive for the child God. In some parts of Mexico, gifts are received on January 6th with the visit of wise men. On the 25th the family is reunited and eats leftovers from the day before. Here in the USA, I continue the tradition of the decorations, Nativity and the Christmas tree. On the night of the 24th my family puts a shoe under the tree for the Christmas presents (that the child God or Santa Claus brings us) and we open them as soon as we wake up in the morning of the 25th."