In today’s woke world, it’s normal to feel frustrated by widespread societal confusion about the differences between Black people and Latinx people. Many times, social commentary across the Internet either pits Black American people against Latin Americans or suggests that there are vast differences between the two. Yet we know the truth — that many Latin American people have African (Black) roots, and thus, there are more racial and ancestral connections between the two groups than not. In fact, we know the two are not mutually exclusive.
That’s why it’s important to recognize and amplify conversations about Black History Month and celebrations of Black history that are happening beyond just Black American spaces. It is a month (although, many argue it should be a year) that is recognized globally by ethnic groups with ancestral roots in Africa, if not because of the African blood that runs through our veins, then for the impact people of African descent have had on our cultures worldwide.
“I am not celebrating Black History Month,” Cindy Rodriguez, a 25-year-old Afro-Latina educator from New Jersey told HipLatina. “Because that means that I’m placing our history in the confines of a month. Our history is so rich and vast that I am celebrating Black history all year ’round!”
Despite the woefully short time period in which curriculums allow students to learn about Black history, many Latina educators have taken Black History Month as an opportunity to instill meaningful lessons about iconic Black leaders and the plight of Black people throughout our past.
“I am celebrating by continuing to weave our history into my lessons for my students as well as educating them on things that are most important in our communities,” she says. “Last trimester we focused on cases of nonconsensual human experimentation, specifically on Henrietta Lacks and her unique magic cells. The students’ final project was to find other cases of nonconsensual human experimentation. [Many students mentioned in their presentations] that experimenting on minorities seems to be a pattern in society.”
Rodriguez noted how this Black history lesson also presented an opportunity for her to teach students about body awareness. Like Rodriguez, many Latina educators have been highlighted for going above and beyond to teach all their students about the rich and vast history behind Blackness. Others have been penalized.
In 2015, a New Jersey-based Latina teacher was both suspended for giving her third-grade students a deep-dive history lesson on great, yet possibly controversial, Black figures in history. According to NewsOne, Zuniga taught her students about a Black Panther during a Black History Month lesson on civil rights leaders. After allowing students to write letters to the Black Panther, Mumia Abu-Jamal, she was suspended without pay, as the school board suggested the writing assignment was “not a good use of school time.”
Despite the risks that inevitably come when we share Black stories, many Latinas who are teaching young children have continued to push forth an agenda rooted in ensuring that Black History is simply treated as history for all, all year round.
One of the most influential teachers on social media, 30-year-old Afro-Latina, Valencia De’La Clay, often highlights her triumphant lessons about Black history, which she instills in her students year-round — critics be damned.
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“Nobody in my family from Africa.” “With that beautiful brown skin, somebody is from Africa.” “My skin ain’t beautiful.” “It is beautiful!” “To you! I ain’t gon’ sit here and lie, I’m ugly as sh’t.” Wasn’t going to post this because I know the culturally-deaf will hone in on his profanity, completely disregarding his utter vulnerability. I honestly considered “I’m ugly” the more offensive words and so should you. In this moment, he did not need me to manage his behavior. He needed what every Black boy needs: to be explicitly taught self-love. How do we build their inner-confidence while the rest of the world is doing everything to destroy it? Melanin is a popping hashtag but in real life it don’t mean a thing if we still have young men looking at their dark skin, full lips, and coarse hair as ugly. We did not start this but it is our collective responsibility to end it, not now, but right now! And not just on social media as pro-blackness trends but in these classrooms and on the corners and in your own homes. Colorism must die.
Even those who are not educators, but are raising children emphasize the importance of teaching their children about the rich history of Black people.
“I grew up learning about Black inventors, poets, and music pioneers,” said Marguerita Langston, a 32-year-old, Afro-Latina mother. “So I imagine as my son gets older, I will begin there [as well].”
An equally important measure that Latinas are taking this month, particularly those who are light-skinned or don’t identify as Afro-Latina, is to become more educated on Black history.
“I plan to spend Black History Month continuing to educate myself on my light-skinned privilege as a light-skinned Latina,” said Lisa Fabrega, entrepreneur and ‘capacity expansion mentor’ for high impact women. Efforts like Fabrega’s — to create space for teachers and step back to learn from those who identify as Black — are informative in their own way.
“There are several incredible challenges happening on Instagram being led by black women that encourage those of us with light-skinned privilege to educate ourselves. One of my favorite challenges right now is on Rachel Cargle’s IG account; instead of educating us, she is simply asking her followers to Google a certain [Black history] incident or moment in time,” she says. “I think black women have carried society and are responsible for so many of our civil advances. They’ve done the emotional labor long enough. We need to be continually educating ourselves as to our privileges so we have the capacity to create a world that is equal and just for all— and that will only happen when those of us who have privilege because of the color of our skin are speaking up loudly and not allowing these inequities to continue. The least I can do is continue to deepen and further my education and continue to dismantle the ways in which that privilege and patriarchy still live in me.”
These Latinas who have chosen to lead and be led are making history in their own way.