Latinx Heritage Month ― also known as Hispanic Heritage Month ― is a great time to celebrate the achievements of Latin Americans throughout U.S. history and the Latinx people who are making history today. But it’s also important to honor these things during the 11 other months of the year, too.
“I think having months that celebrate different cultures and races are a double-edged sword,” Jenny Torres Sanchez, author of “We Are Not From Here,” told HuffPost. “They help highlight a culture and race, which is wonderful, but also gives too many people the sense that they’ve done enough. That there’s no need to seek, learn about and celebrate past that month. And that’s regressive and damaging.”
At a time when white supremacy continues to rear its ugly head on the political stage, it’s even more imperative for parents, especially white parents, to step up. And children of color are in need of mindful support and empowerment.
“Culture and race and ethnicity is not something you slip on and off. It is who we are,” Torres Sanchez said. “And all of us deserve to celebrate and acknowledge and love who we are all the time, without limitation.”
HuffPost spoke to parents and educators to identify some ways that parents can honor and engage with Latinx heritage ― past, present and future ― with their children all year long.
Use children’s books.
“As a family, reading picture books together ― regardless of everyone’s age ― is a fabulous way to quickly expose your children and yourself to many sorts of Latinx lives,” said David Bowles, author of “My Two Border Towns” and co-founder of #DignidadLiteraria.
He said some of his current favorites are “My Papi Has a Motorcycle” from author Isabel Quintero and illustrator Zeke Peña, “Dreamers” by Yuyi Morales, “Imagine” by author Juan Felipe Herrera and illustrator Lauren Castillo, and “Hair Story” by author NoNieqa Ramos and illustrator Keisha Morris.
“Research shows that both children of color and white children benefit from greater exposure to inclusive texts, especially comics and other books written from the lived experiences of authors and illustrators, that accurately reflect our diverse society,” Bowles noted.
There are countless great texts that families can add to their bookshelves. Torres Sanchez recommended looking into picture books, middle grade and young adult novels from authors such as Margarita Engle, Aida Salazar, Juan Felipe Herrera, Yuyi Morales, Reyna Grande, Celia C. Pérez, Monica Brown and Guadalupe García McCall.
Alejandra Tejada founded Enlingos, a Spanish-language and bilingual book service for kids after noticing the shortage of engaging resources to teach her son Spanish.
“Introducing kids to Latina authors like Sandra Cisneros, Pat Mora and Monica Brown helps to show young children, especially girls, how much their voices matter,” she told HuffPost. Tejada added that she’s currently loving books like “Pepe and the Parade” from author Tracey Kyle and illustrator Mirelle Ortega and “Niños de América” by author Francisca Palacios and illustrator Carmen Cardemil for the way they celebrate the different places people come from and teach about cultural traditions.
Take part in cultural events and celebrations.
“There are so many traditions around the holidays that come from Latin America — Día de los Muertos, Novena de Aguinaldos (Las Posadas), Día de Reyes — which is a great opportunity to learn about the history of these traditions and find ways to incorporate them into family traditions beyond Hispanic Heritage Month,” Tejada explained.
She encouraged Latinx families to research and celebrate the independence days of the countries their families are from.
“It’s another great teaching moment and, of course, gives an opportunity to celebrate by cooking meals, decorating with flags, learning about the people that have made contributions to the world from these countries and, of course, enjoying local music,” Tejada said.
Non-Latinx families can also honor these occasions, but it’s important to do so with respect for the people and culture being celebrated.
“Enjoy our holidays and food ― though with respect,” Bowles said. “Tongue-in-cheek, ironic appropriations are not appreciated.”
“All kids from communities of color need to see their lives, their families, their communities and their culture as worthy of being included in those media, as important to academic study, as valuable and integral parts of not just personal and school life but of schoolwork and broader national conversations.”
Bring the celebration home.
Beyond books, there are many other ways to celebrate and to educate your children about Latinx heritage at home.
“Definitely make a point of streaming a show or two that centers the Latinx experience,” Bowles advised. “Buy your kids comics and video games that feature Latinx characters.”
PBS is offering a number of resources to honor Latinx heritage, including a video about the origin and purpose of Hispanic Heritage Month in English and Spanish as part of PBS Kids’ “All About the Holidays” series. There are also episodes of the show “Let’s Go Luna” highlighting Mexico City and Peru, and giving recipes for Puerto Rican dishes such as mofongo and the frozen treat piragua.
Parents can also encourage their children’s schools to implement these kinds of activities and lessons if they aren’t already.
“All kids from communities of color need to see their lives, their families, their communities and their culture as worthy of being included in those media, as important to academic study, as valuable and integral parts of not just personal and school life but of schoolwork and broader national conversations,” Bowles said.
“If all that Latinx/Hispanic kids ― or any children from communities of color ― are exposed to in books and entertainment is mostly just a generic, homogenous white American identity, they begin to internalize a view of themselves as unworthy, lesser, unimportant,” he added. “And when Latinx/Hispanic folks are erased from media, white readers who grow up consuming media that reflects only their identity internalize a view of the nation and its default culture as white.”
Expose them to role models.
So representation matters. And that’s not just with the characters in TV shows and books or the toys kids play with.
It’s also important to expose children to real-life role models from different backgrounds. In terms of Latinx heritage, there are many historical and present-day figures to inspire your kids, including Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, labor leaders César Chávez and Dolores Huerta, composer and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda, chef José Andrés, actor Gina Rodriguez, artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and astronaut Ellen Ochoa.
Parents can teach their children about these icons through media at home but also by visiting museums, attending performances and traveling to sites that highlight their achievements. In 2020, Congress approved legislation to start the process of creating the National Museum of the American Latino through the Smithsonian Institution, so future visitors to Washington, D.C., will have the opportunity to learn about influential figures there as well.
As you go about your everyday routine with your family, recognize the aspects of Latinx heritage that appear along the way, and use them as conversation starters.
“There are usually many opportunities to teach kids about Latinx culture and histories,” said Raquel Vasquez Gilliland, author of “How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love With the Universe” and a member of the Las Musas literary collective. “This spooky season, places like Target will probably carry Día de Muertos decor. Parents can talk about the history of this holiday with their kids. When eating Mexican and other foods, parents can discuss the history of certain dishes ― for instance, tamales precede colonization.”
Don’t be afraid to talk about less pleasant aspects as well.
“I would also encourage parents to make children aware of the racism many Hispanic/Latinx people face and why that is,” Vasquez Gilliland added. “Including all facets of the history and experience of a people is a great way to honor them and to make sure children don’t inadvertently commit microaggressions.”
If you’re going to do the work of educating your children about Latinx heritage, you’ll likely also have to do some internal work as well. This means educating yourself about the Latinx experience of the past and present, learning different terminologies and even understanding the different opinions around the term “Latinx” itself.
“Engage in a meaningful way, and approach teaching and celebrating our culture with an open mind and open heart,” Torres Sanchez said. “Find out more about the different countries and cultures that make up the Latinx community, the leaders and creators who have made a difference in our communities, our histories, our contributions and our struggles.”
Bowles said that as a Mexican American, he views this month as a time to celebrate his shared ethnicity with millions of Latinx people throughout the U.S. But he also sees it as an opportunity to expose others to this powerful heritage and identity.
“In terms of the national conversation, our visibility and the cultural dignity that is every community’s right, it’s more concretely a moment for opening the eyes of non-Latinx groups to the rich, important and amazingly cool nature of my people,” he said. “The collective gaze of the country falls on us for 30 days, and we get to show them what they’re missing out on when they dismiss or marginalize us.”