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Living right in the Borderland, we enjoy Mexican food any time of any day. We listen to Latinx music on the radio and watch Spanish language programming on TV. New Mexico is an officially designated bilingual state. We celebrate our multicultural heritage even as we grapple with economic indicators, and health outcomes, low rankings in education and childhood wellbeing.
Doña Ana County is one of the poorest counties in the nation and Spanish speakers are often the poorest and least upwardly mobile segment of our population. What is there to celebrate? Quite a bit according to John Leguizamo, creator of the 2017 Broadway show “Latin History for Morons.”
Leguizamo a Columbian-Puerto Rican American actor and comic has combed American history to see where connections from the past impact current challenges faced by 20 percent of the nation’s population.
The impetus for Leguizamo’s research and subsequent creation of his one-man show was his son’s distress about being called racist names as bullying escalated at his “fancy private school.” Hoping to fortify his boy’s self-esteem with his rich heritage, Leguizamo began searching textbooks to find a Latin hero for his son’s history project.
“I always wanted my kids to be proud of their heritage. “There was nothing about Latin history,” he said. “Nothing. Zero… I felt nonexistent. I felt invisible. I felt history-less. And the messaging that comes from that is that you’re worthless.”
Leguizamo connects current social inequities to his thoroughly researched history lesson and sprinkles in recommendations to the audience for further reading. His top three picks for getting started are Eduardo Galeano’s “Open Veins of Latin America,” Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States,” and Charles C. Mann’s “1491” and “1493.” The show, now available on Netflix, is intended for “mature sudiences” as it is peppered with expletives in two languages.
Hispanic Heritage Month conversations are vital to Hispanic and Latino children who now comprise 26 percent of the U.S. child population, according to analysis from the National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families. When families talk about and respect all cultures at home, we strengthen core values of inclusion, empathy, cultural responsiveness, and perspective-taking that a child carries into the world.
In our area there are opportunities to share cultural traditions with the whole family. Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), is a celebration of life and death and signs of the observance are cropping up in homes and public spaces now. Not to be confused with Halloween, Día de los Muertos has its roots in ancient Meso American culture and is observed on Nov. 1-2. Notice the bright paper decorations, colorfully decorated skulls and fanciful skeletons in bakeries, shops and public places. At home, families are reverently preparing altars in honor of lost loved ones for more personal observances. This holiday easily crosses cultures so everyone can participate.
The Children’s Reading Alliance will present the bilingual story, “The Festival of the Bones/El Festival de las Calaveras,” written and illustrated by Mexican artist Luis San Vicente on Oct. 15. The story is suitable for children and will be performed in English and Spanish by actor and musician Jonathan Contreras with audience participation and discussion on Zoom. Each participating family receives a copy of the book with suggestions for creating their own traditions, instructions for building and decorating an altar and recipes for baking Pan de Muerto and constructing sugar skulls.
Talking Stories /Cuentos que hablan is made possible by the NM Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Las Cruces Bulletin.
For more information email email@example.com.
Rorie Measure is president emeritus of Children's Reading Alliance, a grassroots initiative to encourage family literacy throughout Doña Ana County. She is a reader, writer, teacher, reading specialist and literacy trainer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.