Superintendent’s column: Celebrating our diverse cultures 365

Superintendent’s column: Celebrating our diverse cultures 365


This year, Hispanic Heritage Month began on Sept. 15 and ended on Oct. 15. Though Hispanic Heritage Month has come and gone, I invite all members of our community to continue learning about Hispanic or Latinx heritage — both those who identify as Hispanic/ Latinx as well as those who do not.

The same goes for Black History, Asian American, Native American, and Pacific Islander Heritage or Women’s History Months. I urge all members of our community to learn about the diverse cultures, heritages, and contributions of our community at large–not just during a special month, but for 365 days a year.

To memorialize Hispanic Heritage Month this year, our Board of Education adopted a proclamation to honor Hispanic or Latinx heritage. I want to highlight a few key points that were included in the proclamation:

  • 57% percent of students enrolled in the Roaring Fork Schools are Hispanic or Latinx, and Spanish is the second most commonly spoken home language in the District;
  • We believe our diversity is a strength where our students’ diverse ethnicities and cultures, create rich educational and cultural experiences for the entire school community; and
  • The Roaring Fork School Board of Directors strongly encourages staff and community to observe, recognize, and celebrate the culture, heritage, and contributions of the Hispanic and Latinx community to our country, our state, our cities, and our schools.

I am proud to work for a School Board that has taken this important — albeit small — step towards realizing an inclusive community that affirms and celebrates the belonging of each member who is a part of it. Over the last four months, I have had the opportunity to connect with parents, students, alumni, staff and members of our community at large from diverse backgrounds. What I have learned is that there is an overwhelming amount of desire to broaden our own perspectives and celebrate our differences and similarities.

The term Hispanic is often used interchangeably with the term Latino. In the 1970 census, government officials who were searching for a generic term that could include all who came from or who had parents who came from Spanish-speaking countries introduced it to the popular US lexicon. An additional fun fact is that the United States does not have an official language, although the most commonly used language is American English.

Some Latinos or Hispanics feel strongly about which term they prefer. Some reject both terms and insist they should be known by their national origin, Mexican or Mexican-American for example. Over the last several years, Latinx, usually pronounced in English (Latin-ex) or Spanglish (Lateen-ex), has been used as a gender-neutral or nonbinary alternative to the masculine Latino (Lateen-Oh) and the feminine Latina (Lateen-Ah), which are usually pronounced in Spanish.

Culture, ethnicity, and race are complicated whether folks identify by terms such as Latinx or Hispanic, by their ancestry to a specific country, or by their race. The Latin American diaspora is very diverse and cannot be reduced to a monolithic culture. This means that although many people from the Latinx diaspora speak Spanish and share many traditions, some speak other languages ​​too; they sing and dance to a variety of musical genres; enjoy different foods; and overall have different diverse cultures. For example, my own DNA includes ancestry from:

  • 54%Indigenous Americas
  • 39% Europe, mostly the Iberian Peninsula but also 3% Jewish; and
  • 7% Africa.

Some members of the Latinx diaspora have more African descent, others more European, and of course, a variety of other mixtures even within a similar country of origin like Mexico.

Each of our students deserve the opportunity to learn about their own histories, ethnicities and cultures; these are called mirrors. Similarly, each of our students deserve the opportunity to also learn about the histories, ethnicities, and cultures of others; these are called windows . Each book a student reads can be a mirror or window, depending on who the reader is. Additionally, each of our students deserve the opportunity to imagine themselves in different worlds; these are called sliding glass doors. Unfortunately for me, growing up I had very few opportunities in K-12th grade to learn through mirrors in school; much of what I have shared in this column, I learned outside of the classroom or after high school.

Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop wrote a seminal essay in 1990 titled, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors” in which she says:

“Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books. When there are enough books available that act as both mirrors and windows for all our children, they will see that we can celebrate both our differences and our similarities, because together they are what makes us all human.”

Please accept my invitation to continue learning and celebrating the diverse cultures in our valley, 365 days a year.

Dr. Jesús Rodríguez is Superintendent of the Roaring Fork District schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent.

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Jorge Oliveira