To the delight of students and staff, Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2015 added three holidays to the annual school calendar: Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr as well as the Lunar New Year.
As a teacher of English as a second language, I applauded this inclusion of other cultures. However, Hispanics, who make up nearly 40 percent of NYC public schools, don’t have a day set aside in the school year to celebrate their culture. While we consider ways to incorporate holidays that represent the student body — why not consider one that celebrates Hispanics? Perhaps a day in mid-October or mid-November, a time that already marks Hispanic heritage?
I sought my own students’ input about what they thought was missing in our school, and they unanimously said it is a celebration of Hispanics. When I floated the idea of celebrating Cinco de Mayo, their eyes lit up. “Celebrate us!” a girl shouted. “Learn about our people!” It was a light I had never seen in her.
Most people think of Cinco de Mayo as a time to drink margaritas and wear sombreros, but for the people of Mexico, it represents an unlikely win: When the Mexican forces defeated the French military at the Battle of Puebla, proving that strong will and determination can triumph. It was the last time Europeans attempted to invade Mexico.
As a teacher for almost 15 years, I have watched Hispanic students and their families sit back when more vocal families have spoken up. One school forced the lunchroom to become vegetarian and get rid of all Styrofoam trays. Other parents gang up on faculty when their children don’t get the best grades.
In contrast, my students’ families give me thoughtful presents and thank me for helping their kids. When there’s a problem, they get to school immediately; their kids are everything to them. I believe it’s time their voices are finally heard.
If the purpose of new holidays is to reflect the population in front of us, then we must add a Hispanic holiday to the school calendar.
This is an exciting time for the appreciation of diversity in NYC. Dual language programs are spreading, focusing on the Spanish language. The time is now to start including these cultures in our calendar as well as the curriculum.
Elana Rabinowitz is a teacher in Brooklyn.