Friday, October 21, 2016

Students as Cultural Ambassadors

We're just starting to discuss tangible and intangible aspects of culture and cultural heritage in class, and this past month's celebration of Hispanic Heritage was an ideal opportunity to showcase a little of each in our school.

As always, my colleagues have been phenomenal and diligent in creating an abundance of visual and sensory feasts, from bulletin boards to dance costumes, decorations, dance performances, authentic food, and simply hyping up interest in the cultures so many of our students represent. 

The work of three teachers in particular, Ana Quiceno (Colombia), Carla Jimenez (Costa Rica), and Elder de la Cruz (Colombia), epitomizes what we think of as a labor of love. They began working daily with students after school in August to prepare for performances in October. Hours of dance practice and hours of creating bulletin boards have consumed their time, but they and the students are smiling, excited to share and invigorated by their (often new) roles as cultural ambassadors. 

When asked why it is so important for them (both staff and students involved) to do this each year, the passion is palpable, as is the sense of mission. They are learning as well as teaching others.

Students who have been involved each year have noticed greater interest from all students in the school, particularly non-Hispanics, and they enjoy learning more styles of dance. Many of the dances are indigenous and typically tell a story of people and lives in each country--and even each region. Every dance element symbolizes something specific, from sowing seeds to processes of harvesting. and from male societal roles to female roles. The music represents African-American, Spanish, and Latin American roots.

New knowledge is one part of it, but the dancers all talk about how their confidence has been boosted through these experiences. Performing even when nervous, especially in front of peers, is a nod to the importance and value they place upon their evolving roles as cultural ambassadors. Sharing one's culture is not always easy, and isn't always received with open arms, but step by step these students are realizing their journey of learning extends to the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical. 

Since both tangible and intangible journeys are best shared with others, one of the girls nailed it when she said these kinds of cultural celebrations are a "nice way to approach others." 

Look around you. Who can you approach? What can you learn from someone else? And which of your traditions can you share?

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