Thursday, October 16, 2008

Oak Forest Elementary students, parents share traditions of Hispanic heritage

Memphis City Schools are showing their students that Hispanics are not just from Mexico. There are 20 countries and many different cultures included in "Hispanic". DP

By Jane Roberts, Memphis Commercial Appeal As the first strains of a salsa beat settled over the rather restless crowd, Edna Munoz, 7, adjusted her cowboy hat and pushed on.

Singing and dancing in front of your peers is not easy unless you're on a mission.

On Wednesday, it was helping her 800 mostly black contemporaries at Oak Forest Elementary understand the subtlety of being Hispanic in the United States.

It starts with knowing that Hispanic people come from 20 countries and at least four cultures, separated -- in some cases -- by oceans, plus wide differences in custom, dialect and tradition.

To drive the point home, schools across the city have been celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month since Sept. 15 -- independence day for five Latin American countries -- in events that included traditional dance at Oak Forest, plus a parade of flags, one for each nation.

"Most of these children have never been exposed to the different Hispanic cultures," said Martha Lopez, native of Colombia and ESL mentor at Oak Forest, where about 15 percent of the student body is Hispanic. "To all of them, it's just Mexico."

If you see the world that way, you miss the panoply of experience that makes Cuba a world exporter of cigars and rural Guatemalans loyal to Mayan tradition.

The students, long accustomed to observing African-American history in February, learned that Guatemala is the same size as Tennessee and got to see their friend Nicole Scruggs, 8, and her mother, Jackie Scruggs dip and dance on stage like Cecilia Cruz and Gloria Estefan.
Be sure to read the rest of this story! This is only a small part of it.

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