As with Hispanic Heritage Month, Black History Month is often used as part of a “heroes and holidays” approach to education, limiting classroom discussions of African and African diaspora histories only to the month of February and then, moreover, primarily focusing on famous individuals. It is a missed opportunity, to say the least, to confine this information only to one month and to provide it such superficial coverage. Here at Vamos a Leer, although we’re only one small voice among many, we hope to contribute to an effort to think more expansively and inclusively in the classroom – regardless of the topic at hand, but particularly so when considering how to incorporate narratives generally omitted from textbooks and canonical literature. Teaching Tolerance, a Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, is another advocate for teaching beyond the “heroes and holidays” approach. Ideal for this month, they even provide a concise overview of “Do’s and Don’t’s of Teaching Black History” – effectively drawing this conversation down to the concrete level.
Here at Vamos a Leer, we’re using this moment as a chance to tie into other conversations happening around Black History Month, but we hope to avoid generalizations and repetitions. We also hope that this information resonates with topics we’ve covered throughout the year, such as Alice’s recent post on the amazing children’s book Mama’s Nightingale.
In the past when we’ve discussed Black History Month, we’ve tried to broaden the conversation by looking at resources related to the vast African diaspora of Latin America, which in itself is a worthwhile endeavor because African history is deeply entwined with Latin American history. This year we want to go deeper by focusing on the Afro-Caribbean experience in particular.
To this end, several of our writers will turn their attention to Afro-Caribbean cultures and specifically Haiti, a country whose people are of predominantly African descent and whose complicated history is frequently overlooked or simplified. Our hope is that these resources will contribute to teaching and learning about this remarkable country.
–Alice, our ¡Mira, Look! author, will highlight the strength and perseverance of the Haitian people
–Charla, our WWW writer, will share complementary resources that enrich discussions on Haiti
–Kalyn, our Reading Round-Up contributor, will compile exemplary Afro-Caribbean children’s and young adult literature
Throughout these conversations, we’re embedding themes of love to tie in with the spirit of Valentine’s Day: love of self, love of family, and love of community. This continues our earlier focus on social justice and activism, both of which can be seen as outpourings of love for the world and society around us. To focus more on this important aspect, Katrina will share En la clase ideas that continue our January discussion about deepening opportunities for activism and awareness in the classroom.
p.s. Although most of our work emphasizes children’s and young adult literature, we realize you may want to read an age-appropriate book from time to time. Last summer the Vamos a Leer book group read Isabel Allende’s beautiful and moving novel Island Beneath the Sea / La isla bajo el mar. It’s a sprawling work of historical fiction set in Haiti. Here’s a Democracy Now segment with Allende discussing the book, among other things.
Image: Photograph reprinted via CC © from Flickr user Universal Pops, who attributes to the painting to a contemporary Haitian artist by the name of Wilner Cadet.