Celebrating Latinx Heritage Month, Part 1: ‘A Time for Us to Come Together’
In the first of this two-part series, Latinx corps members and alumni across Indianapolis share on how their cultural identity informs the way they approach leading and learning alongside their students.
"This month is important to the Indianapolis community because we are such a diverse city. Our Latinx community originates from so many different nations and we all bring our unique experiences and traditions to help make this city great."
-Gabriela Escoto, Indianapolis Corps Member 2019
In Indianapolis, Latinx youth are the fastest growing population—a fact that echoes national trends. The Indiana Latino Institute (ILI) notes that percentage of Latinx students rose from 5.8% of the total student population in 2004 to 10.2% in 2014.
“There is a significant gap for educational attainment and resources for this population,” shares Rachel Santos, education program coordinator at the ILI. The ILI provides education programming for Latinx students’ college and career readiness in middle and high school, and offers additional support for Latinx college students and professionals. While they are Indiana’s fastest-growing student population, Latinx individuals are the least likely group to enter college, and 37% of Latinos aged 25 years or older do not have a high school or equivalent level of education—a rate three times higher than the 11% of non-Latinx whites.
These statistics tell a clear story: we must do more to provide resources and access for all Latinx students in Indiana to pursue lives of their choosing. By centering the voices of these students and of leaders most proximate to the Latinx community, we can make strides towards a more equitable education system.
Importantly, students are influenced by role models who invoke reflections and planning for their futures: “I want to be a math teacher,” shares Maria, a Latinx student at Enlace Academy. “Math is not easy but I understand it better because my teacher lets us play review games and makes the lessons fun and short. I want to help others learn math too.”
Below, Latinx corps members and alumni name how their cultural identity informs how they teach and lead:
Setting an example for Latinx representation
“The fact that I am a Latina is almost always at the forefront of my mind. I recognize when I am the only Latinx person at the table,” shares Gabriela Escoto, who teaches high school English. “For some of my students, I am one of the first Latina teachers they’ve had. I recognize that the leadership I hold is setting an example for many students.”
“Letting my entire identity come alive in my classroom through my language, personality, interests, and mannerisms allows me to build stronger relationships,” Spanish teacher Juan Cahue (Indy ’17) adds. “I feel like it is built into our culture to be relationship-driven. I lead with that when creating and developing relationships with new groups of students that I work with. One of my most highlighted strengths since I’ve been in the classroom is my ability to connect with my students. I consider myself to be very relatable due to my background and instead of hiding and shying away from it I fully embrace it in my teacher persona. In addition to that, I think it goes a long way for my students to have teachers who look like them. Teachers of color teaching students of color has shown to be successful.”
Advocating for social issues in the community and elevating cultural pride
“Latinos have a lot to offer to this state and that our histories, experiences and contributions matter,” says Idalmi Acosta (Indy ’15), high school English teacher. “I am using my Latinx identity to advocate for and bring attention to issues affecting Latinos in Indianapolis…I incorporate history and social justice into my classroom. We analyze social justice issues and talk about solutions. I make sure that students have access to books who have main characters who the students can relate to and that face similar challenges to the ones they face everyday. Whatever issues are affecting my students, we talk about in class, like racism, immigration, violence, and poverty while using ELA strategies and completing assignments showing mastery of standards. I also teach my students to be proud of their heritage and to see them as assets; it’s important for students to have self-love and for them to celebrate their identity while accepting differences between each other with empathy.”
Aly Phillips (Indy ’19), middle school English teacher, reflects: “Growing up, my grandfather told many stories. What he shared with me was our roots: what our food was, our myths, our colonization, our struggle and our success. However, when it came to school this time of year is the only time where I was able to learn about my heritage and culture---which wasn’t a lot either. As an educator and a leader, I have the opportunity to change that. In Indianapolis we have a growing population of Latinx and Hispanic students. It is vital we ensure that these students feel recognized and appreciated. Additionally, given the current political climate I believe education about people who don’t have the same identify can be incredibly changing and facilitate tolerance.”