Enseñando Respeto // Teaching Respect

When referring to human beings, never use the words “illegal” or “alien.” Don’t single out children and question them about their countries of origin. Don’t ask them to describe their families’ traditions or their peoples’ cultures. Don’t assume that children or parents know everything about their cultures, or that they want to share family stories. Do provide a context in which children can explore their own histories, languages, cultures and traditions. Do encourage children to share only what they want to share. Do emphasize that “America” includes the northern, central and southern parts of this continent, and does not refer solely to the United States.

Don’t assume that you have no Raza children in your class. Don’t assume you know what Raza children or parents look like. Don’t assume that all children with Spanish surnames are fluent in Spanish or that they are Raza children. Don’t assume that all children with Spanish surnames are not fluent in English. Don’t ask Spanish-speaking children to translate for you or for anyone else. Don’t give children “American” or “English” names. Do have the children teach you how to pronounce their names.

Do encourage children who are fluent in Spanglish and/or Caló to use these forms of Spanish in higher-level skills such as writing and spoken poetry. Don’t treat the spoken use of Spanglish or Caló as “incorrect” ways of communicating. Do teach students fluency in academic writing as well.

Don’t use materials that stress the superiority of European ways and the inevitability of European conquest. Don’t use materials that present as heroes those people who aided Europeans in the conquest of the Americas. Do teach about the realities of conquest and its effects on Raza and other peoples.

Do present Raza peoples as appropriate role models for Raza children. Do look into the community for stories about everyday heroes, both past and present. Do teach about the struggles of agricultural workers in the US, and teach about regional and national struggles against European and US colonialism as well. Do teach about migration and immigration as the natural movement of peoples all over the world.

Do look for books and materials predominantly written, translated and illustrated by Raza people. In bilingual books, do make sure that the Spanish is idiomatic rather than literal. Don’t settle for sloppy Spanish translations. Don’t compare the “superiority” of Spanish from different countries or regions. For instance, don’t say or infer that Castellano is more correct than Mexican Spanish. Do emphasize that some words and phrases vary by country and/or region.

Unless picture books are traditional fables (such as the well-told “Juan Bobo” stories of Puerto Rico), don’t use picture books that portray Raza characters as ignorant or foolish. When using traditional fables, do make it clear that they are teaching stories and are used in a particular way. Don’t use picture books that portray animals as Raza peoples (such as in the “Skippyjon Jones” books).

Do use primary source materials—speeches, stories, songs, and poetry—that demonstrate a traditional linguistic style that comes from an oral culture. Do use traditional stories written by people who have grown up with them. Don’t use “original legends” written by authors who have made them up. Do use picture books that present Raza peoples as they are, not as they have been imagined. Do read and discuss good poetry by contemporary Raza writers. Do encourage children to write their own poetry and stories about the Raza experience.

Do make sure you know the histories of Raza peoples before you teach them. Do put history in perspective. Do teach Raza history as a regular part of American history. Don’t use materials that portray Raza cultures as mindlessly violent and bloodthirsty. Don’t teach about traditional Raza peoples only in the past, as “extinct” or “disappeared.” Do show the continuity of the Raza peoples, with traditional values that connect to the present. Don’t oversimplify complex issues. Don’t avoid difficult truths that may not appear to be age-appropriate.

Don’t generalize Raza peoples. Don’t use generic designs or tell generic stories. Do present traditional Raza peoples as separate from each other, with unique cultures, languages, spiritual beliefs and traditional dress. Do attribute specific designs and stories to the peoples who own them. Do include stories by and about Raza children who have been born and raised in the US.

Do avoid arts and crafts and activities that trivialize traditional Raza dress, dance, or ceremony. Don’t have children dress as “Aztecs,” for instance, with paper-bag “costumes” or paper-feather headdresses.

Don’t invent “Aztec” legends and ceremonies, or use books that do so. Don’t ask your students to make up an “Aztec” legend or “how it came to be” story. Don’t do “Aztec” dances. Don’t make up “Aztec” names. Don’t put on a play with stereotypical “Aztec” characters using stereotypical “Aztec” dialogue. Do invite Raza dancers and artists to demonstrate traditional and contemporary dances.

Don’t teach about Cinco de Mayo or Día de Los Muertos as if they were holidays celebrated by all Raza peoples, or as if they were the only important dates in the histories of Raza peoples. Do teach about how Cinco de Mayo became a holiday celebrated mainly by Chicano people in the US and how it has been co-opted by US corporations.

Do invite Raza community people—activists, storytellers, muralists, and poets, for instance—to the classroom. Treat them as educators, not as entertainers. Do offer them an honorarium. Do encourage the children to thank them with drawings, poems or cards.

Don’t assume that every Raza person knows everything there is to know about the histories, traditions, arts and cultures of everyone in the Raza Diaspora. Do respect the authenticity of Raza histories, traditions, languages, cultures and arts through the students’ own experiences. Do encourage opportunities for comparative analysis as students share diverse experiences.

© 2014 by Beverly Slapin // María Cárdenas. All rights reserved.


  1. What is offensive about asking a person who speaks Spanish to translate?

  2. Thank you for your question, Anonymous. As I think about this, there are varying perspectives. Some people feel imposed upon when asked to translate/interpret. Others are happy to do it, even take pride in translating. I also had a colleague who resented being asked to interpret all the time. I can remember when I was able to translate that I took pride in doing so.

    But the issue is not simply asking a person who speaks Spanish to translate. We’re talking about asking Spanish-speaking children to translate. In a bilingual setting, children will often interpret for each other naturally. The real issue is when children are pulled from class or are expected to translate. There is also the issue of how to determine if a child is uncomfortable when asked to interpret for someone else. Students’ work should not be interrupted to interpret, nor should children be asked to interpret for adults’ personal or professional matters. For example, a child should not be asked to interpret for a teacher in a conference with parents about a sibling. To ask a Spanish-speaking child to translate for the teacher or anyone else is to impose a responsibility or burden that the child should not have to deal with.


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