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Celebrating Hispanic Heritage

Sep. 15, 2020
 
Hispanic Heritage Month

This is the first of a series of stories written by members of the DPS community in recognition of cultural moments throughout the year.

Darlene LeDoux
Darlene LeDoux

Olives – the Green Ones or the Black Ones?

A personal story in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month

“Your skin is the color of olives!” a classmate yelled as he ran towards me when I returned after being sick one day at Godsman Elementary in the Denver Public Schools.

“What?” I answered. “Which kind, the green ones or the black ones?”

There were only two colors of olives in my day growing up, green or black – not the myriad of colors that we see today in the grocery store.

I looked at my arms and hands and was confused. My skin color was not green or black. It was sun-kissed, light brown.

Not being shy, I walked up to my fourth grade teacher and asked, “Did you tell the class that my skin was the color of olives?” He said, “Yes. You have olive-colored skin. I was teaching the class about Europe and Spain and I used you and your skin color as an example of what a Spanish person looks like.”

I walked away hurt, perplexed and confused. Some of my ancestors were from Spain, and they were also from Mexico and indigenous to the Americas. I already knew that I was different but I never had a teacher tell me I was different in front of all of my classmates. I just wanted to be a fourth grader, like all the other kids.

This is when I realized that I was not like all of the other students — and that I was truly special.

I began to ask my parents about our culture, language and heritage. I knew that our relatives spoke Spanish as their first language and most were bilingual. I knew that we came from New Mexico to Denver. I knew that my two older brothers were bilingual and spoke Spanish too, but the rest of us kids did not. We only spoke English at home. Although I did not speak Spanish, nor understand it, I wanted to learn to speak it so that I could have this part of my culture and heritage, like other members of my family. My parents did not want the rest of us kids to speak Spanish so that we would not face the same discrimination our family had experienced generation upon generation in the United States. They made a decision to raise the rest of us kids speaking English only.

As an adult, I have dedicated my life to advocate for Language Learners, bilingual education and students of color. I led a team to establish the Seal of Biliteracy in the Denver Public Schools and to this day, continue to strive to be fully bilingual in Spanish and English. I am very proud of who I am as a person and embrace my culture, language(s) and heritage.

What does this have to do with Hispanic Heritage Month?

When asked to contribute to Hispanic Heritage Month, I wondered how I can represent “Hispanics”, especially when I don’t identify as being “Hispanic.” I am a Chicana, Mexicana, Mestiza – a mix of Spanish and Indigenous roots and a multi-generational person born on this land stolen from our Indigeneous sisters and brothers, now commonly known as the U.S.A.

I do not believe in celebrating me and my people only one month of the year. We, and all people of color, need to be celebrated each and every day.

This story has a happy ending. I love olives! All kinds of olives. I am grateful for that experience because I learned to question authority, to be proud of who I am as a Chicana, to be proud of my family, culture, heritage and language(s) and most of all – to honor all people of color for the gifts we bring to our community.

If we are to serve our students and their families with respect, then we need to learn about who we are serving. We need to get to know our students and families from their perspective, not ours.

Here’s to honoring all of our contributions – 365 days of the year!

By Darlene LeDoux, Ph.D.
A Chicana Activist, and
Proud member of Team DPS for many, many years

Darlene LeDoux

By Darlene LeDoux, Ph.D.
A Chicana Activist, and
Proud member of Team DPS for many, many years

Defining Identity

I am a proud Latina woman

I realize that the word Hispanic refers to native speakers who speak Spanish, Latinos usually refers to all people of Latin American origin or ancestry and Chicano refers to someone who is native or descends from Mexico and lives in the United States, but I identify as a proud Latina. The word Hispanic makes me think of Spain which is in Europe and I don’t feel that European connection. Chicano was widely used during the 1960’s to express a political stance and I wasn’t born until 1969 so I don’t feel that connection either. I love my brown skin, my large family, our rich Mexican culture and our wonderful comida, and the word Latina feels more connected to those things that I love and hold close to my heart.

No matter which term is used, most Hispanics/Latinos/Chicanos will often disagree. It can be an emotionally charged topic for all of us and the variations depend on region, generation and political inclination, but we are all proud of our resiliency of our people when we face hardship and obstacles, the rich diversity of culture that is unparalleled and the genuine love that we have for familia.

Melissa “Mimi” Muniz
Culture, Equity and Leadership Team

Melissa Muniz

Melissa “Mimi” Muniz
Culture, Equity and Leadership Team

For DPS Team Members

We encourage educators to recognize Hispanic Heritage Month through teaching, and intentionally focus on supporting student instruction with additional resources available on The Commons.