I have chosen ten lessons which center around various aspects of the Mexican culture — — its history, people and way of life. The lessons will stress the interconnectedness of past and present. Poetry will be integrated into lessons helping us to understand and form a clearer picture of Mexico and its diverse culture.
Each lesson title will contain a Spanish number beginning with number one and continuing to number ten. The lessons will be introduced on a daily basis with a time period of about forty-five to sixty minutes for each lesson, with the exception of lessons three and five, which will require an additional day. I anticipate the unit covering about a three week span of time.
The children will compile individual books which will contain brief written summaries related to each lesson, illustrated poetry sheets, and arts and crafts pertaining to the material studied in class. Story webs will be used extensively in helping us to write our stories. (See lesson plan section.) In addition to the written numbers in the children’s books, the Spanish numbers will be written on chart paper and recited in class. By the end of the unit all of the children will be able to recite the Spanish numbers.
An Appendix is included at the end of the unit giving a brief summary of the background material that will be covered in class.
Most children entering first grade have a difficult time distinguishing between country, state and city. Therefore, we will take the effort and time necessary to insure that all children know about the location of their city, state and country before we proceed to study about the country of Mexico. After the children have assimilated this information, we will begin lesson one by locating Mexico on the globe and looking at its proximity in relation to where we live. One important thing for the children to understand is that the Rio Grande River separates most of Mexico from the United States. Also, that Mexico City is the largest city in the world and the capital of Mexico. We will compare its size to that of New York City and explain that whereas our president lives in Washington DC. the president of Mexico lives in Mexico City.
In his book Anthology of Mexican Poetry, Beckett presents a poem written by Carlos Pellicer, “Prodigal” (177) which gives a description of Mexico - - palm groves, sparkling water, antelope, dancing girls, fruits and flowers. The poem will be read in class and the children will single out descriptive words pertaining to Mexico. A beautiful poem entitled, “Moonlight on the Rio Grande” written by Americo Paredes will be introduced to the class. Paredes compares the Rio Grande River with an aged peon (i.e., someone from the landless laboring class in Spanish America.) Just as an aged person is stooped and slow in movement so the Rio Grande is slow, bent and brown. Another simile compares the brightness of the moon shining upon the water to that of a round hat with little silver bells on it. (Paredes, Between Two Worlds, page 28)
Along with the introduction of the two poems, we will look at a large array of pictures depicting various aspects of Mexican culture and its environment. It will be interesting to contrast the beautiful shoreline with its sparkling emerald blue water to the colors of the Rio Grande. The children will draw and color their own impressions of Mexico as they begin to formulate a picture of this beautiful country.
The Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes and his conquest of the Aztec nation will be introduced in lesson two. This lesson will also tie into lesson three as we discover that the Mexican people are descendants of two ancestral backgrounds - - Spanish and Indian.
There is an Aztec poem entitled “The Weeping Spreads.” This poem speaks about the Spaniards conquering the ancient Aztec city which is present day Mexico City. The poet gives a vivid picture of the Mexicans taking flight across the water as they flee their city. Descriptive words such as fleeing, smoke rising and haze spreading in the city will be discussed in class. (Bierhorst, In The Trail Of The Wind, page 147)
Three ancient civilizations helped to mold the life styles and influence the culture of present day Mexico. The Olmecs, Aztecs and Maya Indians will be introduced in lesson three. A brief background is given in the appendix paying special attention to the customs of the children in the homes of these ancient people. Little is known of the Olmecs, but there are many books written on the Aztecs and Maya Indians.
William Stark in his book, My Song Is A Piece Of Jade presents two poems (34-45) about children and their way of life in ancient Mexico. We will use these poems as a basis for our discussion about the social roles of boys and girls in ancient times and how they contrast to present day expectations. These two poems, “My Son” and “My daughter,” give insight into the distinct tasks that were required of boys and girls as they were growing up in the home. For example, boys were admonished to cut wood, work the land, plant and gather food. Girls, on the other hand, were expected to sweep, spin, weave, embroider, help their brothers and cook food. Both were taught to respect their elders and each other, as well as their future companions. This is in contrast to our present politically-correct climate where social roles are not as clear-cut or do not have to be played by boys and girls.
An interesting ancient legend tells how an eagle holding a snake was chosen for the Mexican national emblem. (See appendix.) Lesson four will introduce the Mexican flag, its colors and the eagle affixed in the center. In addition to illustrating the flag, the children will contrast the flag of the United States with that of the Mexican flag.
A poem written by Americo Paredes entitled, “Ahi nomas” will be introduced as we pay special attention to descriptive lines about the eagle’s nests and the eagle’s scream. Paredes compares the height of the eagle nests to that of the Indian’s search for his dream. For so long the Indians have been masked in bitterness and despair, but one must always search for that distant dream, with eyes raised upward to the heights where the eagles scream. (Paredes, Between Two Worlds, page 22)
In and out of class, one might suggest to the children to keep their eyes on their distant dreams. They too will find the road difficult, rocky and hard to travel as peer pressure and society make pressing demands. However, one must keep their eyes on their distant dreams and answer, “Ahi nomas,” or “Just over there.” It will help to keep one going on the rocky road of life if we can accept that our dreams are “just over there.” Also, Paredes’ poem will be used to lead a discussion about our own dreams. What are our dreams? How will we obtain them? Why did Paredes stress in his poem that people must always keep their eyes raised upward?
Lesson five will focus on an ancient Mexican poem in Gerez’s book 2-Rabbit 7-Wind (27) where we receive a glimpse into these ancient people’s attire for war and the celebration surrounding the preparation for war. The author speaks about warriors dressing like copper and gold birds, green and black thrushes, and red parrots. They wore garlands of wild clover and flowers with tassels that looked like blood. We can see similarities in today’s fiestas which are celebrated throughout the year in Mexico commemorating a national holiday or something of religious significance. They also feature bright colors, music and feasting.
After they have read the poem depicting the war garments, the children will be asked to use watercolor or tempera paint to recreate a scene on paper from the poem. It will be interesting to see if the children will be able to grasp the vivid color description given in the poem.
The children will enjoy their own fiesta in the classroom. We will read Marie Hall Ets’ book “Nine Days To Christmas.” An art lesson will be presented in which the children will make their own pinatas and stuff them with candy. In addition, we will enjoy breaking a pinata in class.
Lesson six introduces the white-tailed deer, coyote, ocelot, fox, jaguar and mountain lion. Many of these animals are found in the rain forests and mountains of Mexico. In addition to reading the book, Who Is The Beast, we will study two Haiku poems, “The Toads” and “The Monkey” written by Jose Juan Tablada. (Strand, New Poetry Of Mexico, pages 207 and 209) These poems will introduce us to two additional animals found in Mexico.
In the poem “The Toads,” Tablada describes toads as chunks of mud that hop down an unlighted path. Perhaps the unlighted path is in the heart of the rainforest where little light penetrates the floor of the jungle. But suppose the author had said chunks of chocolate instead of mud? I wonder what path the toad might have used then. After presenting the poem in class, we will write a class poem followed by the children writing their own individual poems. I have found while writing a class poem instinctively children come up with scores of ideas that stimulate and helps the child who finds it rather difficult to come up with an idea for a writing assignment. The children will use similes other than chunks of mud and describe a path for their toads.
Tablada’s poem, “The Monkey” describes a little monkey “throwing a look” and wanting to “say something.” However, the monkey can’t think what he wanted to say. After reading the poem, the children will guess what the monkey might be thinking.
Recreational sports are popular in Mexico. Soccer seems to be the most popular with bullfighting attracting the largest crowds. In lesson seven, we will look at pictures pertaining to bullfights and note that this sport was introduced by the Spaniards. We will also talk about the vaquero (i.e., a ranch hand or cowboy) and how almost every aspect of the cowboy’s craft had its roots in Mexico. A poem from a scene in the movie, “Giant,” written by Tino Villanueva vividly depicts life on a ranch. (Villanueva, Scene From the Movie Giant, page 21) Although the setting takes place on a Texas ranch, the poem gives a beautiful description of a cowboy, (i.e., Old man Polo, head vaquero on Rock Hudson’s Reata Ranch) his dress and his chores while rounding up the cattle on the open range. The Mexicans brought horses, cows and music across the Rio Grande. That music also brought us what we call cowboy culture. Pictures from a video “The Real American Cowboy” written and presented by Roger Kennedy will be used to contrast scenes from a Mexican rodeo to that of a rodeo where we will see African Americans. After the civil war, newly freed slaves joined American Americans who had been working on cattle ranches in the west all along.
Mexicans are very good at Long distance running and Olympic-style “walking”. Our lesson will culminate by forming teams and participating in walking relay races.
Many popular foods that we eat today originated in Mexico. Lesson eight will center on eight of these foods, some dating back to ancient civilizations. Corn was a staple food product during ancient times, and today many corn dishes are prepared just as they always were.
The ancient Indians believed that life came from corn. In fact, they felt that just as a seed of corn dies and life forms from it, so it is very honorable to give one’s life during a sacrifice or war with one’s enemies. They believed that death in this manner assured instant passage into heaven. Therefore, they believed that corn, embodying this code of restorative honor, was very sacred. One ancient poem, “Ear of Corn,” speaks about corn being our flesh and bones. The poem also presents a simile likening corn to a precious jade bracelet. The jade stone on the bracelet becomes a focal point and everything else on the bracelet surrounds it. So corn becomes the center of life and everything pertaining to life surrounds the seed of corn. (Gerez, 2-Rabbit 7-Wind, page 39)
Another Aztec poem, “The Song Of A Dream,” speaks about corn giving new life in spring and refreshment when ripened (Bierhorst, In The Trail Of The Wind, page 127). Yet another poem from ancient times speaks about the bounty of the crops. A poem written in My Song Is A Piece Of Jade (24) speaks of yellow pumpkins round and heavy, ears of corn so big that a man could carry only one, and amaranth leaves (herb or flower leaves) so big you could climb on them. Tall tales are familiar with many poets and storytellers from various cultures. I will ask the children why they think poets and storytellers like to exaggerate.
The poems mentioned above will be read and discussed in class. In addition, the class will enjoy a Mexican meal along with Mexican music. As the children enjoy their Mexican meal, we will read a short poem written by Leroy V. Quintana, “Hot Chile.” In his poem Quintana finds a humorous outlet from the years of suffering amongst the Chicanos. He says that Chicanos are so used to their suffering that they can even enjoy it as when eating hot chile. (Daydi - Tolson, Five Poets of Aztlan, page 122)
Lesson nine will introduce nine natural resources found in Mexico today. In addition to recording these in our daily book of stories, we will look at some Mexican crafts. We will discover that some of the crafts (e.g., pottery, weaving, paintings, jewelry, clothing, etc.) date back to ancient days. Many of the carvings and paintings on pottery, jewelry or weaving can be found on the ancient sculptures in the ancient ruins of Mexico.
A poem written by Ramon Lopez Velarde, entitled, “My Cousin Agatha” will be read and discussed in class. Velarde gives a vivid description of his cousin Agatha coming to his house and sitting in the corridor clicking her knitting needles. One can almost hear the echoing of the knitting needles which Velarde says gave him the chills. The art of weaving has been handed down from generation to generation since ancient times. Like Cousin Agatha sitting in the corridor and knitting, one can see Mexicans sitting at the markets today knitting and weaving many beautiful crafts. (Strand, New Poetry of Mexico, page 185)
Mexico has many beautiful birds. In fact, there are as many as 1,000 different species of birds that one can find in Mexico. Lesson ten will center around two ancient poems that tell of bright colored birds. One such poem recorded in My Song Is A Piece Of Jade (20) speaks about birds that were rare and beautiful, birds with feathers of green and yellow and breasts of fire color. Another ancient Aztec poem, “Songs of Birds” speaks about the birds coming during the rains and singing among the flowers. (Bierhorst, In The Trail Of The Wind, page 111)
The Mexican Indians have enjoyed painting these beautiful birds for centuries. They used bark from the trees and dyes from herbs to make their paintings. Even today one can find beautiful paintings on woven plaques and barks in the market places. In addition to discussing the poems in class, the children will paint pictures of birds on brown crumpled wrapping paper resembling the bark of ancient times.
A school-wide “International Fiesta Day” will culminate our study of Mexico. On this day our class will display their books and crafts made during our study of Mexico. Our classroom will be decorated with Mexican crafts, paper flowers and streamers. Mexican music will play in the background as the children from other classes are invited to our room to sample Mexican food.