My unit is being written to teach my students about the Hispanic culture through the reading and discussion of books, stories, folktales, poetry, rhymes, and songs. Brief descriptions will be given of some of the literature I plan to use in my classroom when teaching this unit. I will present activities, including art, in this unit that relate to the Hispanic culture. The literature presented in my unit will be age level appropriate. This gives my students a better understanding of another culture. My research will give other educators a valuable resource to utilize in their classrooms when teaching students about other cultures.
Students will study the history and demographics of Hispanic cultures to gain an appreciation for their many variations; they compare folktales from Nicaragua, the Hispanic Southwest, and Mexico. They explore ancient and modern civilizations, focusing on Mexico and Central America, to gain an understanding of historical events and cultural elements influencing the present-day Hispanic-American population. They learn about the lives of youths in Hispanic communities, both in American cities and in Indian villages in Baja and southern Mexico.
My students come to appreciate the complex cultural collage making up the Hispanic-American population whose heritage can be traced to Mexico, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, and the West Indies. In the 1500s, Spanish conquistadors defeated the people of Mexico, marking the end of the extraordinary advanced civilization created by the Aztecs. Groups whose ideas, beliefs, and customs were influential to the Hispanic culture are the Indians, Europeans, Moors, Jews, and the Africans who sailed with the Spanish colonists’ to the new world. Colonizers maintained the upper hand, relying on Indian laborers to keep the economy thriving as the boundaries of Spanish territory were pushed to the north, south, east and the west. Franciscan and Jesuit priests supervised the expansion, establishing and populating missions as far north as what is now Nebraska, east to Texas, and west to California. Troubles at home loosened Spain’s hold on the colonies in the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century clergy promoted Mexican independence which was achieved in 1821. Meanwhile, the sparsely populated northern territories were increasingly influenced by American merchants and trappers, who added another element to the cultural mix. American trailblazers became Mexican citizens and married into families of California landowners, and when the Republic of Texas accepted the offer of statehood in 1845, many Mexicans stayed on; the first official Hispanic-American population was established when the United States granted citizenship to Mexicans who chose to stay in the new territories after the Mexican War in 1846.
The people of Puerto Rico are citizens of the United States. From the time of Columbus’s second voyage the island was under Spanish rule, but that country surrendered Puerto Rico to the United States in the Treaty of Paris. Today, Spanish is the main language taught in the schools, though children are taught English as well. The United States mainland has been strongly influenced by the many achievements of the people of Puerto Rico.
Evidence of the impact of Hispanic-American culture throughout the United States can be seen in the music and dance, literary styles and subjects, and cuisines, and is especially apparent in the art and architecture. Folk arts including extraordinary handwoven textiles, various forms of pottery, and intricate silverwork have been part of the Hispanic tradition for generations, and some designs and styles are centuries old. With the arrival of the Spaniards, Mexican” painters were exposed to European genres and developed entirely new forms that were distinguished by a unique richness of tone and color. In the eighteenth century, sculpture and architecture took precedence over painting, which lapsed in quality until the rise of the Mexican muralist of the early twentieth century. Elements of Italian Renaissance, Moorish, and Gothic design were combined in Mexican decorative arts, particularly wrought-iron work and ornamental architectural detail. The brief reign of Emperor Maximillian fostered the use of French architectural motifs and techniques, and the Craftsman style derived from the California missions still influences architecture, furnishings and lifestyle today.(1)
The evolution and redefinition of the Hispanic-American population and the blending of cultures that has been going on for centuries continues today as immigrants and refugees come to settle within America’s borders. Many Hispanic-Americans have their roots in Mexico, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, and the West Indies. The majority have their roots in Mexico, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. The rich traditions of all Hispanic-Americans have positively contributed to the cultural life in the United States.
Hispanics are the fastest growing minority population in the United States. Between 1980 and 1987, the total number of Hispanics in the United States increased 30 per cent, an increase five times greater than that of any non-Hispanic group. The term Hispanic encompasses the members of subgroups of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Central and South American origin, as well as other people of Spanish origin. Among these subgroups, that of Mexican origin is the largest, constituting 62.8 percent of the total Hispanic population, followed by Puerto Ricans at 12.2 percent, and Central and South Americans at 11.2 percent. Cuban Americans constitute 5.3 percent. The category “Other Hispanics” consists of people of Spanish origin, who constitute 8.5 percent of Hispanic population. A total of 18.8 million people of Hispanic descent currently live in the United States.
I write this unit to provide me, and other educators, with another tool to motivate students to read, as well as to provide a selection of literature for children that focuses on various aspects of Hispanic culture. Using books, stories, folktales, poetry, rhymes, and songs I will accomplish my task.
I present here an introduction to the books we will read in our exploration of Hispanic culture.
Mother Scorpion Country
is retold by Harriet Rohmer and Dorminster Wilson. Illustrations are by Virginia Stearns, printed by Children’s Book Press. It is a Miskito Indian legend from Nicaragua and relates a love story about a young man, Nakili, who cannot bear to be separated from his wife, Kali, when she dies. He journeys with Kali to the land of the spirits. When Nakili and Kali reach the spirit world, Mother Scorpion welcomes Kali. She is angered that Nakili is with Kali, but his genuine love earns her sympathy even though she warns him that paradise is closed to him. When Nakili realizes that he does not belong in paradise with Kali, Mother Scorpion returns him to his village, stipulating that he must not tell anyone about Mother Scorpion Country until he is ready to return. Nakili’s silence about where he has been makes his family and friends suspicious and frightened of him. Villagers who rejoiced at his return soon shun him. Nakili’s resulting loneliness and his longing for Kali convince him to leave the land of the living forever. This question can lead to further discussion of this legend: What do you think Mother Scorpion Country looks like to Nakili when he goes back for the second time? This text is in Spanish and English.
The Invisible Hunters
is retold by Harriet Rohmer, Octavio Chow, and Morris Vidaure and illustrated by Joe Sam, printed by Children’s Book Press, 1987.
The Invisible Hunters
is also a Miskito Indian tale about three brothers from a village on the Cocoa River in Nicaragua. While hunting wild pig, the brothers come upon an enchanted vine, the Dar, that is able to render them invisible. Immediately the brothers realized the advantage invisibility would give them in hunting wild pig. The vine makes the brothers promise to use its powers according to its rules: game must not be sold, and game must not be hunted with guns. The brothers are not in the habit of using guns or selling meat and so they agree to the terms. Soon the brothers become famous, and word of their hunting ability spreads along the river. Traders come to the village and talk the brothers into selling surplus meat; when the traders’ demands outstrip the brothers’ supply, the traders must be more clever than the Dar, and all promises are forgotten until one day the brothers return from their hunting to find that they are permanently invisible. Though they beg for the Dar to help them, and they beg the elders of the village to forgive them, they are banished forever, and it is said that they still can be heard in the bush, crying “Dar, Dar, Dar.” This question can lead to further discussion and further study of this tale: What might have happened to the brothers if the traders had not heard of their great success?
Cuentos: Tales from the Hispanic Southwest
, by Jose Griego y Maestas and Rudolfo A. Anaya was printed by Museum of New Mexico Press in 1980. This book is a collection of Hispanic stories, tall tales, legends, and myths from New Mexico and southern Colorado, reflecting cultural values. Traditional Indian folklore and medieval themes including Don Quixote, characters from
A Thousand and One Nights
, and teachings of the Roman Catholic church are combined and set against the unique backdrop of the Southwest. The cultural heritage of people has been preserved along with their oral tradition. The stories, which have been written from the original transcriptions collected first hand by Juan Rael, a Stanford University professor, reflect more than the values, customs, and beliefs of the storytellers. This question can provide further discussion of these stories from the Hispanic Southwest: Which of the stories in
Cuentos: Tales from the Hispanic Southwest
is your favorite, and why? The text is written in English and Spanish, with a glossary of idiomatic words of American or archaic origin.
Why Corn is Golden: Stories About Plants
, adapted by Viven Blackmore was printed by Little, Brown in 1984. This book is a collection of ancient Mexican legends about the origins, characteristics, uses, and symbolisms of plants found throughout the region. Birds, animals, and insects also play roles in these Indian myths repeated across the countryside. These legends will really be great for students to read or to hear because of their love for nature. They can draw pictures to display on a bulletin board the characters from these legends.
was written by Lawana Hooper Trout and printed by Chelsea House in 1990.
, part of the Indians of North America series, traces Mayan history from ancient times to present. It begins with the story of creation set down in the
Popul Vuh, the Quiche Book of Counsel
, which chronicles centuries of sacred and secular history. The Maya today still adhere to the patterns of cosmic order described in the Popul Vuh, striving for harmony between their everyday world and the forces of the cosmos. You may want to discuss the importance in preserving the histories and cultures of ancient civilizations during the reading and discussion of this series.
The Journey Through Mexico
was written by Barbara Bulmer-Thomas and printed by Troll Associates in 1991. Colorful graphics, charts, maps, drawings, and photographs enhance this region-by-region account of Mexico. The topography, demographics, and principal cultural and social features of each region are highlighted, along with the industrial and or agricultural economic base. With this informative nonfiction monograph, students gain insight into the colorful variations in the regions that comprise the nation of Mexico. After viewing and discussion of this book, continued discussion could be led by the following questions: Where in Mexico would you most like to live and what would you like to do there?
Pyramid of the Sun, Pyramid of the Moon
, written and illustrated by Leonard Everett Fisher and printed by Macmillan in 1988, describes the Toltec settlement that later became known by the Aztecs as Tenochtitlan, the present site of Mexico City. The story of the pyramids highlights sixteen hundred years of history. Aspects of the Toltec culture are covered: life styles, beliefs, religious practices, and achievements, including the construction of the two sacred pyramids. Ask students: Would you have wanted to visit Tenochtitlan in the days before it was destroyed? Why?
Family Pictures/Cuadros de familia
are paintings and stories by Carmen Lomas Garza as told by Harriet Rohmer and printed by Children’s Book Press in 1990. This is the story of the memories of Carmen Lomas Garza’s rich and happy childhood in a Texas border town. Family traditions and cultural customs are depicted in detailed paintings; each is accompanied by text in both English and Spanish to explain subject, settings, and points of view. Students may wish to explore the paintings again and again, finding something new each time. Writing prompts can be developed from these questions: What do the story pictures tell you about Carmen’s family? What do they tell you about her Mexican-American heritage?
Shark Beneath the Reef
, by Jean Craighead, printed by Harper in 1989, is a story about Tomas Torres. This book offers a unique view of change and conflict in the lives of Tomas, his family, and his friends in Baja, California. Tomas, exploring a reef near his grandfather’s fishing camp, glimpses what he supposes is a whale shark. He resolves to catch it, ignoring the warnings that indicate it is a much more dangerous member of the shark family—the hammerhead. The mysterious and menacing presence of the shark is juxtaposed with the ominous threat of the officials from the Mexican government. The fishermen who have struggles to make a living on the sea for generations are being severely restricted in order to boost tourism. A way of life for Tomas and his family is about to change. At the same time, Tomas faces his own dilemma of whether to continue in school or quit to carry on his family tradition. This story gives information on Mexican political, cultural, and natural history; marine biology; geography; and contemporary issues. Decision making is a lesson that can be taught from this story. Students might be asked to answer this question: If you were Tomas, what would your decision about staying in school have been, and why? We could discuss reasons why students of the Hispanic culture are constantly moving. Are these reasons the same as why Americans decide to drop out of school?
The next section of my unit deals with another book,
From Sea to Shining Sea, A Treasury of American Folklore and Folk Songs
, which is illustrated by eleven Caldecott Medal and four Caldecott Honor Book artists. This book was compiled by Amy L. Cohen in 1993. This treasury depicts the history of America from coast to coast through story and song. There are more than 140 multicultural American folktales, folk songs, poems, and essays, placed in historical context, that are brought together with over 300 original illustrations by some of today’s most distinguished artists—from Native-American creation myths to stories told by the first wave of immigrants that followed Columbus; from the tales of the American Revolution to those of the settlers of Appalachia; from the days of the great waterways to those of the Iron Horse; from the tragedies of slavery to the triumphs of the western movement. Readers are invited to experience the sights and the sounds, the challenges and the catastrophes, and the ebullient passions of the multitudes who were drawn to this continent by the promise of a better future. Trickster tales, nonsense songs, tall tales, baseball lore, and ghost stories celebrate the country’s playful past. The final part of this treasury pays a moving tribute to the folklore being made in our own time. The Hispanic culture is also represented in this treasury through folklore and folk songs which I will list by ethnic groups. A Cuban American tale, “Rooster on the Way to the Wedding,” is a tale of talking animals and natural wonders who refuse to help the Rooster but, in the end, they help the Rooster because the Sun will destroy all of the others. This tale is one of the oldest and best-known stories in all of Cuban-American folklore.
A Mexican American story titled “La Llorona, the Weeping Woman” is a story about a beautiful girl named Maria who lived in Sante Fe, who thought she was better than others. This story reflects both the Hispanic and American culture because in both cultures some people feel they are better than others. “The Mezcla Man” is a story about a rancher who had lots of sheep which he sold, making a large amount of money. They had no banks so ranchers would bury their money in the ground. However, the rich rancher built this giant mezcla man made from mud and straw to hid his money. The mezcla man had a wide mouth and that is how the rancher put the money inside. The giant had outstretched arms pointing to the east and west to confuse thieves. The rancher also put an inscription on the belly of the giant which read, “Dig to the east and then to the west, the way my hands are pointing, and you will find gold.” Many tried but many failed because the rich rancher tricked those who came to try to steal the gold. But one old pastor did not give up his search and eventually found the gold. The pastor told the rich rancher about his findings. The pastor gave the rancher some of the money but kept the rest. The pastor lived well for the rest of his life. This story teaches us about the Hispanic culture because it is actually a story about the search of the conquistadors for gold in the New World during the time of Columbus, in 1492.
A Puerto Rican American story, “Tia Miseria” is about a poor old woman, her garden, her chickens, and her pear tree. The children in the neighborhood would come and destroy her garden and climb her pear tree. They would throw pears at the chickens. The children would do this daily. A magician appeared at her door and solved her problem by casting a spell on the tree. Whoever climbed the tree could not get down unless the old woman said magic words. This can be a story of fantasy and researched to find out if the Hispanic culture deals in magic and spells. Another Puerto Rican story is “Juan Bobo,” about a poor farmer who was not very bright. He was so foolish and so easily cheated that everyone around town called him Juan Bobo, which means fool in Spanish. He was always doing things that got him into trouble. This story can be fun for students to read. They will be able to relate it to the Hispanic culture through the use of the words in Spanish. Students can research word meanings to gain more knowledge of the story.
Other books related to the Hispanic culture will be the focus of this part of my unit. Students can read these books independently and discuss them with their peers. Brief descriptions of these books will be given and their significance to the Hispanic culture discussed.
The Gift of the Sacred Dog
is a story about horses. Horses were brought to America by the Spanish. The horses were given to the tribes of the nomadic buffalo hunters who lived on the Great Plains. The horses were truly miraculous. These wonderful animals could not only carry and drag far heavier burdens than their dogs, but could also carry a rider and run faster than anyone ever imagined. The tribes called the horses by several names: Big Dog, Elk Dog, Mysterious Dog, Holy or Sacred Dog. The story tells that the Sacred Dogs were given by the great Spirit. This book was written by Paul Goble.
Uncle Nacho’s Hat
is a story about Uncle Nacho (Nacho is a familiar name for Ignacio), who is lovable, kind, but unable to change. His hat becomes a metaphor for all the bad habits he cannot discard. Uncle Nacho’s old hat keeps coming back because he still thinks in the same old ways. When Ambrosia tells him to think about the new hat, she is the voice of change which is youthful, intelligent, yet still respectful and loving.
Uncle Nacho’s Hat
is a Nicaraguan folktale adapted by Harriet Rohmer.
Arroz Con Leche: Popular Songs and Rhymes from Latin America
is a book of children’s songs, games, and rhymes inherited from Spain and permeated with the local flavor of each country. That is why we find children from different Hispanic countries all singing and dancing to their own local versions of songs. Each song is marked either Mexico, Puerto Rico, or Argentina to indicate which country’s version was selected. This book was written and illustrated by Lulu Delacre.
Friends from the Other Side
is a story about its author, Gloria Anzaldua. She grew up in South Texas, close to the Rio Grande, which is the Mexican-U.S. border. When she was a young girl, she saw many women and children who had crossed to the U.S. side to get work because there was none in Mexico. Many of them got wet while crossing the river, so some people on the U.S. side called them “wetbacks” or “mojados.” This is the story of Prietita, a brave young Mexican American girl, and her new friend Joaquin, a Mexican boy from the other side of the river. Prietita defends Joaquin from the neighborhood kids who taunt him with name calling. Prietita tries to protect her new friend and his mother from the Border Patrol as the van approaches their hiding place.
is a story from Guatemala about a young girl and her grandmother, each weaving different articles to sell at the market. The most important piece they made was a large tapestry with images of Guatemala. It contained intricate symbols of the country’s history. There were also heroines and heroes woven into the tapestry. They sold all of their weavings at the market on that day. Weaving is a major art form of the Hispanic culture. This story was written by Omar S. Castaneda.
The Golden Flower
is a Tiano myth from Puerto Rico written by Nina Jaffe and illustrated by Enrique O. Sanchez. Long ago, the island of Puerto Rico was called Boriquen. This was the name given to it by the people who lived there in Tiano before Columbus arrived. From time to time, the families in the Taino village would stop their work and gather together for a celebration, called an areito. All through the night they would dance and sing. Then young and old would gather together in a great circle and listen to stories of magic and wonder, of Taino heroes, and of how things came to be. This tale tells of how the oceans and the rivers came to be a part of the world. It tells how a boy gathered seeds and decided to plant them at the top of a great mountain. From the seed grew a great yellow globe like the sun. Two men raced to get the great globe for themselves. They both grabbed it at the same time. They pulled and pulled on it until they dropped it. The great ball rolled down the mountain where it hit a sharp rock and burst open. Waves of water poured from within the great yellow globe until it covered the earth. Along with the water came fish of every kind which filled the great waters that later came to be known as the sea. Students will enjoy this story for its fanciful nature. They can create tales of their own about how other things came to be on this earth.
This section of my unit will list activities and the books they come from which can also be used in the study of the Hispanic culture. The first activity comes from the book
One World Multicultural Projects and Activities
, compiled by Susan Blackaby for Troll Associates. This project is to be done in groups. Students will choose an Hispanic region or country and make native costumes. They will create life-size paper dolls of a man, a woman, and a child. Students will draw traditional historic costumes for each paper doll. The teacher will explain the history of the costumes, how they are practical in the native climate and geography, and how they make use of natural resources. They can compare it to their own family’s historic dress.
The next activity, Red Hot, asks students to write a folktale about chilis. You may wish to use one of the following ideas: why are green chilis often hotter than red chilis? Why are little chilis often hotter than great big chilis? Why are there so many kinds of chilis?
Another activity that can be used to teach more about the Hispanic culture comes from the book
Literature-Based Multicultural Activities: An Integrated Approach
, by Mary Beth Spann, printed by Scholastic, Incorporated. “Borreguita and the Coyote” is to be read by the teacher and this activity can follow the reading. The students can sample Mexican food by making meatless tacos in a microwave oven or on a hot plate. As the teacher prepares the recipe, have students notice the colors and designs of the Mexican food. The teacher will ask the students this question: How do the colors and designs compare with those found in the book?
“The Silver Whistle” is to be read and discussed by the teacher and the students. A follow-up activity that can be used is a toy drive. Miguel is a boy who acts unselfishly towards others. The teacher will ask students to recount all of the unselfish acts Miguel performs in the course of the story. The teacher will ask the students to perform an unselfish act by bringing in a toy for the toy drive. Letters will be sent to parents asking their permission to allow students to bring toys to school. The toys collected will be sent to a local hospital or day care center. This will allow students to perform an unselfish act, like Miguel.
Art activities that come from the book
, by Darcy Myers can be used as reinforcement of the subject matter. The teacher and the students can make a mural by drawing and painting pictures of different things of Mexico. The pictures from this book can be used to make the mural. They can use the flag, plants, animals, historic monuments and a pinata for the mural. The students can do research to find other pictures they may want to use on the mural.
A fun activity that can be used, from the book
Multicultural Art Activities
, by Darlene Ritter, printed by Creative Teaching Press, is the making of pinatas. Paper bag pinatas can be made by each student. The directions are found in this book as well as pictures showing, step by step, how to make this art project.
In conclusion, this unit has been written to give educators a tool to use when teaching students, in grades kindergarten through fourth grades, about the Hispanic culture. This unit can also be used as a guide when teaching other cultures to students. I will use this unit to help me teach about the country my class is currently studying, China. My school is a new magnet school whose theme is Global Studies; therefore, this unit will be an asset for me in my teaching. It is my hope that others will find it a valuable avenue for use in their teaching.