Using historical events from Latin American history.
Some stories can be triggering for students. If you are aiming to provide a safe space for your students, you need to keep this in mind, especially when you are including History of Latin America in your world language lessons.
This week, as I was preparing a music resource for Hispanic Heritage Month, I noticed how important this is. I realized that, as teachers we need to be extra cautious with the media we present in our classroom.
I wanted to include songs that represent each country, but there are stories and songs that can be sensitive for students. Songs about persecutions, abuse of power, missing people or political turmoil. These topics could be very triggering for some students, even when these events happened almost 40 years ago and in a country far away.
My biggest worry is that these are the kind of stories, that to be honest… I don’t know how to tell.
Using meaningful and powerful songs in your lessons.
Despite being a fan of Argentinean rock for as long as I remember, I had many mixed feelings when I had to decide if I should include certain songs in my Hispanic Heritage Month music resource.
All these songs speak of a particular subject, the military dictatorship in Argentina, disappearances and abuse of power. The stories behind the reasons why these songs were written and released are enormous. These songs carry history, loss and collective pain. The lyrics of these songs have a voice of anger and desperation. These are not pop songs, they are protest songs. They are meaningful and powerful.
The same feeling was encountered when I thought about including songs by Ruben Blades from Panama. His popular hits from the eighties “Desapariciones” and “El Padre Antonio y su monaguillo Andres”. These songs speak of the abuses of power and state terrorism in Central America during the 1980s.
“Desapariciones” is so powerful, that Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, a ska-reggae-rock band from Argentina made a cover in 1992. Later in the 90s Mana from Mexico made a cover as well. It shows that the story of missing people was very common, not only in Central America but South America and Mexico too.
Humanization, bringing authentic voices and using authentic sources.
The matter is not only if my sixth graders may not be ready for this topic, it is the fact that the story has not previously been told by an authentic voice. A book, an authentic author, an Argentinean, Salvadoran, Mexican or Panamanian … someone who can tell us that part of the story, in a way that my students can understand.
My first activity can’t be a worksheet asking them to circle the verbs.
My warm up activity should not be a movie talk with one of the music videos for these songs.
I can’t dehumanize these songs because I need to review grammar and verb tenses.
These songs carry history, perhaps the darkest years in Latin America. I need an AUTHENTIC voice to explain this to my classroom.
I chose to search for my favorite resource, books.
I found a book about Father Antonio and the altar boy Andrés… or rather Father Oscar Arnulfo Romero. Written by a Salvadoran, teacher, immigrant and great inspiration René Colato Laínez. His book “Telegramas al cielo” “recounts the moving childhood of Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez, who from an early age discovers the candor, light and power of the word, which he uses to pray and to write poetry, sending telegrams to heaven from his heart“.
My second book is for personal reading “La Casa de los Conejos” by Laura Alcoba. An Argentinean writer who exiled with her family when she as a child. Tells the story of the situation in Argentina in late 70s. All being told from the eyes of a 7 year old child. This is the kind of literature that tells a story in a compelling and authentic way.
The problem with non authentic sources and Latin American history.
Be very careful with the “culture” you bring to your classroom. Check authentic sources. Novels are good to build vocabulary for your students. But if it is not written by an authentic voice, it is 90% fiction. It is not history and it is not culture. The author is just using a specific time in history as a setting. It is not an authentic source. It is like putting sprinkles of history to a fictional story. It is not authentic.
Teacher resources are good, but don’t let them be your only source. Just like you check for any grammar mistakes on teacher resources, check the sources and the purpose of resources that touch devastating episodes of Latin American history.
If you would like to check my cultural resources, check my previous blog posts here