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Q&A with Dr. Mariana Diaz-Wionczek, DEI Expert and Executive Producer

Talking to Your Child about Latin American and Hispanic Heritage Month

Can you briefly explain the significance of Latin American and Hispanic Heritage Month?

We celebrate Latin American and Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15 each year to honor and celebrate the cultures, histories, and contributions of American Latines*; the people whose ancestors came from Spanish-speaking countries.

Representation matters, so given that one in four kids in our nation is of Latine origin (and in some states like New Mexico, Texas, California, and New York, nearly 50%!), dedicating a time on our calendar to celebrate these children’s heritage is key.

Why is it important to talk to my child about Latin American and Hispanic Heritage Month?

For children who are Latine, Learning about their family’s heritage can provide kids with an important connection to their own developing identity and give them a sense of pride and belonging. For children who do not identify as Latine, learning from other cultures and traditions expands children’s worldview and promotes empathy, respect, and mutual understanding. Latin American and Hispanic Heritage Month allows every family, whether Latine or not, to explore the diversity within the comunidad and the significance of past and present contributions from Latine women and men.

It is important for children to know that the Latine community is not monolithic. Rather, it is built by many different cultures that incorporate a plethora of unique traditions, including food, music, dance, folk, legends and stories from the vast cultures indigenous to Latin America and their integration with the culture from Spain.

How can parents and caregivers explain the importance of HHM to their young children?

Discussing the complex and nuanced diversity of the Latine community may be approached through breaking the conversation down into a few simple starting points.

Beginning this conversation with a personal connection can be a good place to start. Explaining to your child where you, your family, or your ancestors come from can be a grounding and empowering basis to understanding the significance of Latin American and Hispanic Heritage Month and the concept of celebrating your own identity. For example, I might explain the following to my children:

“I come from (specific country and/or culture of origin) and that’s why in our family we speak/eat/celebrate (insert language you speak, a traditional food you eat, or a holiday or tradition you celebrate). It’s part of our heritage because many people in our family, from my grandparents all the way to you, grew up with it. We share that tradition with other families that came from (specific country and/or culture of origin). But not everyone comes from (specific country and/or culture of origin). People from different places have different traditions.”

Explaining the history of the Latin American and Hispanic community can highlight the influence of Spain on the Americas. With older children, you can begin by using a map of the world to show and point out to your children the migration of peoples and where they came from.

”A long time ago, in the Americas, there were many different communities of people who had lived in this land for thousands of years. They all had different languages, foods, traditions and celebrations. One day, the Spanish people sailed across the ocean looking for new land, and when they got to the Americas they brought their language (Spanish), food, and culture with them. They moved into the many communities that already existed in the Americas. These people joined foods, cultures, language, and families. Today, many of the countries and cultures in Latin America share some parts of their heritage because of the Spanish people that moved there a long time ago. For example, most countries in Latin America speak Spanish, but many also speak other languages that were spoken even before Spanish, like Guarani in Paraguay, Quechua in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, and Nahuatl in central Mexico.”

What are some resources to help support this discussion with my children?

There are many ways to honor Latin American and Hispanic Heritage Month in an environment that are inclusive and open for questions and exploration.

What are some meaningful ways we can honor and celebrate Hispanic Heritage month as a family?

There are many ways to honor Latin American and Hispanic Heritage Month in an environment that are inclusive and open for questions and exploration.

*Dr. Diaz-Wionczek uses the inclusive term Latine to refer to both women and men of Latin American and Hispanic heritage.

About Dr. Diaz-Wionczek

Dr. Diaz-Wionczek is a Co-Executive Producer on Nickelodeon’s ¡Dora! and Executive Producer on 9 Story’s Rosie’s Rules for PBSKids. She is a DEI advisor for Google, PBSKids, Sesame Workshop, Higher Ground, Nickelodeon, Noggin, Joan Ganz Cooney Center, Pinna, and Bridge Multimedia, among others. She teaches a graduate class at NYU, gave a TEDx talk on ethnic identity, is a reviewer for the Journal of Children and the Media, and is a contributor to The Future of Children report and KidScreen. Dr. Diaz-Wionczek obtained a Ph.D in Psychology from CUNY’s Graduate Center and a B.A. from the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

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