Teacher's Guide

Hispanic Heritage and History in the United States

U.S. postal stamp for Hispanic Heritage Month.
Photo caption

U.S. postal stamp for Hispanic Heritage Month.

Since 1988, the U.S. Government has set aside the period from September 15 to October 15 as National Hispanic Heritage Month to honor the many contributions Hispanic Americans have made and continue to make to the United States of America. Our Teacher's Guide brings together resources created during NEH Summer Seminars and Institutes, lesson plans for K-12 classrooms, and think pieces on events and experiences across Hispanic history and heritage. 

Guiding Questions

Who is included in your curriculum and who can be added when teaching Hispanic history?

What are the lasting contributions of Hispanic people and groups to the culture and history of the United States?

The Roots of Hispanic Culture

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Concepción (Spanish version: Misión de Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, San Antonio, Texas, 1755) is one of the oldest surviving stone churches in America. In the EDSITEment lesson plan, Mission Nuestra Señora de la Concepción and the Spanish Mission in the New World, students are invited to use the image of the mission to explore the way Spanish missionaries and native American tribes worked together to build a community of faith in the Southwest in the mid-17th century. The NEH Summer Landmark for School teachers, The Fourteenth Colony: A California Missions Resource for Teachers produced a collection of K-12 instructional resources with multimedia spanning Native Californians, Missions, Presidios, and Pueblos of the Spanish, Mexican, and early American traditions and eras. Key resources for the study of this cultural heritage include primary sources, maps and images to document the cultural and historical geography of the California missions.

Another valuable resource is the NEH-funded PBS series Latino Americans, which chronicles the rich and varied histories of Latinos from the first European settlements to the present day. The website contains trailers from all episodes, a timeline, and an opportunity to upload your own video history. It contains a new education initiative which invites teachers and learners to explore the many ways that Latinos are woven into the fabric of the United States' story.  

Accounts of ventures into uncharted territories by Hispanic explorers and missionaries of the Southeast and Southwest form a vital part of U.S. literary and historical heritage. A prime example, the journey of Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, can be found by visiting the EDSITEment-reviewed resource New Perspectives on the West. Students can then embark on The Road to Santa Fe: A Virtual Excursion to journey to one of America's oldest and most historic cities along the ancient Camino Real to discover the multilayered heritage of the peoples who call New Mexico their homeland. For another perspective on Spanish exploration and settlement, visit Web de Anza, an EDSITEment-recommended website, packed with primary source documents and multimedia resources covering Juan Bautista de Anza's two overland expeditions that led to the colonization of San Francisco in 1776.

Historical and Cultural Legacies

A large selection of reviewed websites that explore the cultural legacy of Mexico, Central America, parts of the Caribbean, as well as other Latin American nations is also featured on EDSITEment. NPR’s Afropop Worldwide introduces the great variety of music with African roots today in countries like Colombia. A Collector's Vision of Puerto Rico features a rich timeline. Other EDSITEment resources focus on the history and culture of other countries. The EDSITEment lesson plan, Mexican Culture and History through Its National Holidays, encourages students to learn more about the United States’ closest southern neighbor by highlighting Mexico’s Independence Day and other important Mexican holidays.

 

 

Additional EDSITEment-created resources help students attain a deeper understanding of the history and cultural wealth of that large and diverse country. EDSITEment marked the Mexican Revolution’s centennial (1910-2010) with a special EDSITEment-created bilingual spotlight that explores the revolution’s historical background, including the muralist movement, and the musical legacy of the corrido tradition. EDSITEment also notes Mexico’s vital role in world literature by saluting one of the most important poets in the Spanish language and the first great Latin American poet, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz in a fully bilingual academic unit. Here, teachers and students will find two lesson plans, accompanying bilingual glossaries, an interactive timeline, numerous worksheets, listening-comprehension exercises, and two interactive activities, one of which entails a detailed analysis of her portrait.

Hispanic Culture and Literature

Contemporary authors writing about Hispanic heritage in the United States include Pam Muñoz Ryan, whose award-winning work of juvenile fiction is featured in the EDSITEment lesson plan, Esperanza Rising: Learning Not to Be Afraid to Start Over (the lesson plan is also available in Spanish). Set in the early 1930s, twenty years after the Mexican Revolution and during the Great Depression, Esperanza Rising tells the story of a young Mexican girl's courage and resourcefulness when, at the tender age of thirteen, she finds herself living in a strange new world. Pam Muñoz Ryan also enriches her story with extensive historical background. Students are given an opportunity to engage in interesting classroom activities that encourage them to imagine the difficult choices facing those who decide to leave home and immigrate to the United States.

On the literature front, both Latin America and Spain have a rich heritage. Set in the Dominican Republic during the rule of Rafael Trujillo, In the Time of the Butterflies fictionalizes historical figures in order to dramatize heroic efforts of the Mirabal sisters to overthrow this dictator’s brutal regime. EDSITEment lesson plan, Courage In the Time of the Butterflies, has students undertake a careful analysis of the sisters to see how each demonstrates courage. Students additionally analyze a speech delivered in 2006 by a daughter of one of the sisters to understand the historical legacy of these extraordinary women.

A new EDSITEment curriculum unit of three lessons, Magical Realism in One Hundred Years of Solitude for the Common Core, has students uncover how Gabriel García Márquez meshes magical elements with a reality which is, in his view, fantastical in its own right. García Márquez actually recapitulates episodes in the history of Latin America through the novel's story of real and fantastical events experienced over the course of one century by the Buendía family. 

Students can learn more about some of the most important poets from the Spanish Golden Age and from the twentieth century through the feature Six Hispanic Literary Giants (this feature is also available in Spanish). 

Lessons from the Chihuahuan Desert

Borderlands narratives have historically been seen as peripheral to the development of American history and identity and the binational spaces border people occupy have been portrayed as dangerous, illegitimate, and as part of a distinct counter-culture. During "Tales from the Chihuahuan Desert: Borderlands Narratives about Identity and Binationalism," a summer institute for educators (grades 6-12) sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and offered by The University of Texas at El Paso, scholars and teachers examine debates about American history and identity by focusing on the multicultural region and narratives of the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez metroplex.

The lessons and materials provided below were created by institute attendees in the interest of developing "their own creative ways of implementing diverse storytelling methodologies into their teaching philosophies in order to more holistically reflect on the complex histories and identities of border peoples and of the binational spaces they inhabit." The complete portfolio of lesson plans is available at the "Tales from the Chihuahuan Desert: Borderlands Narratives about Identity and Binationalism" homepage.

Smokestack Memories: A Borderlands History During the Gilded Age—The second industrialization also known as the Gilded Age from about 1870s-1900s is one of the most significant time periods in American history. In 1887, a smelter was established in El Paso which would become known as ASARCO. The purpose of this lesson is to understand and contextualize the global, national, border, and regional impact of industry during the Gilded Age. (Grade: 7, 8, 11) (Subject: U.S. History, AP U.S. History)

Push/Pull Factors and the Quest for God, Gold, and Glory—Through these two lessons that connect early European exploration of US territories with contemporary immigration, students draw upon the familiar to understand the past and the long history of the United States as a nation by and for people of many cultures. (Grade: 8) (Subject: U.S. History, World History)

Making a Nation—Through these lessons, students will produce an interactive map of North America in the earliest days of colonization that demonstrates the multiple nations and borderlands that cut across the physical space that we now consider to be clearly defined that they can then use throughout their study of American history. (Grade: 8) (Subject: Language Arts and Social Studies)

Borders Near and Far: A Global and Local Investigation of Borderlands—This lesson is designed as an introduction for exploring the theme of borders and borderlands throughout a literature course. Compelling questions and text-based examples are provided to prepare students for independent close readings and discussions of borders at multiple points during the school year. (Grade: 11-12) (Subject: Literature and Language Arts)      

Know Thyself—This unit focuses on the topics of identity, stereotypes, culture, and biculturalism. It is a four-part unit intended to extend throughout the semester with supplemental activities and resources in between. This unit is presented in English to serve lower level Spanish courses, however, it can be adapted and taught in Spanish with additional vocabulary instruction and scaffolding. (Grade: 9-12) (Subject: Language, Spanish level 1, 2)

Borders: Understanding and Overcoming Differences—Students will examine the concept of borders, both literal and figurative, as well as what a border is and how it is created. They will use this knowledge as they learn about the U.S.-Mexico border and will delve deeper into the idea of borders as they examine their own lives. (Grade: 8-10) (Subject: Spanish and Social Studies)

"Latino Americans" Documentary Resources

Latino Americans is a NEH funded documentary series that chronicles the rich and varied history and experiences of Latinos from the first European settlements to the present day. The website contains trailers from all episodes, a timeline, and an opportunity to upload your own video history. A new education initiative invites teachers and learners to explore the many ways that Latinos are woven into the fabric of the United States' story.

Preview the episode "Foreigners in their Own Land"

 

Preview the episode "Pride and Prejudice"

 

Preview the episode "Empire of Dreams"

 

K-12 Lessons for Hispanic History & Culture

Social Studies and History

The Mexican Revolution  —In order to better understand this decade-long civil war, we offer an overview of the main players on the competing sides, primary source materials for point of view analysis, discussion of how the arts reflected the era, and links to Chronicling America, a free digital database of historic newspapers, that covers this period in great detail. 

Chronicling America's Spanish-language newspapers—The Spanish-language newspapers in Chronicling America, along with those published in English, allow us to look beyond one representation of the communities and cultures pulled into the United States by wars and treaties of the 19th century. Spanish-language newspapers reveal how these communities reported on their own culture, politics, and struggles to form an identity in a brand new context.

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Concepción and the Spanish Mission in the New World—Focusing on the daily life of Mission Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, the lesson asks students to relate the people of this community and their daily activities to the art and architecture of the mission.

Literature and Language Arts

Esperanza Rising: Learning Not to Be Afraid to Start Over (also available in Spanish)—In this lesson students will explore some of the contrasts that Esperanza experiences when she suddenly falls from her lofty perch as the darling child of a wealthy landowner surrounded by family and servants to become a servant herself among an extended family of immigrant farm workers.

Magical Realism in One Hundred Years of Solitude (Curriculum Unit)—Author Gabriel García Márquez meshes magical elements with a reality which is, in his view, fantastical in its own right. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, García Márquez vividly retells episodes in the history of Latin America through the story of real and fantastical events experienced over the course of one century by the Buendía family.

Women and Revolution: In the Time of the Butterflies—In this lesson, students undertake a careful analysis of the main characters to see how each individually demonstrates courage in the course of her family’s turbulent life events in the Dominican Republic during the dictatorial rule of Rafael Trujillo.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: The First Great Latin American Poet (Curriculum Unit, also available in Spanish)—Through this curriculum unit students will gain an understanding of why Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is considered one of the most important poets of Latin America, and why she is also considered a pioneering feminist writer and poet.

 

 

"Every Day We Get More Illegal" by Juan Felipe Herrera—In his poem “Every Day We Get More Illegal” Juan Felipe Herrera, the former Poet Laureate of the United States, gives voice to the feelings of those “in-between the light,” who have ambiguous immigration status and work in the United States.

"Translation for Mamá" by Richard Blanco—Richard Blanco wrote the poem “Translation for Mamá” for his mother, who came to the United States from Cuba to create a new life for herself and her family. Using both English and Spanish language translation, Blanco honors the bridge between his mother’s new identity and the losses she faced in emigration.

Culture and Arts

Picturing America (Available in Spanish)—The Picturing America project celebrates Hispanic heritage with a handsome visual reminder of the Spanish influence on American history, religion, and culture. 

La Familia—Students will learn about families in various Spanish cultures and gain a preliminary knowledge of the Spanish language, learning the Spanish names for various family members.

De Colores—This lesson plan is designed for young learners at the novice or novice-intermediate level of proficiency in Spanish. The vocabulary, the colors, is appealing to young learners because colors are easy for them to comprehend and observe while connecting the newly acquired vocabulary to familiar objects.

Origins of Halloween and the Day of the Dead—This EDSITEment feature can be used with students as a framework for discussing the origins and history of the Halloween festival and introducing them to the Mexican festival, the Day of the Dead (el Día de Muertos), recognizing the common elements shared these festivals of the dead as well as the acknowledging the differences between them.

Mexican Culture and History through Its National Holidays—This lesson will focus on holidays that represent and commemorate Mexico's religious traditions, culture, and politics over the past five hundred years.