After spending the last nine years at a school where I was one of three Hispanic students in my grade of 50, I was eager to start my freshman year at GDS. Based on the school’s website, an info session and reports from many peers at GDS, I was under the impression that students were knowledgeable about the diversity of the Hispanic community.
My eagerness soon turned into disappointment during the first week of Hispanic Heritage Month, when I realized Hispanics were often portrayed by many administrators at the school as a monolith in assemblies, lesson plans, conversations about race and ethnicity and more. And outside of Hispanic Heritage Month, most of the administrators and teachers rarely mentioned Hispanics, and when someone did, the conversation never went past food.
Hispanics are not a homogenous group, and regarding them as one strips them of their individuality. During the one month they are talked about and celebrated nationally, there was clearly a lack of understanding of the depth of the Hispanic community at GDS. Whether your skin is light or dark doesn’t make you more or less Hispanic. The group is incredibly diverse, yet its variety in culture is largely unrecognized by the school.
When Noel Quiñones, a Puerto Rican poet, spoke at the assembly for Hispanic Heritage Month, he represented only one type of Hispanic: Puerto Rican. Having a speaker from only one place in Latin America disregards the diverse ethnic and geographical makeup of the culture. An achievable solution would be to have a panel of speakers with different experiences as Hispanic people—people of different countries, religions, races and genders. To make all Hispanic students and faculty feel represented, there simply need to be more backgrounds reflected in GDS’ speakers.
Additionally, in students’ hoppers and on the GDS Google calendar, the high school’s assembly was titled “Spanish Heritage Month,” while the actual month-long period marks five countries’ independence from Spain. This oversight in naming is representative of the greater issue with GDS’ attitude towards Hispanic culture; it shows that Hispanic people are not accurately represented even in the titles of our school’s assemblies.
After the assembly in October, I began to wonder if I was the only one who noticed the misrepresentation of the Hispanic community at GDS. I thought that community members weren’t consciously trying to hurt groups of Hispanic people, but rather that their perception of what being Hispanic means was simply incorrect.
History teacher Ricardo Carmona, who teaches a history course on Latin America, said that administrators at GDS are “not actively harming the community,” but rather “are just not helping.” He also said that the school “doesn’t look for opportunities to celebrate Latine culture” outside of Hispanic Heritage Month.
This failure can be attributed to two reasons: a lack of understanding about Hispanic culture and the small number of Hispanic people at GDS. “Because there are few Hispanics, I feel there is less pressure for these events,” freshman Elena Valdez said of programs during Hispanic Heritage Month. “The size of the community matters.”
It is possible that not many people have protested these poorly executed events because there aren’t enough people to speak up. “Nobody should really speak for us except us,” Carmona said of Hispanic people. Both Valdez’s and Carmona’s thoughts made me wonder, are there even enough of “us?”
“If you are not aware of the diversity of the Latine community, you won’t be able to see it,” he said. “If you don’t know it exists, how can you look for it?”
Senior Yael Wellisch, a co-head of HOLA, GDS’ Hispanic and Latine affinity group, spoke about the need to increase the number of Hispanics in the student body and administration. “It’s growing, but there still needs to be more progress and an emphasis in admissions,” she said. “Improvement is representation; there needs to be an increase of faculty representation that isn’t just in the language office.”
GDS is on a road to progress. In recent years, the school has added a Latin American history class, HOLA has grown in numbers and some students and faculty even decorated for Día de los Muertos. “Once you open the door to talking about Latin American culture, you can go further into it,” sophomore Victoria Agerskov-Townsend, a co-head of HOLA and the Hispanic and Latine Support Alliance, said.
Hispanic Heritage Month is a great opportunity to talk about Hispanic culture. At first, the discussions can be an introduction to the community. To ensure these events are executed properly, there must be Hispanic input during their planning. And we can then move beyond the surface and talk about different aspects of Hispanic cultures, issues and life. Hispanic history can be discussed; immigration, migration, border control and voting rights are all vital topics when understanding the Hispanic community. There must be a wider understanding of how Hispanics aren’t a monolith. GDS is on the right track, so let’s push it to continue to be better.