‘If it’s thorny for me, what’s a PTA to do?’

Cultivating Hispanics takes lots of compassion and even more respect

AurelioMontemayor12The common umbrella term ‘Hispanic’ poses monsoon challenges. Imagine the term ‘English-speaking’ to cover the Belfast Irish, Montreal Canadians, Outback Australians and Lubbock Texans…for starters. When you scan the ‘Hispanic’ map, you will encounter an equally complex and dramatically varied landscape, including the Iberian Peninsula, northern Africa and the American continent.

I was reared on the Texas/Mexico border and am currently immersed in south Texas families and culture. I’m Chicano or Mexican American. My milieu also includes Mexicanos or Mexicans who just crossed over or who came with their parents over 30 years ago. Whether we’ve been here for five generations or yesterday, my spectrum includes socio-cultural and linguistic groupings it would take a sizable book to catalog.  I must be sensitive to many issues to be culturally competent in my south Texas backyard.

Competence challenge for me: As a ‘pocho’ (someone who should, but doesn’t, use ‘correct’ Spanish without mispronunciations, Anglicism’s or other indicia of acculturation to an English-dominant world) I’m challenged with the use of ‘correct’ or ‘acceptable’ Spanish. In my organization, we model the use of the language of the community: Spanish in many south Texas neighborhoods. At a recent state conference, a mother mentioned her discontent with the quality of the Spanish of her child’s bilingual class teacher. As an advocate for bilingual education, I also know that many Chicano bilingual teachers have courageously reclaimed their home language after suffering a school system’s attempts to erase it and replace it with English. So, I support a mother’s desire for an excellent bilingual education that models both languages but must also be compassionate for the “not-so-fluent-in-Spanish” teacher who wants the same thing. Wow! If it’s thorny for me, what’s a PTA to do?

Like schools, PTAs always have messages and information they want to give to families. Before attempting to sign up a Spanish-speaking family to PTA, consider the following:

  • Engage in two-way conversations: Value, nurture and support those of us who are the bridge builders and can navigate several cultural and linguistic contexts. Using professional translators and earphones only assists in giving messages to families in one direction without engagement and mutual understanding.
  • Show real concern for Hispanic children: Don’t be afraid to ask — What are your dreams, visions and hopes for your children? Why is education important? What do you expect from your children’s schools and are they measuring up to your expectations? And most importantly, PTA leaders have to listen deeply and compassionately, and not condescendingly.

I guess in the end, it’s all about respect. If you respect me, over time you will get to know my values, familial customs, and tastes in food, music and entertainment. You’ll see when and how I celebrate.  Nevertheless, your competence with me comes from your understanding that I want my children and all the other children from my neighborhood to get the best education possible. That’s more than enough even if we never break bread together.

Aurelio M. Montemayor is a senior education associate for Intercultural Development Research Association. His career in education spans four decades and has included teaching at the high school, middle school and elementary school levels. He currently serves on the National PTA Field Services Committee and served as a national PTA board member from 2006 – 2010.

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