Cassandra Torres is a seventh grade history teacher-in-residence at Amistad Academy Middle. We sat down with her to talk about Hispanic Heritage Month, learning Spanish from her students, and more.
Why is Hispanic Heritage Month meaningful to you?
When I first thought about it, I wasn’t sure because I don’t speak Spanish. In fact, when I was young, I didn’t even really know what it meant to be Hispanic or Latino. No one really talked about it. But I knew that my white friends didn’t think I was white and my black friends knew I wasn’t black. So where did I fit in?
In college, I joined a traditionally Latina sorority, and I started learning about my Puerto Rican heritage and the deep impact that Hispanic people have had in America. I learned that my heritage was really complex, with influences from all over, including Africa and Latin America. It’s amazing to understand what that really means!
How do you think your heritage and your experience informs the way you see the world?
I think knowing about my heritage helps me see the world with an open mind. It made me so curious about people’s backgrounds. You can never guess by looking at someone what their heritage might be. When I wear my hair straight people make certain assumptions about me. When I wear it curly, they think other things. But you never know! I always want to find out more about where someone comes from.
How does your heritage/ethnicity inform your work?
We have a pride circles at school, and because we’re focusing on Hispanic Heritage Month now, I’m learning so much about my students – I hadn’t realized that so many of them speak Spanish. The students think it’s hilarious that I don’t speak Spanish. They always want to teach me now. It’s great to learn about language and culture from your students!
Are there any local, national, or world issues that are particularly important to you, that you think everyone should be aware of this Hispanic Heritage Month?
It seems like a small thing, but using the right words is an important thing. For example, I read somewhere that 40% of forms don’t have a space to write “Latino/Hispanic” for race or nationality. That’s really interesting. We need to use the right words to talk about ourselves.
What else should everyone know about the Latinx experience, or about Hispanic Heritage Month?
This month brings so many people into the celebration. It’s a reminder of how relevant we are in society right now. It’s important to remember that sometimes kids only speak English at school, so they lose their Spanish. But that’s OK! You can still own it. You’re still Hispanic!