My mother in law makes the best rice and beans ever. I’m totally serious. She lives all the way in New York City, but when I know we are getting ready to visit her, my mouth begins to water. In fact, just typing this, I can already smell the beans simmering over her gas-lit stove; I can hear the whistle of the rice being steamed in the cast iron pot; and I can already see the breaded pork chops cooling on the kitchen countertop.
There is so much I love about my husband’s family. They are kind. They put family-first. They are patient. They are warm and inviting. They have always been people to uplift you on a particularly bad day. They love to play board games (and sometimes they sneak extra play money over to one of the kids when they think no one’s looking).
I especially love that they are Puerto Rican.
Being Puerto Rican is a huge part of my husband’s family culture. They are proud to be who they are.
My husband’s grandfather was a minister who preached in Spanish in his church in Brooklyn. His aunts are also ministers.
And, my husband’s dad was a minister who committed his life to the betterment of people and communities.
Had I not met my husband or his family, I can’t say that I would have known a lot about Latino culture. And, of course, their family only represents a small slice of Latino culture. Latin America and Spain — though they share some similarities in language — are both incredibly different and incredibly connected. It is impossible to generalize an entire people, region, and language.
This diversity is why it is so important that we take the time to learn about Latino and Hispanic culture and heritage.
Nationally, the United States honors the dates between September 15 – October 15 as Hispanic Heritage Month. While we at Park strive to provide inclusive engagement of communities all year, this time allows us to pay particular attention to Hispanic and Latinx communities.
(Note: This might be the first time you are seeing an “x” instead of the letter “o” or “a” at the end of Latinx. It’s intentional. Though it is a language that often delineates between masculine and feminine articles, there is a growing movement to remove the gender binary when using the word in English.)
Below are some helpful resources that you might try in your homes as an accompaniment to what’s being done in the classrooms. Sit together with your child and check out some of these great videos or activities.
- Visit our Park School library and check out one of these books that our fabulous librarians have related to Hispanic Heritage Month. Go to “resource list” then “public list.”
- PBS has great video clips and discussion topics about diverse issues facing Latino and Hispanic Americans
- National Education Association has a list of easy-to-adapt activities for grades K-12
- Time Magazine for Kids is also a great resource for printable lessons and teaching resources
- Finally, one of my favorite resources is Mamiverse, and this site includes a diverse list of books featuring themes, characters and issues related to Latino and Hispanic issues
What can you do to further your own understanding or engagement with Latinx and Hispanic culture? What can you do as a family?
Peace and Park,
Diversity is who we are. Equity is what we strive to provide. Inclusion is how we get there.
Here we go!
It’s the end of Labor Day Weekend, and school is just about to begin (or perhaps you are reading this just after school has already started).
One of the reasons I personally chose to work at The Park School is the organizational commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Heck, it’s my job title. Even more heck, it fits on a business card and my tiny name tag. Impressive!
The Park School is a community of diverse families, people, learners, and teachers. But, that diversity doesn’t mean much unless we all find ways to learn about each other and to interact. We have to engage in INCLUSION. After all, INCLUSION is the result of making sure that people in a diverse community know how to interact with each other and that we take steps to make sure we are all part of the every day life of our school.
Recently a fantastic article has been making its way around social media called “6 Ways Parents Can Teach Their Kids About Race and Diversity.” I loved it. It’s short, simple and to the point. The author briefly says these six things (I’m short-handing because I really hope you read the full piece!):
Have a diverse group of friends.
Purchase books and toys that support diversity.
Expose your child to diverse music, art, films and TV shows.
Talk about current events.
Go the extra mile (literally) to surround yourself with diverse groups.
Don’t laugh at racist jokes or engage in banter that perpetuates racist stereotypes.
As we begin our year at The Park School, here are some very actionable ways that you can incorporate these six aspects into your life:
Have a diverse group of friends. Introduce yourself on the first day of school to other adults/parents/guardians in your child’s class. Surely, if you are a returning Parkie, you’ll know people. Go out of your way to introduce yourself to new folks — I promise you they’ll appreciate the radical kindness that you show them. Further, within the first two weeks of school, set up a little play date or even a “let’s meet a few minutes before school to have coffee in the lobby” together. This extra act of hospitality is especially important for any families who might have a different family structure, racial or ethnic background, or just new to The Park School. As a new family of color here at Park, I can tell you that I was incredibly nervous meeting other parents in my children’s grades; and I was so thankful for people who went out of their way to say “hello and welcome” to me!
Purchase books and toys that support diversity. Wander through your child’s classroom (especially in Lower and Middle Division) and see what books the teachers have on display. They have been very intentional about including diverse representation in their class. Ask to borrow that book or buy one for your home. Or, if you need those first few minutes to settle your child, choose one of those books to read together before drop off. If you are unable to come to Park in the mornings, email your teacher and ask for a few book recommendations or if the teacher can send a book home every week. For Upper Division, talk about the books they read this summer — they were intentionally chosen for their themes about diversity and inclusion.
Expose your child to diverse music, art, films and TV shows. Got a long car ride home? Play music from a community or culture that is not typically played in your house. Celebrate the first week of school by trying a new restaurant or flip through some art from different communities or culture.
Talk about current events. Current events — I mean, what isn’t happening in our world today? So much is going on. For younger students, what is the “first day of school” like in other countries? In other parts of the country? For older students, they can handle some of the current events politics — have some dinner talk about it so they can get used to engaging in these dialogues with you.
Go the extra mile (literally) to surround yourself with diverse groups.This is my favorite! Choose an after school activity that is outside of your neighborhood or community. Join the Y in the next town over. SIgn up for lessons or a sport at a rec center different from the one you are currently in. Yes, this may mean a few extra minutes in the car or commuting or scheduling. That’s a choice we make. If not during the school year, be mindful about signing up for camps or lessons or sports during the summer in other neighborhoods.
Don’t laugh at racist jokes or engage in banter that perpetuates racist stereotypes. Walk away. Or, if you’re feeling prepared and brave, address the situation. Some of my favorite “verbal frisbees” (phrases I throw out hoping someone will “catch” them) are: “Ouch, that didn’t feel so good to hear that word”; or “I’m not sure what’s funny about that”; or “Hmm… that’s an interesting way to phrase that.” Our children are watching — they watch how we react, what we permit, and what we address. And, they take our cues about how to address issues of injustice and unkindness by what we allow in our own lives.
Looking forward to a great school year filled with lots of learning and growing together!
Peace and Park,
One of my favorite childhood memories during the summer was going to different destination locations. My father and mother, immigrants to the United States, wanted to make sure that their young family understood historical aspects of this country. So, each summer, all seven of us — my parents + me + my four brothers and sisters — packed into a brown and tan conversion van and drove around the continental United States. By the time I was in high school, we had visited nearly every state in the country. By the time I was in my mid-twenties, we had the privilege of adding Alaska and Hawaii.
Remember, the 1980s and 1990s were pre-iPads and pre-DVD players in the cars. My siblings and I had to rely on car games like “Find all 50 state license plates” or, everyone’s favorite “I’m going on a picnic and I brought an A, apple.” (Note: I’m joking. That going-on-a-picnic game is not my favorite).
A real treat, though, was when we stopped at a national monument or tourist destination. We tumbled out of the van, our legs cramped from sitting still for hours on end. Frankly, we were happy to stretch our legs and be more than an arms-length away from a brother or sister who had already been annoyed with another sibling for the last 100 miles.
While my parents “ooh’ed and ahhhh’ed” at whatever exciting and historical site we had just come upon, my siblings and I inevitably started each destination with the same enthusiastically adolescent line: “Can we go to the gift shop? Please? Pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease??”
Yeah, that naturally occurring rock formation is nice… But, it can’t possibly be more awesome than the gift shop!
We drove thousands of miles, and can we go to the gift shop, was our most pressing question.
(I admit, now that I am a parent of small children, I realize that the universe is imparting royal payback to me)
Frankly, friends, I’m not so sure why I was so eager to get to the gift shop. No matter if we were in Arizona or Georgia or Washington D.C. or South Carolina, I always had the same experience. Different state, same stuff.
Whenever we arrived at a gift shop, my older sisters, who are named Mary and Grace, went right for the clothing section to look for cute t-shirts or sweatshirts that had the state logo or “I went all the way to Florida and all I got was this t-shirt” type slogans. My little brothers, who are named Paul and Jonathan, went right for the toys, trains, plastic wrapped decks of cards, stuffed animals with tiny t-shirts bearing the tourist destination’s image, and games.
I always went to the personalized section which was conveniently located in a circular spinning rack near the cashier. Pencils. Keychains. Barrettes. Beaded bracelets.
My eyes scanned the shiny items organized alphabetically: Laura, Leslie, Lisa, Lynn….Margaret, Mary, Melissa…
I took a deep breath.
Of course, I spun through rows of “Mary, Grace, Paul and Jonathan….”
I’m not jealous. I’m so jealous.
Sometimes there was an “Eliza” and if I was feeling particularly sassy, I would grab the “Lisa” pencil and beg my mom to give me a few dollars to pay for the item. And, each time, she looked me in the eyes and said simply, “That’s not your name. Put it back.” I would walk slowly away, likely mumbling something under my 11-year old breath like, “Well, it’s not my fault. YOU named me …” or “Why couldn’t you name ME Mary or Grace?”
State to state, the gift shop was always a disappointment.
I shuffled back to the spinning racks of items, hoping the store manager had refilled the entire section of “Liza” items — which, I fantasized had been sold out that morning due to the overwhelming number of “Liza’s” that had come to the gift shop in the middle of North Dakota — since the last time I stood there (note: at most, I was gone for 3 minutes). I wandered the store looking for other personalized sections that, maybe, just maybe, I had missed.
At the ripe old age of 41, like a Pavlovian response, I go right to the personalized section of a gift shop to see if I can hand over my hard earned money in exchange for a “Liza” item handed to me by the cashier in a small, crisp, brown bag.
So far, no luck.
As an educator, teacher, and diversity director, if there is one thing you know about me, you know that I believe names matter.
I’m unafraid to say to you, “I’m so embarrassed, but could you tell me your name again?” or “Would you mind repeating that? I haven’t heard your name before, and it’s important for me to say it correctly.” I also believe strongly in calling people what they want to be called. There are some parents who, more informally, have told me “Oh, Liza, don’t call me Dr. So-and-So, call me John” or others who have made a point to sign their emails as “Mr. Smith” or “Dr. Jones.” You have told me your names, and I have honored what you’d like to be called.
My daughter, Joli, may never find her name on a pencil in a random gift shop. My children, Jada and Evan, have a better shot at it. My husband? Sometimes we can find a Jorge, but only if we are in certain areas that pay attention to names that have origins in Spanish. You can probably guess how not-often that is….
As we begin the school year, I have two important words for you: NAMES MATTER.
Last week, as new faculty and staff arrived, they have gotten to know us by first name. For a week, we were “Kimberly” and “Alice” and “Pamela” and “Kim.” We have all introduced ourselves with our first names; yet, come Tuesday, we expect new colleagues to use our formal names in front of children. For example, “Liza” becomes “Dr. Talusan” or “Cynthia” becomes “Ms. Harmon.” As a former new person, let me tell you, this isn’t easy.
While it’s not easy, friends, it’s important. Names matter. Titles matter. Salutations matter.
As students and families return back to school, some of our colleagues have changed their names (e.g., Ms. Hyslop is now referred to as Mrs. Leonardelli). Some of our students might ask us to move from calling them nicknames like “Johnny” or “Jenny” in Lower Division to “John” or “Jen” as they arrive in Upper Division. As parents and caring adults, we have likely filled out forms for our child’s teacher that says, “My child’s formal name is _______ but he prefers to be called ________.”
And, as adults, we honor that. We honor that people have an option and want to be called their proper titles and names.
This year, as you return to school, it is important to find out how people would like to be called.
Change is all around us; and as a Park School community, we must be sure to honor how people would like to be called.
One change I’d like to let you know about is the opportunity to use a more gender-inclusive salutation: Mx. This prefix — Mx. (pronounced mix) — allows individuals to use a gender-inclusive salutation that is neither male (Mr.) or female (Mrs., Ms., Miss). This year, we opened up our school year including this option as we affirm our commitment to identity and inclusivity. The salutation, Mx., may be new to The Park School, but it is not new to our English language. In fact, Mx. was entered into the Oxford English Dictionary two years ago. While the prefix was provided to create inclusive opportunities for individuals who do not identify with gender binaries, it is also gaining use from individuals who simply do not want to have their gender identified by a Mr. (male) or Ms./Miss/Mrs. (female) prefix.
Friends, our history has seen this before when it introduced the prefix, Ms., as a way for women to not have to disclose whether or not they were married. Today, the prefix “Ms.” is one of the most frequently used ones for women at The Park School, regardless of marital status.
As a family, if Mx. is a salutation you’d prefer, please let us know so that we may make those changes. If this is a salutation you’d like to use socially but not administratively (i.e., in our class lists or handbooks), please let us know.
And, if others in our community invite you to refer to them using Mx., please do so.
As a community committed to the dignity of all people, it is important that you are known by the name you prefer. I am grateful for our leadership team at Park who have affirmed that The Park School is a place that honors the lives, individuality and naming of people. We realize this may be a new word/title for some in the community, and we are grateful to be working in education, schools, and learning environments in which we can all lean into ongoing growth.
Peace and Park,
(Dr.) Liza Talusan
(Note: Yes, I’m going by Dr. Talusan as we start the new year! Hurray!)
Me with my proud parents at graduation! Two MDs and a PhD!