Harker’s efforts and projects to improve Latinx inclusivity and representation

June 2, 2022

“Sí, se puede!” exclaims a medley of green, orange and yellow student-made posters scattered across a bulletin board. Swooping calligraphy and bold fonts on each poster draw the attention of viewers to famous Hispanic figures such as César Chávez, a civil rights activist born in San Jose who, along with the also-depicted activist Dolores Huerta, used the three-word motto as a rallying cry to lobby for farm worker rights in the U.S. Other vibrantly-colored posters chronicle the lives of individuals like Sonia Sotomayor, the first woman of color to sit on the Supreme Court and Julia Alvarez, Dominican-American poet, novelist and essayist. Bold black letters outlined by a vibrant orange border spell out “el Mes de la Herencia Hispana,” or National Hispanic Heritage Month. Assembled by Hispanic upper school Spanish teacher Carmela Tejada and created with her students’ and upper school Spanish teacher Diana Moss’s, who identifies as Hispanic, posters, the display remained in a hallway in Main until Oct. 15 to celebrate achievements by members of the Hispanic community.

Upper school Spanish teachers Carmela Tejada’s and Diana Moss’s students create posters featuring famous Hispanic figures in the Main hallway during Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. After the celebratory month ended, the teachers removed the posters and handed them back to students.
(Kinnera Mulam)

The board is part of a festive effort to expand the presence of Latinx culture at Harker, which currently has a small Latinx population. In the Latinx affinity group, Jacob strives to recreate the same feeling of community and connection he experiences while spending time with his family.

“Not only are there so little Latinx students at Harker, a lot of the Latinx students feel disconnected from the rest of the student body,” Jacob said. “In other places, I don’t really feel Mexican, but when I’m with family or the Latinx [affinity] group, I feel like I have a little bit more to me. I feel like I can say stuff in Spanish and feel more comfortable with it than in a Spanish class. The [group] welcomes culture into our community.”

In other places, I don’t really feel Mexican, but when I’m with family or the Latinx [affinity] group, I feel like I have a little bit more to me. I feel like I can say stuff in Spanish and feel more comfortable with it than in a Spanish class. The [group] welcomes culture into our community”

— Jacob Fernandez (11)

Harker staff and administration has worked to improve the inclusivity of underrepresented groups in the student body through the creation of the Latinx affinity group and Black Student Union last year by the Student Diversity Coalition (SDC) and the Faculty/Staff Diversity Committee. SDC was founded in the summer of 2020 by Natasha Yen (‘21), Brian Pinkston (‘21), Dylan Williams (‘21) and Uma Iyer (12).

The Latinx affinity group held its first meeting of the school year in September 2021, where the club advisers and students introduced themselves, discussed decorating a bulletin board in Main that featured Latinx artists and engaged in lighthearted conversation. Sara, who attended the meeting, appreciated the safe space provided by the group.

“I really enjoy just talking to them about where we’re from, what we enjoy to do and all that because it’s just a nice, small area to talk to people,” Sara said. “It is a nice place to relax and talk to people who have similar experiences to yours.”

Faculty leaders of the Latinx affinity group Kristina Alaniz and Jeanette Fernandez speak at the group’s first meeting of the year, held in Ms. Alaniz’s room. (Emma Gao)

The upper school Spanish department designed and launched a website 15 years ago called “Pórtico” that featured student-made projects about topics related to the Spanish-speaking world, providing a way for students to both learn more about the culture and educate others about their findings. Members of the Spanish National Honor Society compose these pieces in Spanish based on a self-selected subject matter. The website accepts a wide range of topics, from food reviews to celebrations to issues regarding the Latinx community, and the projects can consist of articles, reviews, interviews, photos or videos. Initially a physical newsletter, the site has evolved to a website with hundreds of projects, and the Spanish department publishes around 30 pieces each year.

“We were thinking about the activities that we could do with our Spanish Honor Society by making something that they can explore and that can also be used by some other students,” Garcia said. “It’s really an endless collaboration.”

The Spanish department, led by Tejada who created the bulletin board, integrated the celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month into their curricula. Moss designed an annual project in which her students will exchange short videos with students at El Colegio San Ignacio de la Salle in Quillota, Chile. Moss’ students filmed recordings featuring their own family traditions which were then sent out in late September 2021 to the students in Chile, who responded back in a similar manner a few weeks later.

Student-led clubs at the upper school also organized events and led initiatives in celebration of this month. With the help of Goodreads and reading challenges on Twitter, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Book Club organized a list of literary works rooted in Hispanic culture to share with its members, who then voted to discuss “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter” by Erika Sánchez on Oct. 8, 2021.

The Spanish National Honor Society hosted La Noche Cultural at the upper school in March to celebrate Latinx culture through performances from current Spanish students, who sang Spanish songs such as “Dos Oruguitas” from Disney’s” Encanto,” acted in skits of shows such as “Caso Cerrado” and indulged in food such as tres leches cake. The night concluded with the annual salsa dancing competition that allowed attendees to engage in yet another aspect of Latinx culture and heritage.

By being open to listening to other people’s problems when it comes to their difficulty of being a specific race or heritage, then we can be a more embracing student community”

— Melody Luo (12)

Multicultural Club strives to raise awareness and increase appreciation for Hispanic culture and history within the Harker community. Multicultural Club Co-President Melody Luo (12), who identifies as Asian American, encourages students to embrace the different cultures around them through education, starting with articles, books and immersion into these cultures.

“It’s really important for us to be open-minded to others who may not be of the same ethnicity or race as us,” Melody said. “By being open to listening to other people’s problems when it comes to their difficulty of being a specific race or heritage, then we can be a more embracing student community.”

Although Joanna appreciates the school’s efforts to educate its members about Latinx culture, she believes that increasing the Latinx population at Harker would be the more effective way to build an accepting, welcoming community

“I feel like there isn’t a lot of [the] Latinx community at Harker, so it’s very easy for the culture to get lost,” Joanna said. “I absolutely love the idea of other people learning about the culture, but ultimately it’s hard to connect with people that have the same experiences growing up [as you].”

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