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Professor Manuel Hernández
Essays Collection

Address: : 2012 Ernest St. Kissimmee, Florida 34741

Manuel Hernandez was born in Sleepy Hollow, New York in 1963. He completed undergraduate studies at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus and finished a Master�s in Education from Herbert H. Lehman College (CUNY) in the Bronx in 1994. He has coordinated symposiums, produced and coordinated television interviews on the literature written by Puerto Rican and Latino/a writers from the Diaspora. He has done numerous presentations, workshops and seminars on how to integrate latino/a literature in the English classroom. In 2014, he participated in a TedxTalk (Connections) at Southern New Hampshire University. He is the author of three books, , Latino/a Literature in the English Classroom (Editorial Plaza Mayor, 2003), The Birth of a Rican (Imprenta Sifre. 2008) and Living the Kingdom with purpose (Imprenta Sifre, 2013). He is a Language Arts teacher at Osceola School District in Florida.

Latino Education:
Developing Culturally Competent Teachers
By Manuel Hernandez-Carmona copyright

Latinos not only bring their language with them to America, but they carry one of the strongest cultural expressions in the universe, pun intended. As a matter of fact, the four main Latino groups (according to US Census population statistics) are very politically, economically and culturally diverse. This uniqueness raises huge questions on how to meet their academic needs. Mexicans have always been geographically intertwined with the United States, but today the majority of Latino illegal citizens are Mexicans. Puerto Ricans became part of the US in the late 19th century after being colonized by Spain for over five-hundred years. They are born US citizens and travel to and from the US without a passport. Cuba took its own political twist in the mid-20th century, and its US immigrants are classified as political refugees. These basic facts make them so exceptional that only a culturally competent teacher can really make an academic difference in their lives.
There is no doubt that Latinos have made their presence felt in America. The Major Leagues, N.A.S.A., Hollywood, US Congress, schools, colleges and universities, the music and entertainment industry and other US institutions have all been influenced by the Latino community. We are a people with great history and pride for the spoken and written word. Nonetheless, about 45 % of all Latino children in public schools today are classified as English Language Learners. What percentage of teachers that work directly with them are culturally competent? What is the United States Department doing to train and prepare teachers that receive the newly arrived Latino child? These are just two of the many questions left unanswered by those who administrate and foster the educational policies at the United States Department of Education.
The recent national Latino high school drop out rate is still close to 40 %. If there are 2.9 million Latino students in American high schools, simple math would place more than a million of these prospective young adults in the streets every year. These are just too many kids exposed to crime, gang violence, drugs, prostitution and other “street related activities.” Cultural awareness is strongly related to what students read and study. Once upon a time, there was an English teacher who read stories to me as a child in Sleepy Hollow, New York. I developed awareness, gained understanding and learned to value the American and British classics. Many of us that were brought up in America took different paths and crossed a multiplicity of bridges, but the stories of Humpty Dumpty, Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and the passion for literature are deeply embedded in our hearts. But that is not the story for millions of Latino kids, who as children are placed in America's schools speaking a different language and coming from a different literary tradition. However, they are expected to pass city, national and statewide exams lacking the literary experiences that many of us had as American children.
How can these students perform academically at mainstream level without having a literary foundation that will uphold their formation as students in a highly competitive educational system? How will they be prepared to make a sudden and smooth transition in literary lanes with one, two and even three years to prepare? It simply does not make sense! In many districts, it is only during Hispanic Heritage Month that Latino teens have the opportunity to read and hear about Piri Thomas, Esmeralda Santiago, Pat Mora, Julia Alvarez, Martin Espada, Judith Ortíz-Cofer and Cristina García, just to mention a few.
United States based Latino/a literature written in English by Latino writers helps to make a transition in literary lanes to the literature of Hemingway and Shakespeare. The literature constructs upon the Latino teens' prior experiences and skills. It is a mirror of the language, culture and history of the American Latino experience and allows students (especially Latinos) to transform their learning experience into a dynamic, pro-active and meaningful adventure with purpose and a greater understanding of themselves. A competent teacher must be trained in teaching and integrating culturally based literature. Latino teens today are looking for role models everywhere they look, and culturally based literature does that and provides them with identity, vision and a profound sense of purpose that will eventually encourage them to stay in school and read the classics at the same time.