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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.

History Repeats Itself: Literature in Dire Need of a New Chapter

By Manuel Hernandez-Carmona copyright
(Professor of English at the University of Phoenix PR Campus and English Program Facilitator for the Fajardo School District)

History repeats itself; the study of literature is in dire need of a new chapter. The torn pages of the traditional book are not totally prepared to meet the demands of the growing minority population. A new chapter is essential to build bridges and pave the way to strengthen the traditional book and its universal themes. Culturally relevant literature depicts characters, stories and situations that students can relate to and makes the link between the simple narrative and free verse expression to the more developed and advanced literary discourse. As minority populations in the United States and around the world continue to escalate, there is still very little, if any, recognition of the academic outcome that culturally relevant literature can provide to improve literacy in the English classroom. The use of minority literature to enhance and build bridges has been validated and scientifically supported as a tool/resource capable of allowing students to build and develop academic skills in the English classroom.

As an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in New York City in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, I had recently arrived high school students from El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Colombia and Puerto Rico, many of them with one, maybe two years of residence in the United States. When I received the course syllabus for the so-called ESL tenth grade class, I saw Hemingway, Poe and Shakespeare among the group of writers to be read during the semester; I was enthusiastic and elated about beginning the semester by introducing such great authors and literary works. But after an intensive first week of Romeo and Juliet, I understood that I had a major dilemma. Students strived to connect to the star-crossed lovers but their social, cultural, personal and academic backgrounds were far away from the lives of the Montagues and Capulets of fair Verona.

History repeats itself. In the first two decades of the 21st century, Central Florida has become a safe haven for thousands of students from many countries around the world. When I received the course syllabus for my English Language Learners (ELL’s), I saw Hemingway, Poe and Shakespeare once again among the group of writers to be read during the semester; and yes, I was excited and thrilled about beginning the semester by introducing such great authors and literary works. But after an intensive first week of mainstream literature, I understood that once again I had a major predicament. Students struggled to connect to the American and British classics, because their social, cultural, personal and academic backgrounds were distant from the literature selected and chosen for them.

When students construct meaning from a personal standpoint, their engagement with reading develops smoothly, and academic success is just a step away. Books are divided into chapters, and the study of literature today needs a new chapter written in its glorious pages. Literature must make a transition from its hard-core traditionalist approach to a much more integrated reading experience. Even city, state and national standardized exams should include a more varied list of minority authors. While the immigrant population in Central Florida continues to grow in unprecedented numbers, a new chapter in the story of literature is past due and essential to the history of education in the United States. Although the new distractions (Internet and technology) play a major role in the declining of interest in reading today, the literature selected by administrators and scholars alike, derails any little interest that a student may gain from the torn pages of the traditional book. Why not supplement the traditional curriculum with a new breed of literature? History repeats itself, but we are still on time to change the course of history and make things right for our children and generations to come.