As Hispanic Heritage month came to a close, those with Hispanic lineage gathered together for a picture outside of the CJ Welcome Center. Included in that picture was English teacher Dan Eiser. He shared the following reflection about what his Hispanic heritage, and the Chaminade Julienne community, means to him.
“But you aren’t like really Mexican.”
That was the turn of phrase I would hear over and over again in high school from kids often not realizing exactly what they were saying — as if there is some checklist of things you need to really be considered Mexican by everyone. I would always just smile and let the comments be. This was despite my insides exploding. I would often think it was just my fair skin which stood in stark contrast to my mother’s. Or the fact that I didn’t grow up bilingual and was having to sit in the same Spanish class as them.
Unfortunately it took time for me to find my voice and speak up for myself. Ultimately that confidence has guided me in my career at CJ. This isn’t as much a knock on those students or the school community I had (I loved my high school experience) but rather an observation on how a lack of exposure to different cultures manifested in my peers. For a lot of my friends through grade school and into high school I was only one of a few Latinos, or in some cases THE only, they had ever been in class with. And it is those interactions with other types of people that was needed to help my classmates grow in order to provide a better learning environment for all.
At CJ I have been blessed. From the first day I found out I would be teaching here, the student body’s diversity appealed to me. I wasn’t used to a student body like this. I had never spent a school day in a high school with girls (I went to an all boys high school) let alone one with students from so many different backgrounds. What I was really intrigued by though, were some of the names on my student rosters, names of Latinx students.
I remember that feeling well. I called my mom and said, “Ma, listen to some of these names. I can’t wait.” And as the students got to know me and my story, I learned for a lot of them, that representation on the teaching staff excited them too. Because for groups that aren’t used to seeing someone like them in certain roles, representation really does make a difference. And one of the things I have loved seeing is the growth of our Latinx community here at CJ. My first year I would typically have 2-3 students in a class with Latinx heritage. Some classes none.
Now CJ, through a conscious effort, has a much larger Latinx community. And this is important because as Dayton’s Latinx community continues to grow, we want the school to grow with it. And also as a result, I have noticed that the students from Latinx backgrounds are more willing to share their gifts and culture with other students. For this year’s freshmen, it is just normal to also have other Latinx students in class around them. They feel comfortable to display that pride that it took me until the end of my college years to really put out for everyone to see. In my freshman classes, it’s normal to have multiple students holding a conversation in Spanish with one student then English with another. This offers something unique to our students.
CJ shaped my mission as a teacher. I look back on my own experience and around our school building and think about how I can be that similar role model for Latinx students here at school. What is my role in providing a more comfortable environment for them to learn? How can I make sure I don’t fail in my mission?
I didn’t have a Latinx teacher growing up or in high school. I didn’t have an adult with a similar background in the building who I could go to get advice from or look to for an example. I don’t want that to be the case for my students. Whether they take advantage of that or not, I want them to have the option because I didn’t. I want them to know I have pride in who I am. I display pictures of my family, I will talk about my family and I want my students to also have no fear of telling us about their family. I want them to feel comfortable to be themselves without fear of other students, the way that I wish I was in high school.
If we can do that then all the other students will gain knowledge and a respect for all cultures. So that they aren’t in a classroom telling a kid that they aren’t really Mexican, or Salvadoran, or Honduran, or Puerto Rican, or Cuban, or Guatalamen, or any of the other distinct Latino cultures our students come from and the gifts they bring to our community.
Posted October 15, 2019