by Joe Stanzione, Elementary Principal
As we enter the fall season, we also enter the holiday season and an optimal time to celebrate diversity and inclusivity with friends and family. While we recognize Halloween, American Thanksgiving, and Christmas as established events on our calendar, we all can build new understanding and awareness of others’ traditions and beliefs. As a learning institution and community, we each play a part in the development of its members, young and old. Keeping a diverse mindset is important. Here are some things to think about with each holiday event:
Halloween: This is often a scary celebration of creativity, candy and costumes - a unicorn, zombie or your favorite fictional character. However, it is not an excuse to mock someone else’s culture, racial, ethnic or gender identity. Whether intentional or not, wearing certain costumes has real consequences and impacts people who deal with discrimination every day. Let’s keep Halloween safe and inclusive by leaving culturally insensitive materials and any kind of stereotypes at the grave. Consider these questions: Does my costume misrepresent a culture that is not mine? Does my costume make fun of personal traits, cultures, or race? Does anything about my costume make fun of others? Does my costume reinforce stereotypes? Let’s all do our part to keep Halloween inclusive - talk this up with your friends and family.
Thanksgiving: Very much an adopted holiday here in Monterrey and ASFM, Thanksgiving has meaning for so many. For years, schools have embraced Thanksgiving, and each of us may have experienced information that likely formed our personal or general understanding of the historical aspects of the American colonial time period. As our world has evolved and new information has surfaced, the actual history of the holiday has uncovered a much different perspective. Truer versions of events and new facts are just beginning to be ingrained in our verbal and written history. While the media, at times, may generalize native aboriginal groups, First Nations people, and/or Native American tribes across North America, we can do better by refraining from activities that support cultural biases and that may unintentionally form prejudices. This includes children making and then wearing traditional Native American vests or headdresses or pilgrim clothing. It also includes avoiding insensitive gestures, voices or sounds that may happen in dances, songs or plays. Clustering the thousands of tribes of that era and of today is insensitive and factually inaccurate. Although well intended, we may be forming prejudicial lines, misunderstandings and misinterpretations that we may never be able to erase.
- Christmas: Being inclusive means that each of us accepts those for who they are and what they believe. That brings us to Santa. The history of this jolly figure is vast and dates back to the 3rd century when Saint Nicholas walked the earth as the patron saint of children and others - inclusive from the beginning. As we all know, facts matter, and how we portray Santa matters too. If we want to make sure that his legendary status continues, we need to be thoughtful about what children hear, and how to help them when doubt creeps in. Children begin to question Santa's existence at different grades and ages. To be understanding, we can be empathetic by helping children figure this out on their own. If you do encounter a time when this comes up, consider these steps: 1) Reflect on your own feelings when this question came your way as a child; 2) Find out what inspired the question. It may help to know the source; 3) Ask what the child believes. This is what really matters. Follow their lead and see what happens.
Being respectful of differences and beliefs is important across Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. By taking an interest in other people's traditions and remembering that we were each a child not so long ago, we bring a welcoming feeling of inclusivity, belonging, and understanding. Being sensitive to bias and aware of the facts can make a difference. Remember, diversity can make us stronger, inclusion is how we show it, and knowing more can be powerful.