Multicultural Connections: Jessie de la Cruz and the Female Perspective in the Farmworker's Movement

by multilingualmania on November 30, 2009

in Uncategorized

This evening on twitter I saw a link from someone that lead me to a website about a female organizer, Jessie de la Cruz, who had participated in the United Farmworkers Union movement. I was really captivated by her story, and since I’ve learned about her I have been thinking back to the days when I was a third, fourth, and fifth grade teacher and would teach about the farmworker’s movement or migrant workers.

When students in the elementary grades first learn about the farmworker’s movement, who do you suppose they first start learning about? Why, Cesar Chavez, of course. And every year they continue to learn about Cesar Chavez. Right? Okay, maybe they also sometimes learn a little about Dolores Huerta, but I have mostly seen an overemphasis on Cesar Chavez in elementary and middle school classrooms. When I was a classroom teacher, I can recall that it was very difficult at the time to find biographies for children about Dolores Huerta, so my options were limited. The closest way that I integrated a female perspective into the study of the farmworker’s movement was when I read the story Esperanza Rising/Esperanza Renace, a fictional story about migrant workers from a female child’s perspective.

Teaching multicultural education is such an important aspect to Dual Immersion and other bilingual programs, as well as foreign language programs. Yet we often “stick to the script” and narrow our teaching of these subjects which results in students being exposed to the same people and events over and over again. A similar pattern happens when we study the civil right’s movement where there is often an overemphasis on Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. It’s time that we add a little variation in our study of multicultural events and people if we want our students and children to become well-rounded individuals who have a deep respect for cross-cultural awareness and appreciation.

One of the tenets of gifted education is to teach “multiple perspectives” when studying a certain topic. When studying the farmworker’s movement, it’s important that we look at the historical events from the perspective of male organizers, female organizers, the politicians, the farm owners, and other key players in the historical event. From studying one historical event from a variety of perspectives, students will develop high levels of critical thinking and will posses the mental flexibility to look at the same topic from a variety of different perspectives. We must treat all of our bilingual and second language programs as if they are gifted enrichment programs!

Tonight on youtube I found a short video about Jessie de la Cruz, a female organizer who participated in the farmworker’s struggle with Cesar Chavez. Here is her story:

The notable Mexican American children’s author Gary Soto also wrote a book about Jessie de la Cruz’s inspirational life story.  You can purchase “Jessie de la Cruz: A Profile of a United Farmworker”  in the Multilingual Mania store by clicking here. Even if your students are too young for this biography, it would still benefit us as teachers and parents to learn about Jessie de la Cruz and the female perspective in the movement. How will we be able to build high levels of multicultural awareness if we as adults don’t have the requisite background knowledge?

About the Author: Melanie McGrath is a bilingual education fanatic. She passionately thinks, lives and dreams about multilingual education every waking and sleeping moment of her life. Seriously. Melanie is an administrator of bilingual education programs, and considers herself to be an advocate for students, parents, teachers, and others in the struggle for quality bilingual education programs.  As founder of Multilingual Mania, she’s doing all that she can to help create a multilingual and non-racist society one day at a time.

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