Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States, a celebration of the contributions and influence of Hispanic Americans to the history, culture and achievements across the country.
Jose Maria Gonzalez, faith formation director for Sacred Heart School in Sedalia, said Hispanic people bring all sorts of customs, traditions and histories that enrich the collective culture of America and, along with other cultural backgrounds, make it an amazing, multicultural melting pot.
“We (Sacred Heart) celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month because we celebrate diversity as a fantastic opportunity to grow as a community of individuals,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “All cultures and backgrounds bring beautiful stories, traditions, and personal and collective testimonies that enrich our school community.
“Also, because there is a very strong presence of Hispanic families in our Catholic Church and we want to do as much as we can to integrate this group into our mission, hand in hand with all our other families,” he stated.
More than 30% of Sacred Heart’s student body has a Hispanic background and more than 70% of the active parishioners under 35 years of age in the Diocese of Jefferson City are Hispanic.
Mr. Gonzalez added that Sacred Heart does not limit this effort to the month when Hispanic Heritage is celebrated but extends it in a continuum throughout the year.
“To make this possible, we are working on building the first Sacred Heart Madrinas group,” he said. “The idea behind this is to have a group of Hispanic parents help us better serve the Hispanic community by bringing lots of ideas and their perspective as Hispanic parents.”
He added this will be a tremendous boost to help Sacred Heart minimize cultural differences, language barriers and any other obstacles that stand in the way of a closer relationship with the Hispanic population.
“During this month, we have been celebrating with our building decorations, by praying in Spanish and having bilingual Masses, and also talking about the Hispanic influence in the history of Catholic Church during religion classes,” Mr. Gonzalez stated.
Another initiative to get closer to the Hispanic community has been the hiring of bilingual and bi-literate staff members with a Hispanic background.
“Hispanic Heritage Month means different things for different students, but all see this as an opportunity to celebrate what we are as a group, as I explain above,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “Like every family, we have differences and things that help us stay together. In Sacred Heart, the things that help us stay together outnumber our differences by far and that makes it possible to keep a joyful environment of diversity and unity.”
He added that Sacred Heart’s faith plays a vital role in keeping the community together and for those who have Hispanic ancestry, this month is a fun opportunity to celebrate their family heritage.
“This year, we are offering a new class called Hispanic Heritage/Culture,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “The idea behind this new class was to offer a learning opportunity for students to be able to read and write in Spanish at an academic level, along with studying the culture of the different Hispanic countries and the identity of students who live with their feet planted in more than one culture.”
The class is entirely in Spanish and students have been able to explore classic literature, learn about the Hispanic culture inside and outside the USA, study the ramifications of the different accents/dialects of Spanish in the world, and discuss typical language barriers and misconceptions associated with the Spanish language, in particular.
“This whole initiative was a request from some Hispanic parents who wanted to see their children live their Hispanic heritage and be able to communicate in Spanish at an academic level,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “Obviously, the class is not restricted to any one group, but it is open to whoever wants to achieve these goals.”
He said he loves to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month at Sacred Heart because the culture is an important part of the school and church’s culture. He added that he is Hispanic and loves his culture. In becoming more aware of his cultural norms, he is able to see the beauty in other cultures.
Mr. Gonzalez said the best way for others to help celebrate the month and the school’s efforts to incorporate everybody is by giving feedback.
“We try to make everybody feel welcome at Sacred Heart,” he said. “This is not an easy task when you have multiple cultural backgrounds because things that can be interpreted as un-personal and cold can, at the same time, be interpreted as adequate and efficient.
“With time and the help of all other families, we have been learning how to effectively communicate with all our families and to celebrate and respect the different ways people understand and deal with things,” he stated. “This has only been possible thanks to the comments and feedback of our families. They know we try hard to serve everybody, but they also know that we need to hear their experiences and perceptions so we can adapt what we do.”
Sacred Heart will end Hispanic Heritage Month with a collective prayer.
According to Mr. Gonzalez, those praying will ask God that He might help them celebrate and recognize diversity, “knowing that they are all His children, created in His image, individual reflections of His divine creativity, and called to love one another like what we are: brothers.”
Ms. Melcher is a reporter for the Sedalia Democrat newspaper (sedaliademocrat.com). A version of this article was published in the Democrat on Sept. 22 and is republished here with permission.