As Hispanic Heritage Month draws to a close, several schools whose names were inspired by Hispanic history are taking the time to reflect on and celebrate culture.
More than 20 CPS schools are named for prominent Hispanic figures: some of them artists, some world leaders, and some unsung heroes of Chicago. Lazaro Cardenas Elementary is named for a Mexican president who was progressive in his approach to education. Jose DeDiego Elementary honors the father of the Puerto Rican independence movement, while Orozco Elementary bears the name of a social realist painter who helped establish the Mexican mural renaissance.
Roberto Clemente High School was named for the legendary right-fielder who played 18 seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates. At the CPS school that bears his name, students celebrated Hispanic Heritage month with an assembly featuring local bomba artists as well as the Clemente chorus and steel drum band. Students also made videos about their Hispanic heritage and saw the culture infused into every area of the curriculum.
“Throughout the month, our teachers implemented assignments that revolved around identity, cultural awareness and historical memory,” said Luis Salgado of Clemente. “Our art students painted self-portraits with accompanying narratives on what their cultural heritage means to them, and our student musicians all learned Hispanic pieces.”
At Pilsen’s Ruiz Elementary, students also celebrated with song, as well as with Hispanic cuisine and Spanish read-alouds. This was in part to honor their namesake – a Chicago police officer who was killed in the line of duty while protecting children in a school. On December 22, 1988, Officer Irma C. Ruiz approached an armed assailant who was in the middle of a shooting rampage. Though her partner was able to stop the gunman, Officer Ruiz was mortally wounded during the altercation.
This history, along with the fact that nearly 100 percent of the student body at Ruiz is of Hispanic descent, makes the celebration of Hispanic heritage of utmost importance to this school community. In 2013, Principal Dana Butler chose to focus that celebration on connecting students with accomplished Hispanic adults, several of them alumni, so that the children might be inspired by their success.
“Our students were motivated by the words of celebrity guests like broadcast journalists Stacie Baca and Mai Martinez,” said Butler. “They were also visited by several Ruiz alumni, who talked to them about their successes, their challenges, and how important it is for them to have a true appreciation of Hispanic culture.”