May marks the 24th year that Haitian heritage month has been celebrated in the United States. Having started in Boston, Massachusetts USA, this month of celebration has been picked up by other U.S. cities, including Atlanta, Miami, and New York. According to the U.S. Department of Education, Haitian Creole is the sixth most common language spoken by K–12 multilingual learners (MLLs). Among those MLLs who identify as Black, Haitian Creole is the second most common language.
As part of affirming students’ home languages and cultures, learning about their cultures year round is important—but especially during certain times dedicated to elevating specific heritages.
Celebrating Haitian Culture and Communities
In learning communities with large populations of Haitian students, celebrations may include parades, performances, storytelling, and other forms of artistic expression. For example, at the Mattahunt, an elementary school in Boston, Haitian heritage is especially important because the school is home to the nation’s first Haitian/Creole early learning dual language program, the Toussaint L’Ouverture Academy. Students celebrate Haitian Heritage Month through various activities, including family and community events. Learning about language and culture is embedded into the curriculum that students engage with regularly. One of the teachers, Ms. Mathieu, coauthored a book about Joumou, a Haitian soup that students made and enjoyed earlier this school year.
In Palm Beach County, Florida, the district is scheduled to open its first Haitian Creole dual language program in the fall of 2022. With a growing Haitian/Creole population, programs like this are beneficial to students’ learning experience and identity development. In Broward County, Florida, a Haitain Heritage Month Resource Guide was created to help educators teach Haitian history and culture.
Heritage Months and Language Learning
Incorporating heritage months as part of English language teaching can help to demonstrate creativity and relevance. They provide a way to incorporate new language and cultivate cultural pride and appreciation. In February 2020, TESOL began hosting heritage month webinars, also referred to as recognition webinars. These webinars are a way to bring members together with a shared interest. Learning about heritage months also serves as a tangible action step toward fostering diversity, equity, inclusion, and access initiatives.
For all educators and students—but especially those who are of Haitian descent—understanding, appreciating, and affirming Haitian language and culture is important for personal and academic development. The aforementioned Haitian/Creole/English dual language programs are examples of what is possible when learning communities have a collective interest and action-based approach to multilingualism; that alone is worth celebrating.
How do you plan to observe Haitian Heritage Month with your students—or other heritage months? Please share in the comments, below.