Pinatas and a Peruvian Chef: Hispanic Heritage Month at Lovett

Gisella Brok

She feels like she is living in two worlds, and it is “enriching and wonderful.”

On a recent Thursday lunch in the Plaza, students and teachers were giving their best efforts at breaking two star-shaped piñatas as part of monthslong Hispanic Heritage festivities 

At 2 pm, students gathered around the plaza to watch an exciting competition with the seniors against the faculty. These two groups lined up behind their own piñatas and, one by one, they each took turns thwacking the piñata as hard as they could. In the end, the faculty won with a final blow to the top of their yellow piñata.

To most, piñatas are usually just something people see at birthday parties, perhaps in the shape of Buzz Lightyear or Wonder Woman, but it was originally a religious activity.

Both piñatas that were used at Lovett were traditional piñatas with seven hitting points in the form of spikes. Traditionally, these seven points represented the seven sins, and people would have to “beat away” those sins.

This piñata challenge came at the end of Lovett’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage month, with activities and events taking place both in and out of class. There were large group assemblies, documentary viewings, and lots of tasty food in the cafe.

One of the in-class experiences took place in Honors Spanish 3. Margarita Piña, who is the director of Hispanic student outreach and support and who was the head organizer of the month’s events and Angela Mitchell, an upper school Spanish teacher who teaches the Honors Spanish 3 class, explained a project they were doing with the students to investigate identity, the contributions of Hispanic people in American culture, and famous Hispanic people, all while using the grammar they are learning in class.

Outside of class, the cafe used food as a way to teach the students about different cultures. Over the course of the month, they featured foods from different countries for the students to try.

Once they had a Peruvian chef come and cook for the school! Inviting the chef was “a brilliant idea,” according to Mrs. Mitchell. Mrs. Piña told me about one student who went up to him and asked him for the recipe and where to buy the specific ingredients, and he responded with Buford Highway Farmers Market. This place is a “center of culture” that some people in the Lovett community have never heard of. 

Also, this chef gives back to the community very often. During Covid, especially, he spent his own money to help feed people, opened pop-up restaurants, and donated portions of the profit back to the community. In order to get in contact with him, Mrs. Piña worked with the school’s “very creative staff” to organize a plan.

Using food as a way to help others learn more about the various different cultures is important for many reasons. To Mrs. Mitchell, “food is part of their identity,” and for students and faculty it “makes happy memories.” Also, “food is something we all like,” offering a common ground that everyone can enjoy.

It’s all about having cultural experiences, Mrs. Piña said, rather than just having someone read you facts or having to memorize something. So she collaborated with the cafe to use the senses (like taste, smell, and touch) to teach about both cuisine and the differences and similarities between cultures. For example, what we call dragon fruit is called pitaya somewhere else. Also, the taste aspect obviously worked, especially with the peruvian chocolate, which “everybody loved.”

Indeed, the goal of events like these, according to Mrs. Piña is to broaden people’s understanding and knowledge of other cultures, so that students will go out into the world as “world people.” Along with learning and understanding, she talked about how “if you don’t learn about something first, then you can’t have an understanding of it.” Using food to teach others about different cultures is good because it is “learning in a fun way,” and it lets people become more excited to look into it more on their own. 

To Sarah Turner, a freshman at Lovett, it was interesting to see how Lovett incorporated her culture and cuisine. “It’s cool to see my family culture in the Lovett community,” she said.

While this has all been wonderful (“Good job, Lovett,” as Sarah added), there were some ideas for future Hispanic Heritage months. Ms. Mitchell would like there to be more music and dance. Sarah spoke about incorporating art and traditions within the different cultures. Along those lines, Ms. Mitchell mentioned the possibility of finding a singer or a dancer to teach students about it. 

Of course, while there are many benefits to cultural appreciation events, there are challenges to trying to heighten the visibility of cultures that may not be as familiar to some of the members of our community. 

While some students have great exposure to a variety of cultures and countries, some don’t. This can lead to preconceptions or stereotypes, which is what we want to eliminate and instead create open-mindedness. All of the countries have a culture that is specific to them. She mentioned how while there are similarities, there are differences in each country. For example, “the empanada in Spain is different from the one in Argentina.” 

One of the main challenges is putting together all these events (which takes a lot of coordination). In order to meet their goals, she had to work with the faculty and staff, but even with all these amazing helpers, she was still only one person.

Learning about different cultures helps us see the impact that they have made on American culture (and sometimes, we don’t even realize it!). 

“Nobody realizes how much Hispanic people have contributed to the U.S,” Mrs. Piña explained. She talked about how there are an incredible amount of talented people who don’t get enough credit (seriously, pick any field and you will be able to find one). Sometimes, it makes her sad to think about the profiling and how little people don’t know about all of these amazing people, but at the same time, it makes her proud of how many people have done such amazing things. 

Each of the people I interviewed comes from a different background, so I asked them: What does Hispanic heritage mean to you? 

Sarah immediately thought of her family and the events of her culture. “Traditions are based around heritage,” she said, listing a couple of those traditions such as a quinceañera and her family’s New Years' celebrations.

Mrs. Piña was born and raised in New York, but her dad is from Spain and her mom is from Puerto Rico. Both her parents immigrated, and she feels very strongly about being a Hispanic-American. To her, the most important thing is her cultural values. They are very strong in family and faith, and she said, “those ties help us to be better people.” She explained that getting up when things aren’t good and being resilient is a big part of her culture. On a more primal level, she said that along with her “very good, strong culture,” they do “love [their] food,” especially since “food brings families together.”

To Mrs. Mitchell, her heritage reminds her of how she “lives in two cultures.” She always keeps her Colombian heritage “in [her] heart.” This month especially reminds her of her roots and it is “good to be reminded.” Since she speaks Spanish at home and English at school, she feels like she is living in two worlds, and it is “enriching and wonderful.”

The Lovett School is an independent, coeducational day school where children from Kindergarten through Grade 12 find the courage to explore and the drive to discover.

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