Marisol Moreno on Multicultural Education

What does Multicultural Education Mean to You?


As a Mexican child in school I had all kinds of labels, "at-risk", "low SES (socio-economic status)", "undocumented" and "LEP" (limited English Proficiency). I am the eldest of three; we grew up in El Paso, TX, moving constantly from one apartment to the other. My mom, a single parent, did her best to provide for us. Although society might have constructed us as "poor" economically, our family was very rich in cultural and linguistic wealth. Though our linguistic and cultural wealth was never seen as a valuable asset in school systems, it was this wealth that united my small family and fueled me through school and college. Therefore I can honestly say that for me what made a difference in my life was my family's cultural capital rather than the content I was forced to learn in school. I did not learn how to overcome adversity through textbooks or handouts, I learned this at home. I believe a lot of my teaching philosophies come from my life experiences.

My first lessons about teaching came to me at a very early age in that closet while I played esculita. My brother Marco, who has Down Syndrome, was my first student. I remember sitting there with him pondering about how much he could learn and be taught. It was almost as if I was engaging in an experiment. Every time I showed him something he amazed me at how quickly he learned and how much he could do. With much work I taught him how to spell his name and match pictures. I felt so much pride when family and friends would say, "wow you taught him so much"! However, the reality was that my brother had taught me much more than I had ever taught him. I had approached teaching with deficit thinking and pride as if somehow I was the master of all knowledge and he was just an empty vessel into whom I would pour out all my knowledge. I was terribly mistaken! He was not an empty container (nor is any student), he came with experiences, knowleges, and perspectives that I did not have or could even offer. Thinking about these experiences I am always humbled and understand that I have just as much to learn from my students as they do from me. Further, that it is a privilege to be a part of their lives and to never think for a second that I know it all or that I am done learning.

I learned how to overcome adversity from my family experiences. Their cultural and linguistic wealth is a legacy that I will carry with me and leave as a heritage to the coming generations. From my brother I learned that people, no matter how they are constructed by society, are not empty vessels, and therefore teaching should never be seen as just a transferring of knowledge and skills. With this awareness I come into the classroom knowing that it is a shared space between my students and me. A place where we construct meaning together and value everyone's vast cultural and linguistic riches no matter what labels have been placed on them.