Alumni Spotlight: Appreciating and Celebrating Mexican Culture and Heritage

Special thanks to Head Start alumna Denjuami Barker for this guest post and for sharing her memories of Head Start celebrating her and her family’s Mexican culture and heritage during Hispanic Heritage Month.

“I am a science teacher at the same school district where I grew up. Being a part of the Las Palmas Head Start community in Los Fresnos, Texas, my parents, siblings, and teachers instilled this commitment to community in me. It was beautiful to grow up with such a bond. My father strongly believed in being engaged in the Head Start community, and he passed that on to me and my siblings.

Some of my fondest memories as a Head Start niño was taking Folklorico classes and performing. It was so important to our family to appreciate our Mexican culture, and celebrate our heritage. Over 20 years ago, I performed with my sister, and felt like a superstar on stage. My mother and I still talk about that day and laugh.

I also remember the little things: the eggs and cheese we ate and appreciated because we grew up poor; the tomato juice that I didn’t like as much; and how my mom made my sister and I dress like twins, even though we’re not twins. I remember the wonderful cook who gave us pieces of fabric so my mom and grandma could make us our matching dresses and school outfits. She didn’t have to do that, but she noticed, and helped us simply out of the kindness of her heart. I have always looked up to her and to my teachers. They made me want to be one. I also learned to be very considerate of every child’s family background and to do my best to engage their parents.

Even after my family moved on from Las Palmas, my father insisted that we keep attending events and participating in activities with our community. I remember constantly asking my father about the next event; we were so eager to participate! My parents were always engaged and they both joined the Parent Policy Council. This positive experience motivated me to teach science after graduating from Texas A&M University in College Station, where I met my husband. Both teachers, we agreed to instill the same commitment I grew up with in our children. We believe it is important to encourage children to support the community at an early age. My children love to distribute lunches at the zoo during Head Start ‘father-child’ events and they are as eager as I was as a child to participate in these activities. Even though they do not attend Head Start, they are very much a part of the Head Start community and the Head Start family.

Head Start inspired my decision to be in the classroom. Through the Head Start ‘whole child-whole family’ model, I learned to be considerate of every child’s background and to do my best to engage parents. Now that I have been a classroom teacher for over a decade, I know what my Head Start teachers felt when they observed their students: pride.

My job constantly reaffirms my decision to choose this career path and to come back and serve my community.”

– Denjuami Barker

Malkia Payton-Jackson

Malkia Payton-Jackson is NHSA’s first-ever director of alumni engagement. Back in Cambridge, Head Start is where she made her first best friend — and now, she’s inviting Head Start alumni to connect with one another, share their unique stories, and help keep Head Start strong for generations to come.

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