This Boys & Girls Club knows how to embed cultural learning throughout the day through education, fine arts, sports, music and cooking – but they feel it all comes together through community celebration, when young people can feel pride in their heritage and identity.
Walk into the Boys & Girls Club of Wilmington during a cultural holiday and you’ll know the celebration is just beginning, and you – and the whole community – are invited.
The Wilmington Club is one of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor’s 20 Clubhouses throughout Metro LA’s harbor region. Thanks to diverse staff and a dedicated Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program, Club kids learn about a variety of cultural celebrations – from bringing in storytellers for Black History Month to a dragon dancing its way through the halls during Chinese New Year.
But with over 70% of their Club members identifying as Hispanic or Latino, cultural celebrations around Cinco de Mayo, Hispanic & Latino Heritage Month and Día de los Muertos have special importance.
Sandra Tovar runs the organization’s diversity programming, weaving cultural education into the creativity of the fine arts and the communal fun of sports. And the Club has found particular success in the art of celebration.
“Our main concern is to ensure our kids feel proud of who they are,” says Sandra. “And it doesn’t matter what background you are, you’re going to come together to celebrate. For our celebrations, we bring the community in. We bring in vendors and folkloric groups, prepare food, and kids play music. It’s fun and we embrace everyone.”
To prepare for these cultural celebrations, kids learn about the history and unique traditions of Hispanic and Latino holidays.
This is reflected through programs and lessons, sports programming (the Clubs celebrate Hispanic & Latino Heritage Month through their soccer tournament Copa Mi Herencia – or “My Heritage Cup”), but cultural learning truly comes alive through arts and crafts. The Clubs’ fine arts programming is a gateway to cultural exploration, while also bridging academic subjects like math, history and science.
To better understand Hispanic and Latino heritage, kids explore both famous and lesser-known artists from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central or South American countries, learning about their lives and influences, and how their work was recognized. The kids test their hand at painting in the artists’ styles, recreating some of their most known works. Often, art projects evolve into decorations for the Club’s cultural celebrations, displayed on walls throughout the buildings.
Outside of traditional programs, cultural learning is embedded throughout the day, with the youth band learning how to play different styles of Latin American music for Cinco de Mayo or Día de los Muertos. In cooking classes, kids not only pick up food preparation skills, but get a taste of heritage by learning how to prepare traditional family dishes like enchiladas.
The Clubs’ most popular celebration may be Día de los Muertos, which started in a parking lot and now shuts down streets to become a community block party.
In preparation, Club members create colorfully-painted papier-mache skulls – calaveras – to decorate the block. Sandra creates sugar skulls and bakes a special Mexican bread known as pan de muerto. And while Día de los Muertos has lots of vibrant things to look at and eat, there is a lot to learn about its history.
“Dia de los Muertos is more than make a calavera and then go to a party,” says Sandra. “It’s tradition. It’s about respecting the ones who have passed away – honoring family and bringing family together. As a Mexican, it’s my opportunity to share my tradition and stories of my background with the kids here, to help them feel proud about who they are and their identity.”
Often, the kids take their learnings home, asking parents and grandparents, “Did you know…?” For Sandra, it’s a joy when they come in and say, “I talked to my grandpa in Mexico and he said it’s true!” about things they’ve learned at the Club.
During these celebrations, kids of all backgrounds see their decorations hung up and taste traditional treats, the holiday slowly coming together for them as layers of community and tradition. “I’ve had the pleasure to seem them grow,” says Sandra. “The first time they eat Mexican bread, they change. When they leave here, they’re different – more open-minded and fascinated with culture, proud of who they are.”
All kids deserve the right to be themselves, feel a sense of belonging and have access to opportunities that support great futures. Learn more about Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which empowers young people to express themselves and deepen their understanding of and respect for others. Sign up for our newsletter to receive the latest resources and stories from Boys & Girls Clubs nationwide.