Hispanics-Latinos are the largest minority in New Hampshire, with nearly 60,000 residents, just over 4 percent of the population.
Like any community, education is key to their success, be it foreign-born requiring assistance in learning the English language or U-S born navigating through the dynamics of a bicultural (and at times) bilingual household.
SAU 16 became the first public school district in New Hampshire to hire a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice, or DEIJ, Director when Andres Mejia was hired by the Exeter Region Cooperative School District last August.
Mejia was this month’s guest on the Latino News Network podcast, “3 Questions With…”. “I work on how to navigate our spaces with an equity lens,” Mejia said about his responsibilities in leading and collaborating with educators about how a student’s identity is integrated into all aspects of their school experience.
Mejia self identifies as a bisexual, Black Latinx, Dominican and Puerto Rican Cis-man. “I’ve worked with students who, for the first time ever, are speaking to an educator of color,” Mejia said about the lack of diversity and representation across schools in New Hampshire. “They have never ever had someone that had their skin color or had their experiences of being the only one or dealing with racism.”
Mejia also shared insights about personally participating as part of a broad coalition of educators, advocacy groups, and law firms that filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s ‘banned concepts’ law. The law prohibits teaching so-called “divisive concepts” related to race and gender by public schools, state agencies, and contractors.
“It’s hurtful to see this law get passed,” he said. “Students from historically marginalized backgrounds are especially robbed of the right to see themselves and their lived experiences reflected in their education.” Mejia and advocates criticize the law for creating fear among teachers who don’t teach anything related to race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other identities for fear of losing their license.
One of the books Mejia said an educator questioned presenting in class was about a Mexican grandmother teaching her grandchildren how to make empanadas. “Just because the book was about a different race, a different heritage, a different nationality, that wasn’t white.” He doesn’t blame teachers, but an ambiguous law that doesn’t provide guidelines on what is permissible and what is not.
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