Shirley Castillo, Connecting Cultural Traditions in an International Family

Shirley Castillo, Instructor at IDEA Donna College Prep, is a proud Uruguayan who is passionate about connecting and celebrating many cultural traditions with her children, who were born in different countries. Castillo often shares these unique family traditions with her scholars.   

Our teachers at IDEA come from various cultural backgrounds and are an integral part of promoting cultural literacy to our scholars. Through their curriculum and experiences, teachers expose scholars to the contributions that people from various cultural backgrounds have made to American society.   

To close out Hispanic Heritage Month, Castillo talks about her appreciation for different cultures, Hispanic people who have left significant footprints in American culture, and how honored she feels to be celebrated.

Shirley Castillo and students, teacher at IDEA Donna
Shirley Castillo (pictured 4th from right) and IDEA Donna scholars


How has your culture shaped the person you are today?  

“It has shaped me in many ways. I was born in Uruguay, a small country in South America. I grew up in Brazil, which is where my first daughter was born, and then I moved to Mexico where my second daughter was born. We then moved to the US where I had my two boys. I now carry cultures and traditions from four countries. I learned that every country has something unique to celebrate. From Uruguay, I learned my love for education and developed my passion for being a lifelong learner, from Brazil, I learned that there is always a reason to be happy and sing, and from Mexico, I learned the value of family and the importance of celebrating. In the United States, I learned that hard work and education can accomplish one’s dreams.” 

Does your family have any traditions that are especially important to you, if any? 

“Since we are an international family, we like to celebrate the Independence Day of each country, sing their National Anthem and eat their traditional food. We also like to listen to music from our countries and on our birthdays, we sing happy birthday in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. We have learned that each culture has its value, and we choose to practice the best of each one. We feel enriched having the opportunity to learn about other cultures.” 

Is there anything you wish more people understood about your background or the Hispanic community as a whole?  

“Yes. I wish people would be more open-minded and understand that being different is ok. I wish they would develop the curiosity to explore and discover why other cultures do what they do, then try to experience and celebrate it. They would likely feel more enriched, and this would promote cultural understanding.” 

Castillo (middle) at 2020 TAFE Teach Tomorrow Summit

What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?  

“As a Hispanic, it is very important to me that the Hispanic heritage is celebrated in America. I realize there are several ethnic groups, so having the honor to be celebrated for a whole month is really a privilege. Hispanic people have contributed to American history and culture in many ways. We have contributed with figures like composer Lin Manuel Miranda, Mexican American activist Cesar Chavez, Cuban American Celia Cruz, Ellen Ochoa, the first Mexican American Latina astronaut, and Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina to serve in the Supreme Court.” 

What message or words of encouragement, if any, would you provide to our Hispanic students and staff who might be feeling anxious or fearful after current national events?  

“I think it is the same message I tell my students every day. As Hispanics, we have a great culture. We have beautiful musical languages that can communicate the deepest emotions. We have a large range of music, from mariachi, tango, flamenco, and salsa, to rap and pop music. I tell them that being different is not just ok but is something to celebrate. They should be proud of their tacos, their tamales, their family reunions, their Quinceañera’s, and they should also try to contribute something special to this wonderful country!” 

Castillo (middle) out celebrating with family

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