Latino history is American history: Teaching the untold stories of Latino contributions in U.S. history

UnidosUS and the Johns Hopkins University Institute for Education Policy (the Institute) recently hosted a virtual discussion to share insights from our report intended to better understand the representation [or lack thereof] for Latinos in United States history textbooks. 

By Viviana López Green and Emelynn Arroyave 

UnidosUS and the Institute recently released the report “Analyzing Inclusion of Latino Contributions in U.S. History Curricula for High School,” which sheds light on the disappointing lack of Latino history and contributions in U.S. history textbooks and K-12 curriculum. We hosted a webinar on May 16, 2023 to unpack key findings and discuss how teachers, educators, and regional policymakers can support in making changes to existing curricula and reframe how Latino contributions to the United States are taught in K-12 schools. 

The virtual discussion was moderated by Dr. Ashley Berner, Director and Associate Professor at the Johns Hopkins University Institute for Education Policy, and the panelists included: José Gregory, AP U.S. History Teacher at the Marist School, Atlanta and 2021 Gilder Lehrman History Teacher of the Year, Georgia College Board consultant; Dr. Anika Prather, Director of High-Quality Curriculum and Instruction at the Johns Hopkins University Institute for Education Policy; and Dr. Jonathan Moore, Chief Strategy Officer at the Council of Chief State School Officers. 


This report is part of UnidosUS’s narrative change work. As part of these efforts, UnidosUS launched a Racial Equity Initiative in late 2020 with the goal of increasing the presence of Latino perspectives in the national discourse on racial justice. This work is based on new and foundational research that we have found and documented that most U.S. residents do not recognize the contributions or the barriers that Latinos face, so there is that gap in foundational knowledge that is important to recognize. We aim to ensure the rich contributions of Latinos are present across the board. Without visibility and representation in school curriculum, the contributions, challenges, and history of Latino communities may be overlooked or poorly understood. 

In recent years, studies have shown that students learn best when they see themselves reflected in curricular materials and classroom instruction. Furthermore, studies show that understanding the experiences and contributions of diverse groups of people benefits every student, not just those from diverse groups.¹

There are now nearly 14 million Latino students in the country, representing more than a quarter of the 50.8 million K-12 public school students.² Yet our study found that seminal Hispanic topics and contributions are largely left out of U.S. history textbooks and curriculum, and when they are mentioned, they are rarely covered in depth, and they lack authenticity.  

87% of key topics in Latino history were either not covered in the evaluated books or mentioned in five or fewer sentences.  

These findings suggest that students can go through 12+ years of schooling in the American education system without learning about the abundant history of the largest ethnic minority in the United States. 

Panelist José Gregory, AP U.S. History Teacher, expressed his desire for Latino students in the United States to achieve better representation in their curriculum:  

“I would want for the younger generations of our country… to grow up and have a very different experience than I did when I was growing up in New Jersey and not seeing myself reflected. Latino history…is American history.” 

Dr. Anika Prather, Director of High-Quality Curriculum and Instruction at the Johns Hopkins University Institute for Education Policy, talked about the benefits of including Latino contributions in U.S. history curriculum and textbooks:  

“We’re all scrambling for our stories to be told, when in fact it’s not a competition. You can tell that story [of Latino history] and that doesn’t divide us, it actually unites us. This actually allows us to live out the motto [of the United States]: E pluribus unum. Out of many, we are one. We want to prepare our children to live like that and to live out that vision,” Prather said. 

You can watch the full discussion here:  

This report by UnidosUS and the Institute is the first comprehensive analysis evaluating how Latinos are portrayed in widely used U.S. history textbooks. The study comes at a fraught time in U.S. education and in the country’s political space more broadly. This contentious context makes raising the question of Latino inclusion risky—but even more urgent.  

It’s critical to understand what and how America’s students are being taught. We hope the findings of this report will spark additional efforts to examine the extent, quality, and variety of classroom content that reflects the contributions and experiences of the Latino community and will inspire a more comprehensive understanding of the unique role that Latinos play in the history, present, and future of our country.