Respect is Peace: Learning and Sharing Indigenous Immigrant Culture

What if every child learns to be proud of their family's indigenous roots?

Photo of Arcenio Lopez
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

Ventura County is home to more than 20,000 indigenous immigrants from Mexico, mostly from the southern states of Oaxaca and Guerrero. Indigenous children are attending Ventura County public schools and often are facing bullying issues because of their indigenous language and culture. As a consequence, indigenous students are failing. The most critical issues are the lack of culture sensitivity and awareness that the school systems have, and the lack of indigenous pride our students have. In 2009 an indigenous parent came to MICOP to complain about her child being bullied at school. Children were throwing sand in her hair and calling her derogatory names, such as Oaxaquita (little Oaxacan), and Indita, (little Indian). We investigated and spoke to other indigenous parents and their children and found that this was a common occurrence. Many children were embarrassed to speak out and ask for help. A year later, MICOP took this opportunity to start a youth group of six indigenous middle and high school students in Ventura County. Their motivation for getting together was their isolation, pressure from feeling like should be assimilating, and the discrimination they were suffering at their schools, making them feel diminished, insecure, and suffering from low self-esteem. In 2012 through their advocacy, the Board of Trustees at the Oxnard School District unanimously approved "The Resolution for Respect of Indigenous Peoples".

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Native American or Alaska Native (for example: Navajo Nation, Blackfeet Tribe, Mayan, Aztec, Native Village of Barrow Inupial Traditional Government, Nome Eskimo Community)
  • Self-identify race, ethnicity, or origin

If you chose to self-identify your race, ethnicity, or origin, please share here: (the answer will not be public)

Indigenous Mexican Inmigrants (Mixtecs, Zapotecs)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • California

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • California

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Oxnard, Port Hueneme, Ventura, Santa Maria, Santa Barbara.

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The presence of indigenous immigrants is nationwide in the United States. We receive calls from schools all over the country, asking MICOP for support and resources to help their students succeed by addressing their isolation issues, language barrier, and lack of cultural sensitivity that exists in the learning environment. At the local level MICOP is addressing parents and children's lack of indigenous identity and pride, loss of the indigenous language, and the school system's lack of culture awareness. To ensure indigenous students academic success it is important that all parties involved in child development learn and know the challenges our students are facing, such as language barriers, lack of identity pride, and diversity within the indigenous population in Ventura County.

Parents, and providers must learn to find efficient and productive strategies and approaches so they can work as a team to improve and create a safe environment for indigenous children. Indigenous children have the right to feel proud of who they are and it only will be possible if the learning opportunity is been provided to them. The solution is to build strong partnerships for all stakeholders. MICOP has developed a curriculum called, "Respect is Peace" with the expertise of indigenous educators, parents and leaders. This curriculum was adopted by the Oxnard School District to teach students about the history, culture, and language of the indigenous Mexican people. This model can be replicated nationwide to address the well being of indigenous children. Furthermore, this model can also be adapted to other cultures that are facing similar challenges, to bring inclusiveness into the schools for all children. 

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Childcare
  • Child and Family Services
  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Education

If you chose "other," please share the sector you work within here:


Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Start-Up (a pilot that has just started operating)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

One hundred children attended the first lesson plan that we implemented in one of the local schools. When we first asked children if they spoke a language other than English, only a few raised their hands, and most of these children said they spoke Spanish. Then we asked, "How many of you are indigenous or speak an indigenous language?". No one raised their hands. Then we started our activities that included teaching Mixteco words, sharing our history and culture, and creating indigenous art with clay. The indigenous children had their eyes wide open when they heard their language spoken at school. At the end when we asked the same question, many children excitedly raised their hands with a big smile on their face to identify as indigenous.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

We have taught classes about the indigenous culture to more than 500 indigenous parents and their children. Moreover, we have shared our Respect is Peace curriculum with the Linguistic Department of the University of California, Santa Barbara, The National Migrant Seasonal Head Start program and Oxnard School District to help them to develop children's teaching materials in the Mixteco language. As a result, several teachers in the school district and child care centers have reported that they have heard the students speaking in their indigenous languages in the school with pride, and without fear of bullying. Both indigenous and non-indigenous students are valuing the stories, culture, and language that they are learning about. It is becoming "cool" to be indigenous!

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $1k - $10k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Oxnard School District has seen the benefit and they want to have the "Respect is Peace" program as part of their permanent school curriculum. They are interested in creating a contract to continue having this program. MICOP is working with the district budget to create a "train the trainer" curriculum to continue this education within the various schools. We plan on expanding our program through The National Migrant Seasonal Head Start Program.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

We believe no one else is addressing this problem which is why we created this program. The National Migrant Seasonal Head Start Program (MSHS) came to us from Washington DC, to learn about our program. The academic need and well being of indigenous immigrant children has not been met in the school or child care centers. MSHS contracted MICOP's indigenous leaders to speak to a national audience of educators in Washington DC to share our program. Other school district are now interested in implementing our program.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Children flourish when they have a feeling of belonging and security. We are excited to see an expanded sense of acceptance in public institutions that help us to promote various cultures and identities. Maintaining native languages is crucial to ensuring confidence about your identity. The process of recognizing the issue of internalized discrimination is a way to begin the healing. Finding pride by learning about your indigenous history and embracing your culture is a way of empowering children and creating a sense of wellbeing and security.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

First 5 Ventura County

Program Design Clarity

a) The indigenous Mexican immigrant community b) We teach the history of the indigenous people. They learn about the origin of their language and how to count, speak and write words in the Mixteco language. We teach indigenous art activities, working with clay, as their ancestors did. c) We teach the curriculum at the elementary and middle schools in Oxnard School District and at First 5 child care centers. There is a series of 6 classes that are taught 4 times a year. d) MICOP's indigenous leaders are teaching the curriculum. Teachers are being taught how to teach the program.

Community Leadership

In order to ensure equity we formed a collaborative partnership with our local school district representatives, First 5 program directors, local university professors, indigenous parents and leaders to develop our program. Then, we pilot tested the program at our monthly community meetings to receive feedback from parents and children. Finally, we adapt our curriculum based on the feedback we receive.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 0-1.5
  • 1.5 -3
  • 3 - 5
  • 6 - 12
  • 12+

Spread Strategies

We are creating partnerships with The National Migrant Seasonal Head Start Program and school districts to train their providers to bring our program to their schools and centers across the country. We continue to advocate for policy change to improve the quality and well being of children, to recognize the need and the diversity of this country and to appreciate the uniqueness of each individual.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

Our children need to feel pride of their indigenous identity. To cultivate their sense of self and belonging we are teaching them their misrepresented history and culture. By keeping the language and culture alive we are giving our children a sense of worth and admiration for who they are as indigenous people. We are giving them the opportunity to heal themselves through pride, recognition and forgiveness.

Leadership Story

A group of five indigenous leaders, came together under the leadership of MICOP program director, Vanessa Teran, and Executive Director, Arcenio López, to research and develop a curriculum of 6 lesson plans that include history, poetry, indigenous language, and art. The process of creating the final product involved anger, self discovery, reflection, and ultimately healing. Some of the leaders were brought to tears to see their language, history and culture in a self published book that would be shared with students and parents to help them in a collective healing.

What awards or honors has the project received? (Optional)

Recognition by Migrant Seasonal Head Start Program.

Organization's Twitter Handle


Organization’s Facebook Page (URL)

Leader's LinkedIn Profile (URL)


Join the conversation:

Photo of Jessie Mandle

Very inspiring to see how this program came together, how it has grown and expanded, and that so many partners are working together. I'm interested to learn how you work with families and parents, and learn more about how you integrate your model into schools! Thanks for the work you are doing!

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