Opportunity: What Hispanic Heritage Month Means to Me
Hispanic Heritage Month dates back to 1989, but my earliest recollection of the celebration is from 2012. My mom would take us to the Latino Health Fair free clinics for a check-up every year. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I learned Hispanic Heritage Month was a celebration greater than a free doctor visit, and that there was more to learn about my Mexican heritage and the Mexican-American experience.
I like to think that I am Mexican through and through —“con el nopal en la frente” as we like to say in Spanish (“with the cactus on the forehead,” in English). I was raised by my mom, who crossed the Rio Grande when she was 18 with my aunt to find better lives in the U.S. Their entry wasn’t exactly proper, but since that time, she and my aunt have earned their citizenship and are proud of the lives they have made here. My mom is a woman of few words. Always, when I’ve asked her about what she remembers of her arrival to this country, she smiles and responds, “mojados.” (Translation: “wet.”)
Eight years after my mother arrived, along came my sister. Four more years and along came me. Growing up, it was a girls-only household, dominated by our trio and the occasional stay from my grandma. My mom’s strength and independence were enough to fill in the typical role of two parents. I learned traditional Mexican values early on: family first, weekly mass, respecting your elders, hard work, etc., and, most important of all, VapoRub fixes everything. I would not have it any other way.
As an adult, I paid more attention to Hispanic Heritage month and began to realize I don’t really know much about my heritage and the country my family left behind. Likely, that’s because my mom was too busy making sure my sister and I had all that we needed, or maybe it was perhaps she did not know either. Her life in Mexico was more difficult than mine. She had to stop her schooling in the 10th grade. Her focus, to my knowledge, was mainly on giving her daughters more opportunity than she had. With all the festivities and opportunities offered throughout Hispanic Heritage month, we’re both learning more about our history, and I’m happy to have the opportunity to share my family’s heritage and experience.
As is her habit, when my mom first heard about Hispanic Heritage month, she was excited about the opportunities provided my sister and me. She points out the opportunities available to help us have better lives, become leaders and show that Hispanic people have much to offer the world.
I’ve tried to sort through the various commentaries and distinctive opinions being published during Hispanic Heritage month that discuss my genealogical culture. I keep coming back to what I think we all learned in elementary school about the great American melting pot analogy. It’s a great metaphor but I don’t think it’s 100 percent accurate.
All Americans—Hispanics included —have a voice. Each voice is unique, shaped by our own experiences and tethered to our heritage through the fabric of family. And while it’s a powerful feeling to be a part of a strong community, we are not monolithic. There is beauty in the diversity within the Hispanic community and what it means to be Hispanic across the United States. We recognize this and uplift the various experiences we encounter and remind each other that we are not alone and that we have each other.
The Hispanic voice, often overlooked and unheard, can be silent until you put us together. We thrive in community. A majority of us are being raised in extended households of five or more members (either a combination of siblings or the addition of extended family members). We thrive in the comfort of being surrounded by others like us.
Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity for us to proudly reunite and be our best selves, to bring all of who we are and where we come from into the workforce and community. I’m proud to be my mother’s daughter. Her strength and determination have positioned my sister and me to do great things, and in turn, be able to contribute and participate back in our community and proudly celebrate each Hispanic Heritage Month.