Stranger: “So, where are you from?”
Me: “Well, I was born in NY, but my family moved to NJ around the time I was 11 or so.”
Stranger: “No, I mean what are you?”
Me: “Huh?” (As I think to myself…a person, a female, a mom.)
Stranger: “Like, what country are you from?”
Me: (Thinking to myself….what part of ‘I was born in NY and then moved to NJ’ didn’t you understand?!)
I can’t tell you how many times I have had this conversation. My husband jokes that it’s because I look “ethnically ambiguous”. To answer the question, I’m mixed. I have parents that come from two different countries, continents and cultures. My dad is from Europe and my mom is from South America, Venezuela to be precise. And while I was born in the United States, I was brought up with both cultures in our home. I grew up in a matriarchal family in which my mom, grandmother, godmothers, and aunts raised my brothers, cousins and I speaking Spanish at home (because the men were always at work). So, I primarily identify as Hispanic or Latina.
Hispanics/Latinos are a fast-growing, diverse population. Census data from 2010 shows that there are 53 million Hispanics living in the United States – that is 17% of the U.S. population. Who are these Hispanics? According to the Census, the term “Hispanic” includes “any person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South American, Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race”.
Did you know it’s Hispanic Heritage Month? Hispanic Heritage Month is observed in the U.S. every year for 30 days starting on September 15th (the anniversary of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua). These 30 days, are an opportunity to acknowledge the vital contributions that Hispanics, or Latinos, have made, and to celebrate our heritage. (Here is a link to the website on Hispanic Heritage Month – perhaps once the government is up and running again, you can access it to read more about this month of recognition.)
It’s easy to identify some Hispanics for their contributions in music, arts, athletics and science – Celia Cruz, Sofía Vergara, Jennifer Lopez, Roberto Clemente, Mario Molina and Ellen Ochoa to name a few. If you explore in your community, you might find lesser-known Hispanics who are making significant contributions to our daily lives – like the soldier serving in the army, or the farmworker harvesting the produce you put on your dinner table.
I recognize that everyone is different…so what can possibly unite the diverse group of people that identify as Hispanic? We have different nationalities, we are comprised of different races and ethnicities, and we practice different religions.
If I sit and think about it, I believe it’s culture that bonds Hispanics together in their heritage.
I work with a Mexican, an Argentinian, a Chilean, a Puerto Rican, and a Costa Rican. We may use different Spanish words for the same thing, we may have grown up listening to different genres of Latin music, and our diets may have been comprised of different platos típicos (typical plates from each of our family’s native lands), but more often than not, we are relating very similar experiences from our childhoods – including wives tales and folk myths. Sometimes we laugh at ourselves because we can’t believe we are turning into our mothers! As a group, despite the differences in our Spanish accents, we hold many of the same values:
- We value our familias and hold them near and dear to our hearts. I know that my family will always be there for me – no matter what.
- We are polite to others and treat our elders with respecto.
- We are ‘touchy-feely’. We greet our friends and relatives (and sometimes those we meet for the first time) with besos y abrazos.
- We find ourselves thinking more about the “here and now” instead of the far-off future. Enjoy the present with friends and family, because the future is, well, later.
- And, as I think is true with many other cultures, we always incorporate food into gatherings. The minute you walk through the door at my mom’s house, the first thing she will ask you is, “¿Tienes hambre?” Even if you say that you are not hungry, she is very likely to sit you down at her kitchen table and talk to you while she puts together a little something together for you to eat, because as she says, “barriga llena, corazon contento” (Full belly, content heart).
As we pass the mid-mark of Hispanic Heritage Month, consider taking in Hispanic/Latino culture locally through your senses.
- Smell and Taste: Try a restaurant you’ve never been to that serves Latin American food. I recently tried Salvadorean pupusas and a small family restaurant south of Seattle and I can’t wait to go back and have more. Even my kids gobbled them up!
- Hearing: Listen to Latin American music. Check out this really cool interactive musical exhibit from the Smithsonian called Música del Pueblo. Also, for Hispanic Heritage Month, the Smithsonian Folkways website is offering free music and videos from Latin America and Hispanic communities in the United States.
- Touch: Be adventurous, try some salsa dancing – even if it’s in the privacy of your own home while no one is watching you – or dance with your child(ren). I know my girls love themselves a dance party. (And you know there are sure to be some tutorial lesson videos on YouTube.)
- Sight: Find out if any organizations in your community are hosting any Hispanic Heritage Month events. These might include performances by traditional dance groups. Another option would be to read a book by a Hispanic author. Isabel Allende and Paulo Coelho are two of my favorite authors to read in Spanish, but their books are also translated into English. For kids, there are some rhyming books that have words in Spanish, but are mostly written in English, like “Fire! Fuego! Brave Bomberos.” and “Bebé Goes Shopping” both by Susan Middleton Elya. These books also have a “key” at the end defining the words that appear in Spanish.
Have you already done something to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month? Tell us about it! Are you Hispanic or Latino? If so, do you have any other suggestions for food, music or books?
This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Eva Fannon. Eva can be found on Twitter @evafannon.
Photo credit to the author.