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Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with JCI’s Mirian & Maddy
Updated: Oct 12, 2021
Hispanic Heritage Month is about recognition; it is a time for us to celebrate a community and its cultural values and traditions. It is also a time for us to collectively acknowledge the foundational contributions that the Hispanic community has made to our country, and the struggles they have faced throughout history as a minority community.
We have made significant strides towards celebrating tolerance–love over hate–when it comes to recognizing the tapestry of cultures that makes our country great; however, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves about our flawed history and understand the many ways we have marginalized minority communities in the past.
Hispanic Heritage Month was introduced as a way to “recognize the contributions of the Latinx community” and kicks off on September 15th every year, which marks the Independence Days of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. This push for minority recognition has enabled Hispanic individuals to showcase their culture, traditions, food, and pride, among other things, in a public lens; it has also created a space for us to listen to and amplify voices from the community.
JCI team members, Madeline León and Mirian Fuentes reflect on what this month means to them and their own personal journeys with Hispanic and Latinx identity. Madeline is deeply passionate about environmental issues and Mirian is dedicated to working with community-based organizations. Madeline understands that marginalized communities are disproportionately impacted by climate change, so she wants to find solutions and work with environmental-focused groups. Mirian was introduced into the communications field because she came from a community where people like her parents don’t have a strong civic presence. Her work at JCI is important to her because she’s learning how to advocate for causes that impact people like her parents.
Understanding “Hispanic Identity” - Mirian’s Journey
What was meant to be a very joyous, celebratory month has become a time of reflection on “Hispanic” identity. Growing up in a small, predominantly white town in Wisconsin, I had a narrow view of what this meant. I understood that being Hispanic meant you were a first-generation, Spanish-speaking American with immigrant parents like mine. That you lived in the background and embraced your identity at home but it didn’t really matter anywhere else.
If you didn’t speak Spanish or didn’t care to pass it on or carry on family traditions, you weren’t “Hispanic” enough. What I didn’t consider at the time was how rich and diverse everyone under this nomenclature really was. While my view of what was enough worked for me, it was a harsh definition and an unfair one. I love that I can speak and write eloquently in Spanish. I love that I care to preserve some of my family’s traditions. But this is possible because of my parent’s immigrant journey. Some families are generations ahead of mine. They’ve assimilated for better or for worse, making my identity neither more or less valid than theirs.
Whether you prefer the term Hispanic, Latinx, or Latine, the message is the same. There is no level to this. We can embrace as much or as little of our heritage as we wish.
Understanding “Hispanic Identity” - Maddy’s Journey
Until recently, I felt like I had to prove my Latinity. In my East LA elementary school just about every student was Latinx, but in middle school and high school I felt as though I had to prove my Mexican-Cuban descent as a White Latina part of two different, yet similar Latinx cultures.
Unless I told them or someone knew me personally already, nobody would have known my dad is a Cuban immigrant or that my mom is a Chicana born and raised in South Central LA from a Mexican family. I feel close to my culture when I am with my cousins and friends, but just recently I became okay with people not knowing I was Latina until I spoke Spanish in front of them or told them about my family’s experiences.
Any reconnection to my culture is because I am personally interested in those experiences, not because I need to prove my identity to anyone. So what if people did not question whether I was Latine or not upon first meeting me? Latinity is a mosaic of different cultures and experiences, and saying I don’t check off every item on the list because my Cuban culture doesn’t allow me to immerse myself in LA’s Chicano culture would be tokenizing. Through time, I’ve worried less about fitting into a culture resulting from colonization and thought more about how I am going to enrich my own experiences and contribute to supporting and healing my community.
Lived experiences combined with our team’s multitude of cultures have a direct impact on the work that we strive to do at JCI.
As the daughter of immigrants, Mirian’s background shapes every facet of what she does, including her work with JCI. Our society oftentimes leaves immigrant voices in the shadows, as was the case for Mirian’s parents when they first immigrated to the United States. Mirian’s work in communications allows her to understand and advocate for underserved people in her community who face civic and language barriers every day.
Madeline’s parents, especially her father – a Cuban immigrant, constantly taught her to fight for systemic change. This is why she is passionate about writing about social justice issues and how to organize like-minded people to use their voice, just like her father taught her. At JCI, Madeline has been able to work with local organizations to create meaningful change in the sustainability sector for a better future for all cultures.
The power of Hispanic Heritage Month lies in our ability and willingness to educate ourselves on the Hispanic experience – this can only be done by listening to Hispanic/Latinx voices. Latinity spans many cultures and experiences, all of which are unique, valid, and deserve to be affirmed. Our societal tendency to box all of these lived experiences into reductive stereotypes – as we have done with virtually all minority cultures – devalues the uniqueness of each individual and declares the need for a dedicated event celebrating Latinity in all its forms.
This is why Hispanic Heritage Month is so important. Join us in celebrating this month by trying out Latinx cuisines, buying from Hispanic-owned small businesses, and attending cultural events throughout the city and beyond!