As an African-American, I’ve spent a good portion on my life defending Black History Month. Many people believe that celebrating a specific ethnic group is antiquated and unnecessary. I wholeheartedly disagree with the naysayers because people aren’t naturally inclined to celebrate other cultures. So a month when we focus attention on a particular culture doesn’t seem like too much to me.
A few weeks ago, I asked a coworker what she was doing to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. She looked at me with a puzzled expression on her face.
“When is Hispanic Heritage Month?” she asked.
“It starts on September 15th and ends on October 15th,” I said.
“Really,” she said. “I didn’t even know that there was such a thing.”
Her cavalier response validated my previous assertion. Many of the people I talked to about Hispanic Heritage Month had responses that ranged from vague awareness to outright hostility (unfortunately, many people asked, “Why do they have their own month?).
These reactions were disturbing to me. I was born in Texas and Hispanic culture has always been a part of my life. Foods such as tortillas, pan de muerto, or menudo were as popular as BBQ. Hearing Spanish spoken around me and reading Spanish signs on streets and in businesses was a fact of life. And Quinceañeras, Mariachi bands, and Luchadores were my weekend entertainment.
This immersion in Hispanic culture not only helped me to improve my Spanish-speaking skills, but it has also taught me to celebrate differences and appreciate other people.
My experiences with Hispanic culture became richer in middle school when I had Spanish teachers from Spain and Honduras.
My first teacher, Mrs. Rodriquez, was a huge Julio Iglesias fan and she would have his music playing as we entered the classroom. As the year progressed, she taught us about other types of Spanish music and dance. My favorite part of the class was when she cooked Spanish dishes. She is the reason why I love arroz con pollo, paella, and empanadas today.
Mr. Pineda was also passionate about his country of origin. He would show us vivid photos of the lush, landscapes of Honduras and colorful adornment worn by the inhabitants. He was also the first person to introduce me to plantains.
Their lessons encouraged me to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with my family just as I celebrate Black History Month. I want my kids to be open-minded and understand that various cultures have contributed to America’s success. I want them to try different foods, listen to different music, travel to different countries, learn different languages, and make friends with people of all ethnicities.
By celebrating other cultures we start to understand how much we are really alike. We remove barriers and begin to authentically connect with one another. And these connections are what make us truly human.