What Hispanic Heritage Month Means to Me

From September 15th to October 15th we in the United States celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. This is a time to appreciate and embrace the beautiful culture, history, accomplishments, and traditions of many countries and to share that with our communities. Also, the start of the month aligns with the independence of countries such as Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Mexico, Chile, El Salvador, Honduras, and others. There are parades, festivals, talks, food tastings, dance lessons, and tons of articles just like this one that happen throughout the month to honor the culture.

The advent of Hispanic Heritage Month has really gotten me thinking about where I stand as Hispanic and what this month means to me. My parents are from Puerto Rico and moved to the contiguous United States before I was born in 1998. I grew up learning both Spanish and English, but of course, attending school made English the more dominant language I knew and used. I read in English, talked to my friends in English, and eventually, English came home with me and became the primary language I used to talk to my family. Spanish became a secondary language, one reserved for rare moments or for speaking with relatives. It became normal to hear Spanish only in the house and English everywhere else. As a result, I started losing the confidence I had in being Hispanic and in embracing everything that makes my Puerto Rican culture special. I started to wonder if I could really call myself Hispanic when I didn't speak the language regularly or visit Puerto Rico as much as I should.

When I got to college, I met a lot of Hispanics and Latinos from around the world who were so passionate and immersed in their own cultures that I became sort of jealous of how secure they were in their identities. These friends came from Guatemala, Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia, Panama, etc. and despite being in the United States now, everything about them embraced the countries and cultures they came from. I wanted that too. I wanted to feel like my culture actually belonged to me, but I was conflicted. I hesitated to speak Spanish because I couldn't think of the words or phrases fast enough, and I never lived in Puerto Rico or any other Spanish-speaking country, but I still felt immense pride in saying that I am Puerto Rican. I kept wondering, what does it mean to be in this conflicted position?

Truth be told, I’m not entirely sure. Each passing month, I attempt to grow closer to the culture and identity that I call my own. I immerse myself in the music, the food, the traditions of the place where my family comes from, and I embrace it as wholeheartedly as I can. When Hispanic Heritage Month comes around, I can’t help but feel a sense of happiness wash over me and an understanding of the dedication that other Hispanics and Latinos have to their cultures and countries. It’s exciting to have a space to share and interact with other Hispanics and with the community. I hear Spanish music blasting in the Student Union, and I see other Hispanics and Latinos come together to appreciate and celebrate the fascinating culture that is all ours. It means the world that we have this month to reflect on and embrace everything that Hispanics have achieved and have yet to achieve. It’s empowering.

Feliz Mes de la Herencia Hispana!

Images: 1, 2, 3, 4