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How I Celebrate My Hispanic Heritage

On a humid evening in July, I enter the luncheon room of the Sheraton Hotel in Arlington, Virginia. There I find myself face-to-face with 40 Latino high-school students from different regions of the United States. None of us know each other. It is the first time we have met. It is the first day of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s Ready to Lead Program in Washington, DC, a leadership training initiative that provides Latino students a better understanding on how to make a positive change in their community and the Nation.

During dinner that night, I recall taking note of a statistic that our keynote speaker brought up. He said, “In 2010, the US Census Bureau reported that there were 50.5 million people, or 16% of the US  population, that identified themselves as Hispanic or of Latino origin.” The statistic made an impact on me. But, more importantly, the word “identified”-- and what it means.

You see, I was born and raised in Northern Virginia, but both of my parents are from San Miguel, El Salvador. When I was a young child, my Abuelita and my mother often talked about their life back in El Salvador. My Abuelita would always reminisce about the aesthetic beauty of the local playas, the tangy deliciousness of homemade pupusas, and the sweet smell of arroz con leche. From an early age, I was submerged in two different cultures: American and Latino. This means that I grew up accustomed to a lifestyle of speaking English and Español, eating hamburgers and carne asada, and dancing to ballet and merengue. The fact that I lived in two different cultural worlds often led me to feel as if I could not fully identify with my Abuelita’s stories or my heritage. I would often reflect, “Am I too Latina?” and ask myself, “Am I too American?”

As the week-long leadership conference progressed, I came to realize that my Latino peers were like my second family. My new friends were an open book of diverse cultures and rich backgrounds -- and so am I. During my week-long experience with the group, I learned something new from each and every one of my peers, such as dancing to the Caballo Dorado and understanding the significance of the Mexican, Dominican, and Salvadoran Independences. On the last day of the Program, it had dawned to me, the Latino community consists of 50.5 million people in different geographical locations throughout the United States, but in the end we are all one big familia.

However, the most important lesson I took out of my Ready to Lead experience is that I have the best of both worlds. I am proud to identify myself as Hispanic-American; but more importantly I am proud of who I am: Salvadorean and Estadounidense. From speaking Spanish in class and at home, to helping my mother cook cultural dishes -- I celebrate my Hispanic heritage every day. 

Posted: Oct 22, 2013 by Marisela Lara

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