One of the great gifts of living in the United States is the opportunity to learn about and celebrate our diverse cultures. From September 15 to October 15, we have the opportunity to enrich our lives by exploring National Hispanic Heritage Month which has been celebrated every year since 1988.
Those of us who are English-speaking don’t often realize we’re speaking Spanish a lot with words like banana, bodega, cargo, cafeteria, chili, mustang, hurricane, and so many more. Many of our states and cities have Spanish names: Florida, Montana, Nevada, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Santa Rosa to name a few. And we often forget that St. Augustine, Florida, and Santa Fe, New Mexico. were founded long before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth.
Hispanics have served in all our wars beginning with the Revolutionary War. As a result, today there are 12 million Hispanic veterans. Hispanic Americans have made significant contributions to our way of life as artists, writers, film makers, theologians, Olympic champions, leaders in business, government, and science. A little-known Mexican immigrant, Mario Molina, won the Nobel Prize for showing that chlorofluorocarbons were a threat to our protective ozone layer. Hispanics also have had a powerful impact on our country’s economy. Today, 60 million Hispanics (including 20 million immigrants) contribute about $250 billion to our local, state, and federal taxes.
Over the past five years, I have learned more about the personal qualities of the Hispanic people through my ministry at One to One Learning, an organization that teaches English to immigrants. Our students’ dedication to working hard stands out. As an example, a former student of mine worked all day in a factory chopping heads off chickens, and then he came to class in the evening despite not having had time to eat dinner. His eagerness to learn, as well as the gratitude, kindness, and compassion he showed to other students was heartwarming. I am impressed by our students’ generosity, strength, and resilience, even when suffering many setbacks.
These qualities are not limited to a few special students; we observe them in all our students. No job is ever too demanding or too demeaning. Even if they work two jobs, they come to class smiling. And though they have little money, they often bring gifts to their teachers and show great concern for other students.
Despite it all they know how to celebrate! Special days at One to One involve delicious food prepared by students, music, singing, and dancing. They bring joy to everyone, especially the joy of being together.
Just observing the courage of Hispanic immigrants as they build a new life in a foreign land, while at the same time focusing on and contributing to the common good of all Americans, is very inspiring to me. I am so grateful to my Hispanic students for teaching me so much. Let’s all celebrate this month and learn more about Hispanic culture from online resources such as the Smithsonian Latino Center.
– Sister Maureen Conway, OP
Sister Maureen is a teacher and administrative assistant at One to One Learning, Nyack, NYl