When Jennifer Reyes emigrated from the Dominican Republic in 2016, she wanted to make a better future for herself. Upon entering the United States, she listed a few of her goals: to continue her education, find a better job and make more money. But at the time, she couldnâ€™t speak English.
â€œOne of the reasons why I chose the Urban College was because they have Spanish classes, something that I thought was impossible to find in this city,â€� she said. â€œI can say that it was the biggest motivation.â€�
The Urban College of Boston is one of the state’s seven Hispanic-Serving Institutions, or HSIs, federally recognized colleges whose enrollment is at least 25% Latino. Achieving that recognition opens the door for specially designated federal funding.
A broader look at statewide degree achievement presents a mixed picture of Latinos in higher education. Though Latinos in Massachusetts graduate from four-year institutions at a higher rate than those nationally, they still lag behind the stateâ€™s whites in college degrees. Only 27% of Latino adults in the state had earned an associate degree or higher as of 2018, about half of the rate for white adults, according to Excelencia in Education.
â€œThe Latinx population is the fastest growing in the state. In a region like New England, where the overall population is getting lower, itâ€™s absolutely essential,â€� said Massachusetts Higher Education Commissioner Carlos Santiago. â€œIf we donâ€™t educate the fastest-growing group, weâ€™re going to be at a real disadvantage.â€�
Diane Adame, production assistant with GBH Newsâ€™ Higher Education desk explores why making schools of higher learning financially accessible ro Hispanics-Latinos isnâ€™t enough.
Dilliner Jordan works 62 hours a week taking care of two people who are too medically fragile to take care of themselves.
But she has no health insurance and often sleeps in her car because she canâ€™t afford rent and a security deposit, even though she has been saving for months. She is fearful of staying at a shelter, which she believes will increase her chances of contracting COVID-19 for a second time.
â€œIt does bother me,â€� the 63-year-old Brooklyn, N.Y., native said. â€œIt bothers me a lot. I donâ€™t understand how I could work two jobs and still canâ€™t afford an apartment. I either make too much money for help or not enough.â€�
At 61, LucÃa Nunez, who also works as a personal care assistant, commonly known as a home care worker, is in the same position. Nunez, of East Hartford, works 70 hours a week, taking care of three individuals who need help with the daily activities of life, including bathing and meals. Still, she hasnâ€™t had a mammogram in four years.
â€œI canâ€™t remember the last time I went to the doctor for a regular visit,â€� said Nunez, who also has no health insurance.
They are mostly womenâ€”predominantly women of colorâ€”with no health care benefits, no paid time off, no paid sick days and no path to retirement even as the pandemic has worn on into a third year, said Diedre Murch, director of home care for the New England Heathcare Employees Union, SEIU District 1199.
â€œWe are unearthing more and more stories like Dillinerâ€™s and LucÃaâ€™s,â€� Murch said. â€œThe pandemic was like pouring gasoline on the fire that was already burning.â€�
The workers canâ€™t legally strike to get better pay and benefits because the state has no backup system to take care of their clients, Murch said. The union, DSS and DDS have been in talks for months, even as federal pandemic relief for community care was made available. After a meeting with Gov. Ned Lamont last week, the union is hopeful that a new contract is coming, Murch said, but an agreement has not been reached.
Nunez works Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 3 to 9 p.m. for two people and then every other weekend taking care of a third person. â€œIâ€™m always working more than 70 hours a week, so I can survive, pay my bills and put food on the table,â€� she said.
She gets no benefits other than what she calls â€œholy day pay,â€� she said.
â€œIf you work on the Fourth of Julyâ€”thatâ€™s a holy dayâ€”you get paid time and a half. If you donâ€™t work,Â you donâ€™t get paid because we have no paid holidays unless we work.â€�
She only took a few days off when one of her clients contracted COVID-19 because she couldnâ€™t afford to stop working. Her boyfriend puts gas in her car so she can use that money for food, she said. â€œEverything is more expensive,â€� she said.
Jordan works Monday through Thursday from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. for Tracy Lamb, a 52-year-old West Haven resident with multiple sclerosis who is bedridden and needs help with bathing, dressing and chores around the house.
â€œShe makes me happy every time,â€� Lamb said. â€œWhen she goes away, Iâ€™m miserable.
â€œWe have a very good relationship. She bathes me, she leaves the room spotless, she cooks for me, sheâ€™ll clean up the house. She never stops. Sheâ€™s like the Energizer battery.â€�
Sometimes the two watch television or movies together while Jordan folds the laundry. Lamb said Jordan will go to the store for her on her day off if she needs something. â€œShe always goes above and beyond for me,â€� Lamb said.
Jordan also works 10 hours on Fridays and 12 hours on Saturdays taking care of a second client on oxygen.
Jordan will sometimes stay overnight at Lambâ€™s home if itâ€™s cold out. On the other nights, sheâ€™ll sleep in her car, she said. She cooks for herself when she cooks for her clients, leaving foods that need to remain cold in their refrigerator.
â€œI never hide my situation from them,â€� Jordan said. â€œWhen I cook for them, I cook for myself.â€�
DILLINER JORDAN MAKES LUNCH FOR TRACY LAMB IN THE KITCHEN.
Jordan said she was raised by a mother who believed that people should help their older neighbors or people in need. â€œI think thatâ€™s why I went into this,â€� Jordan said.
â€œMy mom would send us to go help people. Even though I work six days a week, I spend Sunday going to see a lady who has nobody. I talk to her. We were the help for the elderly when I was a kid.â€�
She worked for a nursing home in 1987 but found that the job didnâ€™t provide enough time to take care of people the way she felt was necessary, she said. â€œYou need to make sure they are clean. You want to make them happy,â€� Jordan said. â€œThere were so many residents you couldnâ€™t give them the attention they needed. When Iâ€™m doing private duty, Iâ€™m able to do that for every one of my clients.â€�
After working in home care for nearly 30 years, she had moved to South Carolina before the start of the pandemic to spend time with her son and his family, she said. She was able to work less because she lived with his family and was enjoying life, until tragedy struck.
Her son went to the store one day and never returned, she said. He had been shot and killed by the store manager who mistakenly believed he was trying to rob the place, she said. â€œIt was a shock. He just never came back from the store,â€� Jordan said. â€œIt was very traumatic. He left nine kids. You come to the point where you canâ€™t feel. I was in trauma.â€�
She sought the help of a therapist through telehealth and then came back to Connecticut to escape the memories of their time together, she said. â€œI couldnâ€™t stay. I kept seeing him everywhere,â€� she said.
Since then, sheâ€™s been working with Lamb and her other client while trying to avoid catching COVID-19 for a second time. Her first bout in November 2021 left her with lung problems and fatigue, she said. She lost two weeksâ€™ pay while quarantining because, by that point, federal sick time pay for home care workers impacted by COVID-19 had ended.
Jordan said she makes it a point to tell her clients that they still make life worth living even if they are bedridden or have physical challenges. Some days she tries to motivate them even as sheâ€™s exhausted from the workload, she said.
â€œEverybody has a calling,â€� Jordan said. â€œIt takes a special person to take tender loving care of people. I try to give them a better quality of life. Everyone should have a better quality of life.â€�
This week, Connecticut Latino News Opinion+ had the opportunity to speak with Maritza Bond, the current Director of Health for the City of New Haven and Secretary of State Candidate of Connecticut.Â
Bond became the first Latina health director for a major city in Connecticut in 2016. She says that â€œrompiendo barrerasâ€� and being a woman leader have been challenging, but that sheâ€™s happy to serve the community. She hopes to inspire other Latinas to pursue roles in which they arenâ€™t currently represented as well.
â€œListen, a woman like me has been able to be in the position that I am in now, and I want to be able to extend that further and be able to bring hope to others that are in a similar situation that I grew up in, to be inspired to be able to fulfill your passions. There are no barriers to stop you from achieving any goal. Iâ€™m so grateful to be in the primary and to be able to run for secretary of state. Iâ€™ve never dreamt that this could be possible for a Latina like me,â€� she said.
Encouraging voter turnout is important to Bond, who says that if she were elected, she would bring early voting to the state because she understands that issues like scheduling time in between work, long wait times at the polls, and transportation insecurity make it difficult for some communities to participate on Election Day.
Martiza says that equity is important to her and that she hopes to help minority-owned businesses by certifying them, maintaining records to make their businesses more visible to larger firms, and offering technical support to help owners with language or literacy barriers overcome those challenges and fully take advantage of the resources available to them.
She invites everyone to vote, stating, â€œThe Secretary of State should have a diverse ticket. Latinos have not served in this constitutional office; we are well overdue. It is ‘el momento de nosotros’. So we have an opportunity to do this, but I cannot do this alone.â€�
On this weekâ€™s episode of Illinois Latino Opinion+, Claudia Silva-Hernandez, who is running for Cook County Circuit Court Judge, joined to discuss her campaign and why she thinks she should be elected.
Silva-Hernandez grew up in the south suburbs of Dalton and Flossmoor, areas which both have low Hispanic-Latino populations. She says that growing up, educators thought she didnâ€™t understand English, because she was bilingual and because she was a shy child. It made her feel invisible during her school years, but she says it now motivates her to try to prevent others from feeling that way while they navigate the legal process.
â€œSo thatâ€™s really one of my driving forces for wanting to be a judge is I want to make people feel visible. I know what itâ€™s like to feel marginalized or scared or to feel out of place, and I think a lot of litigants who come to our courtroom these days definitely feel like the cards are stacked up against them,â€� she said.
Silva-Hernandezâ€™s legal experience includes positions at the Chicago Housing Authority, Will County Public Defenderâ€™s, and the Clerkâ€™s Office of the Circuit of Cook County, among others. She says that sheâ€™s held each of these roles with the intention of helping others and feels like theyâ€™ve all contributed to preparing her for the potential role as Cook County Circuit Court Judge.
She said, â€œnot only am I Latina, but Iâ€™m also someone who cares and someone who always makes it a point to connect with other people, to make people feel seen, to make people feel welcomed, and I think thatâ€™s an important key takeaway.â€�
Silva-Hernandez is a candidate in the primary election, which will be held on June 28, 2022. The general election takes place on November 8, 2022.
This week Marcela Betancur, Executive Director of the Latino Policy Institute (LPI) was our guest on Rhode Island Latino News, Opinion+.
LPI is an advocacy group in Rhode Island that was started by two people with the goal of raising the voices of the Latinx community. The impact Covid-19 had on the Latinx community caused LPI to improve the flow of truthful information on vaccines and resources. â€œIt really helped focus on what we needed,â€� said Betancur on RILN Opinion+ when explaining the issues of healthcare and employment accessibility.Â Â
The Ocean State has grown in its Latinx presence over the years. Populations from the Dominican Republic and Colombia have moved to Rhode Island over the years. â€œEvery single town has a Latino in it,â€� stated Betancur.Â
Being a part of the immigrant coalition in the state has allowed LPI to advocate for the needs of the Latinx community and even advocate for driving privileges and quality healthcare for undocumented immigrants. They first understand what the community needs and then connect that with what is possible from a policy perspective.Â
The largest obstacle faced in Rhode Island is the continuous disinvestment from the state and the U.S. government. Poverty, economic, and housing equity has lacked investment in these issues. LPI builds its community leaders by offering data, research, and practices on bringing people together and building bridges between communities and legislators.
LPI is excited to continue improving voting access, health, and economic equity through driverâ€™s licenses and information.Â
Welcome to another edition of Massachusetts Latino News +, a segment where we have conversations of most interest to the Hispanic-Latino community.
Our guest this week is a leader who has been nicknamed Chelsea’s “Superwoman.”
Gladys Vega is the Executive Director of La Colaborativa, an organization with a mission to “empower Latinx immigrants to enhance the social and economic health of the community and its people; and to hold institutional decision-makers accountable to the community.”
The organization’s six-month program focuses on survival, stability, and empowerment in working with individuals. The goal is then for the person to take those skills and reinvest them. “Once we help you…how do you give back to the community,’ said Vega in the interview. “Why don’t you get involved in community organizing?’ she asks participants. “So we can do social justice changes.”
A native of Puerto Rico, Vega moved to Massachusetts with her family at a young age. The experience of witnessing first-hand from her parents the challenges facing Hispanic-Latino residents in the United States inspired her to work with immigrant workers.
“Their rights are being violated,” said Vega about workers (many of them undocumented) who are getting paid below minimum wage and are exposed to dangerous working conditions. “In the United States, regardless of immigration status, you (employers) need to pay the state’s minimum wage.” Massachusetts has a $14.25/hour minimum wage.
In 1990, Vega joined the Chelsea Collaborative, later renamed La Colaborativa, as Office Manager. She wore many hats, working as a receptionist, tenant organizer, and immigrant rights advocate.
In 2006, Vega became the organizationâ€™s executive director. She successfully urged the City Council to make Chelsea the third sanctuary city in Massachusetts in her tenure. In addition, she helped found Centro Latino, the only direct service for Hispanics-Latinos in Chelsea at the time. Vega gave her time to the Chelsea Board of Health and United Way Committee and served as a Democratic delegate for the National Convention in 2000.
La Colaborativa leads community-based COVID testing and vaccinations as Hispanics-Latinos continue to struggle with inequities in Massachusettsâ€™ health care system. The organization provides reliable, healthy, and culturally familiar food distributions five days a week.
“In addition to providing yuca, platanos, aguacate…we also use the food line (pantry) as a lifeline,” she said. “We used the food line to organize our community in terms of vaccinations.” La Colaborativa leads community-based COVID testing and vaccinations as Hispanics-Latinos continue to struggle with inequities in Massachusettsâ€™ health care system.
In 2007 and 2008, she was named one of Massachusettsâ€™s one hundred most influential leaders.
Last year, Vega was recognized by the Eastern Bank Foundation with the 2021 Social Justice Award. The award recognizes community leaders who have made an outstanding impact in addressing critical social justice issues.
Nancy Huntington Stager, President and CEO of the Eastern Bank Foundation. Said of you, â€œShe is an extraordinary leader and community trailblazer who leads by example and continues to be a social justice champion. She empowers individuals to realize they can affect change and make the difference they seekâ€¦.â€�
â€œWe are especially honored to receive the 2021 Social Justice Award from the Eastern Bank Foundation because it understands all too well that relationships and trust in the community are always necessary to create justice, equality, and opportunity and especially during a pandemic,â€� said Vega in accepting the award.
For more information on La Colaborativa, click on this link:
The Garcia brothers are back, and the timing couldnâ€™t be better.Â Fans of the award-winning Nickelodeon teen comedy series, â€œThe Brothers GarcÃa,â€� will remember Larry, Carlos, and George Garcia, who along with their sister Lorena and parents Ray and Sonia, made history as the beloved characters of the first U.S. English-language TV sitcom featuring an all-Latino cast and creative team. Now, more than 20 years after the showâ€™s debut, the fictional San Antonio, Texas, family is making history againâ€“this time as â€œThe Garcias,â€� premiering on HBO Max, on April 14.
â€œWe wanted to bring it back because there hadnâ€™t been another show like it since,â€� said showrunner Jeff Valdez, the co-creator of â€œThe Brothers GarcÃa,â€� and who, along with global communications executive Sol Trujillo, is executive producer of â€œThe Garcias.â€� The two are also co-founders of New Cadence Productions, which produced the new series.
â€œThe Garciasâ€� came to life after Valdezâ€™s seven-year quest to obtain the rights to the original show from Nickelodeon. â€œThe Brothers GarcÃa,â€� had been highly popular, airing from 2000 to 2004 in more than 40 countries. A breakthrough finally came three years ago when there was a change in studio management. â€œI went to Viacom and said, â€˜This is crazy,â€™â€� Valdez recalled. â€œItâ€™s sitting on the shelf, and we have no shows for Latinos. Itâ€™s not just for Latinosâ€“itâ€™s universal. Itâ€™s a family show.â€�
For creator, Jeff Valdez, â€œThe Garciasâ€� is more than just about entertaining an audience. The show represents his deeply personal mission to portray Latinos as â€œregularâ€� people. The goal is to counter the largely negative image of Latinos in mainstream media. â€œWeâ€™re people just like anybody else, and weâ€™re fun,â€� Valdez explained. â€œThereâ€™s no crime in this show. There are no border walls. Thereâ€™s not even the mention of immigration,â€� he continued. â€œWe are not making programming. We are making deprogramming. Thatâ€™s really important to understand. Because if we did programming, there would be nothing normal on this show.â€�
Now the episodes have all been produced with the original cast members reprising their roles in â€œThe Garcias.â€�
â€œIt feels amazing,â€� said Bobby Gonzalez, who plays George Garcia. â€œYouâ€™d think that a twenty-year gap would have made a big difference. But as soon as the original cast was back together, it just felt like homeâ€“immediately.â€�
â€œTo be able to work on something you really love is a blessing,â€� said Ada Maris, who plays family matriarch, Sonia Garcia.
In the reboot, the family has expanded greatly. Viewers get to follow the lives of the now-grown Garcia siblings, their spouses, children, and parents as they vacation for two months at a beach house in an upscale part of Mexico. â€œBy having a U.S. Latino family in Mexico, we are showing that we are American,â€� Valdez said.
â€œTo renew my relationships with the original kids who were 12 and 13 and are now in their thirties, was great,â€� said Carlos LacÃ¡mara, who portrays Ray Garcia, the father and grandfather of the family. â€œFor me it was like we had a long weekend, and we just got back together, doing the shows again.â€�
In the idyllic resort-like setting, three generations of the Garcias enjoy adventure and discovery while learning what it takes to be a family. They come face-to-face with their cultural identities as they laugh, cry, and squabble good-naturedly, all the while never forgetting the family motto: Everything for the familyâ€“Todo para la familia.
â€œWeâ€™ll go through rough times. Weâ€™ll get into fights,â€� said Gonzalez. â€œBut at the end of the day, weâ€™ll always love each other.â€�
â€œTodo para la familia,â€� said Vaneza Pitynski, who plays Lorena Garcia, the sister in the family. â€œThat is what the show is about: who has your back when youâ€™re down. In the end, it is about a successful, hard-working Latino family that really cares,â€� she said.
Cast members say the family-centric values found in â€œThe Garcias,â€� storyline were also evident in their work environment. This, they say, was in stark contrast to what they had experienced on some other productions.
â€œIt is such a relief to be able to just be a human being, and not have to play the stereotype of a Latino written by someone else,â€� said LacÃ¡mara. â€œFor me, being part of this was liberating.â€�
“We just get to be ourselves. Itâ€™s just wonderful,â€� added Maris.
â€œIn the end, the show is authentic. Itâ€™s not a non-Latino trying to tell a Latino how to do things, and we are very proud of that.â€�
â€œThe Garciasâ€� is also groundbreaking for introducing cultural diversity to the series. Carlos Garciaâ€™s wife is Korean American, and the couple has two daughters.
â€œHonestly, I think it is really great that the show includes the Asian and Pacific Islander community,â€� said Elsha Kim, who plays Yunjin Huh Garcia. â€œIâ€™ve had multiple people approach me and say, â€˜You know, 20 years ago, it might have been a Latina.â€™ (But) there are so many mixed families now. If you look around, this is what families look like. Families arenâ€™t all just one color,â€� Kim said.
Valdez predicts that the show will resonate with viewers because he and his creative team had complete artistic control. â€œIn the end, the show is authentic. Itâ€™s not a non-Latino trying to tell a Latino how to do things, and we are very proud of that,â€� Valdez said. â€œI would challenge anybody in town to show a credit roll with more Latino names on it than ours. Weâ€™re 92%.â€�
Valdez has high hopes for â€œThe Garcias,â€� and believes it could pave the way for other Latino-themed programs. In fact, he says he has at least five spin-offs in mind that his production company plans to market. But as Jeff Valdez will tell you, it all starts with the success of this new series. â€œWatch the show because the Garcias are coming.â€�
palabra. continues its conversation with Jeff Valdez, who is credited with pioneering the English-language Latino market in American television. The award-winning Colorado native has been producing, directing, and writing in TV and film for more than 25 years.
His answers have been edited for clarity and space.
palabra.: What are the reasons you brought the Garcia family back?
Valdez: â€œItâ€™s really about family dynamics. Every episode has a universal theme. Every episode has a lesson learned in it. Thereâ€™s this richness to the show that people can re-embrace. After coming out of two years of Covid, God knows they can use a little love right now.â€�
palabra.: Considering that a lot of Latino-themed shows have been canceled, what is the significance of â€œThe Garciasâ€� coming along at this point in time?
Valdez: â€œExecutives have said that Latinos donâ€™t support their own shows. But there are so few. The solution is to have more than one a year. The business part of it is that it isnâ€™t social justice. You shouldnâ€™t do this because we are victims and we are owed this. You should do it because this is smart business. Weâ€™re 2.8 trillion dollars as a GDP. If your company doesnâ€™t embrace the U.S. Latino market, you wonâ€™t be in business in 10 years.â€�
palabra.: Why is it important to normalize the portrayal of Latinos in the media?
Valdez: â€œThe sad part is that when you look at U.S. Latinos, everything we see on TV is (that) we are crossing a border. And when we see Mexico, itâ€™s always got this really grainy, yellow filter on it. The Mexico I know has got amazing museums. (My family and I) were in Mexico City just two weeks ago. The food blows anything in L.A. away.â€�
â€œBut the best way to answer your question is that when we first screened â€œThe Brothers GarcÃa,â€� a young Latina said afterward, â€˜Thank God thereâ€™s a show that confirms my normalcy.â€™ Iâ€˜ve never lost track of that and I dedicate everything to that young girl.â€�
Cover Photo: The Garcias continue their journey of self-discovery and family bonding while on a long summer vacation. Photo Courtesy HBO Max.
Saida Pagan is a Los Angeles-based journalist and the recipient of a first-place award for entertainment reporting in the 2022 National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards competition. In 2021, she also received two first-place awards from the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors for a documentary on the history of Los Angeles. PagÃ¡n was born and raised in New York City, and is of Puerto Rican heritage. She has worked as a newscaster for television stations across the United States, and has appeared in nearly 100 primetime television programs, major motion pictures and other media projects. Her TV news series on the challenges of ethnic actors titled, â€œThe Color of Movies,â€� won a Golden Mic Award and was placed in the archives of SAG-AFTRA following a special ceremony honoring her work. PagÃ¡n holds a masterâ€™s degree with distinction in Strategic Communication and frequently conducts webinars on various aspects of media and communication.
Latino News Network (LNN) and palabra. are proud to announce a new partnership in covering stories and communities that have been disregarded by larger news outlets.
An initiative of the National Hispanic Journalists Association, palabra. is a multimedia platform that delivers informative journalism, both within a designated platform and syndicated across other platforms, to support NAHJ freelance journalist members by providing both a secure platform to share their voice and developmental support.
“Our mission in palabra. is to serve as a springboard to the work of Latino journalists that know very intimately the stories of their communities. Such stories are often overlooked or ignored today by traditional media,” said Valeria FernÃ¡ndez, a veteran freelance journalist and managing editor of palabra. “Having a partnership with the Latino News Network is an organic extension of that; we multiply visibility for the reporters as well as offer our national audience a wealth of information that is locally grounded.”
Hugo Balta, Owner and Publisher of LNN, commented on the partnership, saying, â€œWeâ€™re grateful to work with a publication that shares our mission of elevating the visibility and voices of the Hispanic-Latino community. The Latino News Network (LNN) is committed to amplifying the work of others in providing depth to what is often one-dimensional narratives about a people who are not only driving the population growth of this country but the cultural, political, and economic growth as well.â€�
Baltaâ€™s work has been featured on palabra. Most recently, his opinion piece, The Other Birthdays on organ donation featuring the experience of his wife, Adriana, was published in April.
Mr. Balta is twice the past president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), and served in that capacity when palabra. launched in 2019.
The Latino News Network (LNN) oversees five independent statewide coverage, Hispanic-Latino editorial focus English language news and information websites under the ownership and leadership of nationally recognized journalist and media advocate, Hugo Balta.
LNNâ€™s mission is to provide greater visibility and voice to Hispanics-Latinos, amplify the work of others in doing the same, give young journalists mentoring and real work experience, and apply the principles of solutions journalism in its investigative reporting.
Through palabra., National Association of Hispanic Journalists freelance members cover stories and communities that have been disregarded in larger news outlets based on the ideology that â€˜ethnicâ€™ news is only an issue for marginalized communities and not a human issue.
For years, NAHJ has advocated for more Latinos in newsrooms, and palabra., is bringing this mission statement to life by creating an opportunity for freelance journalists to share their local stories, perspectives, and an accurate and honest representation of the Latino community.
The images that come to mind for most United States residents when thinking of Cinco de Mayo are of Mexican flags, sombreros, long mustaches, tequila and, in general, a vibe of celebration and partying. But, where did this celebration come from and how has it changed with the passage of time?
It was late morning of May 5, 1862, when the Mexican soldiers defending the city of Puebla saw the French army marching towards their position. These were dark days for the nation of Mexico. They had lost half their lands to the United States less than two decades ago, the crippling debt to European nations had impoverished the whole country, the division between conservatives and liberals could not get any deeper and now the French army had come to claim Mexico as their own.
These young and inexperienced Mexican soldiers would never have believed that some hours later they would be celebrating as the French army, the one that had at the start of the century started a war with all of Europe and nearly won, was retreating under heavy rain.
“Yes, we celebrate the victory of the Mexican army over the French army that invaded Mexico, it is known as the Battle of Puebla,â€� said BenjamÃn Villanueva GarcÃa, a 43-year-old resident of CancÃºn, Mexico. â€œIn Mexico it is more of a patriotic celebration, in the sense that a foreign invading army was defeated.â€�
The memory of this battle brings pride to most Mexicans. At the time, the idea of Mexico as a sovereign nation was constantly being challenged both by external and internal forces. And the victory at Puebla seemed like a reason to feel pride and hope; like the impossible was possible.
Juan Mora-Torres, an associate professor of Latin American History at DePaul University and author of the book â€œThe Making of the Mexican Border,â€� told The DePaulia what Cinco De Mayo means to him.
â€œSince its independence, [Mexico] had been a divided country, no sense of nationhood, all kinds of political conflicts and military conflicts among themselves,â€� he said. â€œThey lost half the territory to the U.S. Things were not going well. Right? So [the Battle of Puebla] was like the first sense of something good happening since the independence.â€�.
Sadly, it was short-lived. France continued its campaign to take control of Mexico and ended up succeeding in installing Maximilian I as Emperor of Mexico. But the Battle of Puebla ended up becoming a powerful symbol for Mexicans living in the United States.
Mora-Torres suggests that the date is still remembered not necessarily because the victory had important implications at the time, but because it resonated with other struggles that Mexicans â€” and later the whole Latino community â€” were facing in the U.S. As the years passed, different generations of Latinos in the U.S. could see their own struggles against immensely strong forces as parallels to what happened in Puebla centuries ago.
â€œEvery generation gets a different meaning from the Cinco de Mayo,â€� he said. â€œAnd in my case, the youth of my generation found value in that because that was the moment of the Civil Rights Movement.â€�
Delia Cosentino, acting chair of Latin American and Latino Studies and associate professor of History of Art and Architecture at DePaul University, had a similar view on the subject.
â€œFor those who do know the history, it makes sense to want to celebrate a David and Goliath sort of fight in which the less powerful player wins the battle (i.e. Mexico vs. France),â€� Cosentino said. â€œIt could be an analogy for marginalized communities in the U.S. feeling empowered in the face of Anglo political and social aggressions toward Latinos and Mexican Americans in particular.â€�
â€œAny holiday that brings people of a shared heritage together can serve as a form of social glue, giving an emboldened sense of commonality,â€� she continued.
East Los Angeles, March 5, 1968. It started with the students at Garfield High School organizing a walkout and it ended up with thousands of Latino students walking out of their own schools all around the city. Not even the police were able to silence the Chicano movement that demanded to be listened to.
These students stood against structural racism in the government that stripped them of their rights and their identities, and against the day-to-day racism that kept them away from opportunities of a better life and from the respect they deserved. They hoped that one day they would beat the odds and wake up in a country that did not treat them as second-class citizens.
Today, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in the United States with folkloric dances and Mariachis, with sombreros and fireworks, but especially copious amounts of beer and tequila. According to Nielsen, a data and market measurement firm, more than $735 million worth of beer and related malt beverages was bought in the U.S. in 2016â€™s Cinco de Mayo.
Mora-Torres explains when thereâ€™s money to be made, companies will take advantage. Margaritas, tequila, Mexican beers, nachos â€” all of these have become a part of the celebration of Cinco de Mayo.
â€œYou have to celebrate,â€� Mora-Torres said. â€œNow the celebration has taken over and the politics have been neglected, right? But every generation will find some value in the Cinco de Mayo.â€�
â€œIn my generation, it was about civil rights,â€� Mora-Torres said. â€œAnd so, the young people got to find their agenda. And I think they will use the Cinco de Mayo as a metaphor, because it is an event that highlights the David against the Goliath struggle [â€¦] But I have no problem celebrating. Okay. It has been a very long winter. We have been two years with Covid.â€�
It is May of 2022, Chicago. While we go through a winter that does not want to end, I write this article in my room as the sun sets. As a Latino student in the U.S., I cannot keep my mind away from the current struggles: how there are still people being treated as illegal for making a hard decision to forge a better future for themselves, or how still the stereotypes around Latinos frame what we are expected to be capable of or how neighborhoods with a majority of Latino population are being neglected even in a city that prides itself of being liberal. In the end, I feel relief, because I know that the reason why David beats Goliath is because he never stops throwing stones.
Cover Graphic by La DePaulia multimedia assistant, Frankie Perez.
Santiago Posada-Jaramillo is the Opinions Editor of La DePaulia. He enjoys politics, history, psychology, and video game design. He is from Colombia and new to the U.S. Santiago is a graduate student part of the MFA Game Design program at DePaul University. He decided to join La DePaulia because he believes that an informed community can make the world a better place.
Growing up as a military kid, Dr. Taino Palermo and his sisters were born in many different parts of the world but always called the Bronx, New York, home. During the â€™80s and â€™90s, life in New York was distinctly different from the life they knew in Puerto Rico. However, their family maintained a solid connection to their indigenous identity as Taino Indians, hence his name. It was vital that they never forgot who they were and where they came from.
In college, Dr. Palermo participated in after-school tutoring that set him on the path of becoming an educator and advocate for the coming generations. Dr. Palermo noticed that for the Latino middle school students he worked with, it was hard to believe that someone just like them was able to attend college. He knew then how important it was to serve as a model, but even more so, how important it is for those in underrepresented positions to demystify the pathway to make it easier for those who come after them.
This understanding led him to a decade-long community economic development and education reform career. Dr. Palermo points out that Rhode Island will be a majority Latino state in the future. He believes that â€œwe are too numerous in this state and in this country not to flex our collective impact to develop policies and programs that benefit our communities.â€�
In a 2018 TEDxProvidence, Dr. Palermo stressed the importance of anchor institutions, defined as enduring organizations based in their localities (such as colleges, museums, and hospitals), using their resources to address critical issues in their communities. In addition, he says it is vital for these institutions to collaborate with neighborhood social anchors, what he calls the â€œgrandmas on the block,â€� to establish and maintain credibility with the neighborhood.
â€œIf you donâ€™t have the trust of the people, they will never fully embrace you, and rightfully so. These ambassadors are the ones who are critical to the success of anchor institutional work,â€� he said.
During his time at Roger Williams University, Dr. Palermo has worked to make his school a prime example of an anchor institution. For instance, he’s worked with RWU Center for Workforce and Professional Development to launch a prisoners’ career readiness program. He also launched Gateway to College, which allows students at risk of dropping out of school to simultaneously earn their high school diploma and Associate’s Degree at Roger Williams University.
He said, â€œweâ€™re taking bold and innovative steps in hopes that other anchor institutions in the state will follow our lead.â€�He has prioritized his indigenous identity and is the current Chief, or Kasike, of the Baramaya Guainia Clan, a federally non-recognized tribal nation indigenous to modern-day Ponce, Puerto Rico. Today, Taino is a part of the Class of 2022 at Roger Williams University Law School and serves as the American Indian Law Student Association president.
Dr. Taino Palermo was first profiled in the Latino Policy Instituteâ€™s #LatinosInRI series.
LPI and RI Latino News are partners in elevating the visibility and voices of Rhode Islandâ€™s Hispanic-Latino communities.
Is there someone in the community you think we should feature? Send us your ideas to Info@LatinoNewsNetwork.com.