Celebrating Latinx Heritage Month: Our Stories Part One

As Latinx Heritage Month comes to a close, we’d like to share some reflections from Nellie Mae staff and board members on what their heritage means to them. Read these personal and important stories below.

Delia Arellano-Weddleton, Director of Engagement and Partnerships: Mi Historia

I identify as Mejicana, Chicana and Latina and I often deal with the tension that comes from being a first-generation American. There is an expression — ‘Ni de aqui, ni de alla’ which describes how I often feel. I don’t always feel that I belong in this country, but I know that I don’t belong in Mexico either.

My family comes from Guanjuato Mexico and belongs to the Guamare Indigenous community. That history gives me great pride and strength. I come from a line of warriors that have had to overcome many challenges.

I value showing up as who I am 100%, be it my accent, my brown skin or the straight hair that connects me to my indigenous roots.

I find pride in the stories that have been passed down to me, whether it is about curranderas or stories that show the strength of my people. These stories give me strength.

I find great joy, knowing that I’ve fulfilled my parents’ American dream and that they can look down and say’ ‘mija you have done us well’. I find joy in passing the torch to my children, nieces, and nephews so that we don’t lose our stories.

The youth give me eseperanza. Historically, social movements have been led by youth and there are many great examples of how Chicanos, Latinos have been leading change. For example, the 1968 high school walk outs in LA, the Young Lords, and the farm worker huelgas.

Youth are having the difficult conversations that other generations haven’t had, whether it is about LGBTQ rights, anti-Blackness in the Latinx community or climate change. They are our hope and I’ll always support them.

Marcos Lucio Popovich, Program Director of Grantmaking: My Reflections

My family comes from San Luis Potosi and Jalisco, Mexico. For several generations (probably beginning in the late 1800s), my family began traveling from Mexico to harvest crops throughout the United States. They were migrant farmworkers working in Texas, Ohio, Oregon and everywhere in between, picking cotton, tomatoes, plums. My grandmother would say that they were not rich in material things, but that they were rich in faith, rich in family, and rich in culture. She taught me to be proud of being Mexican, of being Mexicano, even when the world told us otherwise. She taught me to be proud of our culture, language, and history, and to be proud of the many contributions we’ve made to the U.S. even though it is not written in our history books.

I’m proud of our resilience and work ethic, our courage to risk it all to create a better life for our families. I pray that when the history is written about our current times that we don’t forget to recognize the contributions of migrant farmworkers during this pandemic. They fed our country while working under dangerous conditions.

When I went to college, I met other Latinos that shared similar experiences: Puerto Ricans, Peruvians, Dominicans, Salvadorans. While we each had our own unique histories and cultures, we realized that we faced similar challenges, had similar interests, and that by creating a bond across our various cultures, we could create power, political power, power that can effectuate change. “In unity, there is strength” was our motto. “In unity, there is strength.”

I carry that with me today. No matter what we call ourselves, Hispano, Latino, Latinx, Chicano, Borinquen, we are stronger when we are united. And, we need to continue to find ways to bridge divides, build community, be inclusive and grow the movement for our collective liberation.

Latinos will soon make up 30% (2050) of the U.S. population. My hope is that we foster a people that knows and remembers its history, maintains its pride in its culture and language, rejects assimilation and welcomes acculturation, has opportunities to thrive and succeed, and charts a new and better path forward. The next generation of activists brings me hope that this is possible. “Si, se puede.” Yes we can!

While Latinx heritage month ends after today,

we think it’s important to celebrate Latinx heritage year round. Therefore, look out for the next part in our series coming soon.

Additionally, we understand that language is ever-evolving — and how individuals with Latinx heritage describe themselves varies. We understand this complexity and invite you to learn more here.

Reflections and Hope

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

2020: a year unlike any other, plagued by a pandemic, death, job loss, evictions, and the continued murders of Black people at the hands of law enforcement. And at the same time, we have seen communities come together, respond with strength and love to demand and move forward through these momentous times.

This year, we’ve been reminded of just how fragile our social structures are — folding at the hands of a virus, disproportionally causing harm and suffering to Black, Brown and Indigenous people across our nation.

Educators have been thrust into crisis schooling, forced to completely change the way they engage and interact with young people.

With the closure, disruption, and under-resourcing of the country’s schools, more people woke up to what many have known for so long — that schools indeed are hubs for social supports: not only places to learn, but places where young people receive healthcare, nutrition, mental health supports, and allow caregivers to participate in the workforce. Educators have been thrust into crisis schooling, forced to completely change the way they engage and interact with young people.

At yet, despite the enormous challenges, so many educators have risen to the occasion — organizing and strategizing to creatively deliver content and learning experiences to their students, in spite of personal sacrifices they often have had to make. While we see many young people suffering from isolation, Zoom fatigue, hunger and much more, and we are also seeing accounts of young people who are finding comfort in home learning environments with less rigidity and the comfort to be themselves.

Returning to normal is not good enough, because normal was never enough.

It’s been a challenging year for so many reasons, but we know that returning to normal is not good enough. Because normal was never enough. But, we have hope: and here’s why. Our grantee partners across the region, coupled with so many others, remain hopeful, determined and set on ensuring that we leave this region — and this nation — better than we found it.

In Chelsea, Massachusetts, a city devastated by COVID-19, Gladys Vega and her team at La Collaborativa have worked tirelessly to ensure community members have the supports they need to get by. Young people at Connecticut groups Hearing Youth Voices, Students for Educational Justice, CT Students for a Dream and Citywide Youth Coalition were instrumental in pushing the state to become the first in the nation to require high schools provide courses on Black and Latinx studies. The Equity Institute in Rhode Island took a step further in diversifying the teaching pipeline in the state by launching their inaugural class of “EduLead Fellows” — teacher assistants and support professionals committed to obtaining a bachelor’s degree and teacher certification. The Movement for Black Lives has spearheaded protests and action that have led to police reforms across the nation, and prompted corporations to take time to examine the structural racism within their organizations. And so many other partners have led important work around the region and nation to uproot structural racism in our education system and ensure equitable access to excellent, student-centered public education for all young people.

As we move into 2021, we look forward to continuing to work hand in hand with our grantee partners to ensure that all young people, especially young people of color, have access to an equitable and excellent public education. We know it won’t be easy; but because of so many of our partners — we have hope.


Reflections and Hope was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.