What I Learned This Latiné Heritage Month
Latiné and Hispanic Heritage month has come and gone, but for many of us this honoring of our culture extends beyond 30 days of the year. It’s who we are and how we show up every single day. As a Chicana and daughter of Mexican immigrants, I recognize that embracing and celebrating my Latinidad has been an evolution. I went through cycles of how I felt about my identity. As a child, I didn’t know any different than the large gatherings with extended families—the strong, loud, and proud tias gathered around our home. In adolescence, however, I remember feeling shame when I didn’t quite fit in and to conform to the “norms”. Even in moments where I wanted to embrace my heritage, I remember feeling shame when I struggled to string together sentences in Spanish. I had a desire to learn more about our history, my ancestors, and what made us who we are today, but I was coming up against decades of barriers built up by our culture and society.
I’d like to say that from there I embarked on an in depth journey of exploring my heritage, but, to be honest, life happened. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day to day of work and life, just going through the motions. And when you live across the country from family, that connection to our past can feel like your phone signal holding on by a thread while you’re waving it around in the air to keep service.
This year as Latiné and Hispanic Heritage Month (LLHM) grew closer, I decided I would approach it with more thoughtfulness and care. So, I gave myself space to more intentionally consume content from Latiné creatives and better reflect on my experiences. Here is what I learned.
Latina Como Yo
I am a big believer in the positive impact representation can have on the ability for an individual to embrace their identity and show up authentically, especially in those formative years. I often watch shows or movies today and talk with my cousin about how different things would’ve been if we had that same media growing up. To see people on the screen who are Latina como yo - Latina like me. I decided to commit to reading more books and consuming more content by Latiné and Hispanic creators.
As an avid reader, I decided to explore the books I’ve read by Latiné and Hispanic authors and tackle some on my TBR list. I have to admit, I am not the type of reader that typically pays attention to the author (sorry to all the fantastic authors out there) but typically read books based on the description, genre, recommendations, and sometimes just because the cover is cute. I began tracking my books in 2011 and as I went through the list of what I’ve read, I was SHOCKED to find that only 3% of the books were by Latiné authors! I almost feel embarrassed mentioning this but realized my intention to only read books by these authors this LHHM was not only affirmed, but needed.
I explored different genres and new-to-me authors this month from memoir-style essays to fiction with magical realism. While I often get that “book hangover” at the end of a read - you know when you get so connected to a story you’re sad when it’s over - I realized that in these stories, I found a piece that was missing from so many others. They were experiences with family, love, and navigating the world that I felt differently about because they mirrored my own. In even the most lighthearted moments, I was able to connect with the writing in ways that spoke to my inner child and helped my healing process from experiences that told me I wasn’t enough. Not “American” enough. Not “Mexican” enough. Ni de aquí, ni de allá. Not from here, not from there. I felt seen and validated through these stories in ways that others would not be able to wholly encompass.
As an adult, I’ve come to realize that embracing Latinidad doesn’t have to look one way. Celebrating identity can happen in different ways that are most meaningful to each individual. Our identity can be celebrated con confienza - with confidence - and in a way that feels most authentic to us. For me that can be cooking up recipes that remind me of home or proudly speaking Spanish without fear of feeling pocha as well as learning from the moments where I feel my tongue stumbling through words.
I’ve embraced this so much that the other day, I scolded our excitable dog in Spanish and it came out with tanta confienza that I scared myself a little because I sounded EXACTLY like my mom - could’ve sworn she was standing in the doorway with a chancla in hand, ja ja ja iykyk (te amo, mamí!)
Para My Hijo
Not only do I do this for myself - to heal my inner Mexican-American child that felt judged and “othered” - pero lo hago por mi hijo. I do it for my son. I want him to know where he comes from. I want him to understand the strong, matriarchal lineage from which we descend and how these determined women poured into his own mamá. I want to explore our past together - the same past that colonizers tried to erase but that lingers even through the traditions forced upon us.
He will navigate this world with privileges I’ll never experience AND with the love, care, and understanding with which we’ll raise him. He’ll be able to leverage that privilege to amplify and uplift our culture. Our heritage. Our people.
Cristina Perez-Simmons (she/her) is a Chicana transplant from Southern California living in Durham, NC with her passionate toddler, supportive partner, and rambunctious pup. She has passion for developing the potential of others and cultivating spaces where individuals can thrive authentically. When she isn’t masterminding DEIB strategy and learning solutions, you can probably find her with a cafecito in hand, chasing her toddler around, or getting lost in a good book.