Celebrating Hispanic Culture

Viva Mes de la Herencia Hispana! Mid-September to mid-October is national Hispanic Heritage Month and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas is proud to celebrate our Hispanic/Latinx community and their influence on our lives and work.

It’s recognition that goes way beyond a monthly celebration du jour, however. BBBS has deep ties to our local Hispanic community through our Littles, Bigs, donors, community partners, and staff – and it all connects to BBBS’ mission of helping kids succeed in life.

“Hispanic Heritage Month is a great time to learn about and recognize the histories, cultures, and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America,” said Brent Fields, BBBS’ CEO. “Celebrating Hispanic culture is especially important for BBBS because 50% of the kids we serve are Hispanic, 40% of our staff are Hispanic, and 49% of our Austin community is Hispanic.”

The connection is very personal for agency staff. “Our mission is to help children build the skills and capacities that lead to lifelong success,” said Diana Hernandez, director of match support. “By helping them to feel proud of their heritage, I feel that we are being advocates and guides for them. Especially during these tough times when our Littles are hearing about social injustice and division.  It is important for BBBS to create a space where we can celebrate and commemorate the importance of diversity.”

In addition, many of our Littles’ family members are most comfortable communicating in Spanish – hence the special need for bilingual Bigs and staff. “We truly appreciate our bilingual mentors,” said Adriana Adams, director of customer relations. “It is so important for the families we serve to be able to communicate well with their Bigs. Having bilingual Bigs really strengthens match relationships with our Hispanic families.”

As many of the staff point out, Austin, and Texas in general, have a rich Hispanic heritage that has shaped the local culture since the city and state were formed. “I don’t think you can live in the area and not recognize how wonderfully Hispanic culture has shaped the area,” said Nick Vincent, match support specialist. “Recognizing and celebrating Hispanic culture brings an awareness of diversity, an understanding of the immigrant experience, a celebration of the arts, and the knowledge that there is an eclectic culture and history that makes Central Texas, and the Austin area, a vibrant place to live.”

Staff members celebrate many special foods and Hispanic traditions within their own families. “A tradition that my family has is setting up a Day of the Dead altar to remember those who have passed away,” said Diana. “It is a day to pray for them, and to recall all those great memories of them. It is traditional to set up photographs, to put out their favorite foods, and to decorate the altar with flowers.”

“One of my favorite traditions is making tamales during Christmas,” said Ana Rodriguez, senior customer relations/match support specialist. “It’s a whole process.”

Mary Gillock, match support specialist, recalls her stepfather’s habit of bringing a box of pan dulce home every Sunday. “I always got in ‘trouble’ for eating all of the pink concha,” she said, smiling.

“I also have a lot of memories of picking out what seemed like 100 poinsettias every single Christmas, and taking them to my stepfather’s mom’s house in San Antonio,” Mary said. “We don’t get the pan dulce or countless poinsettias anymore, but my mom will order about a dozen from the local high school during the holiday fundraiser.”

Many BBBS staff members also celebrate the arts represented in Hispanic culture. “I love Baile Folklorico (folk dance).  Each region of Mexico has its own dance and clothing,” said Diana. “I love this part of my culture because it gives us a chance to bond as a family and community.  My kids were part of a group of folk dancers created by my church. Community members made the practice skirts and the decorations for the girls’ hair, and a local teen volunteered as the instructor.  It was great to see my community celebrate our culture together and to inspire our kids to learn more about their history.”

Staff are not the only ones impacted by this rich cultural legacy. Hispanic culture informs and enriches our matches in a variety of ways as well. “Some of our favorite stories come from Bigs who tell us about being invited to attend their Little Sister’s Quinceañera” said Christina Snell, director of match support. “This event is also called quinceaños or quince años or simply quince, the celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday, marking her passage from girlhood to womanhood.”

One such story comes from Big Sister Skye and her Little Sister Jadelynn. “I’ll never forget the incredible celebration Jadelynn’s family and friends put on for her Quinceañera,” Skye said. “So much love and affection was poured into this big day and everyone involved was so proud of the young lady she has become.”

“Being invited to the celebration meant the world to me,” she added. “And when I saw photos of myself with Jadelynn in her family’s slideshow presentation, I had to hold back the tears of happiness and pride at being part of it all.”

“I feel very lucky to be matched with an amazing, smart, funny and kind Little. Getting to learn more about – and be a part of – her family’s Mexican culture has been such a great experience for me. Throughout our time together, I’ve gotten to see what a big part church, family and celebration play in Jadelynn’s life, and I have had the opportunity to learn more about how important these things are to her family’s culture.”

“I think it is so important for Littles, and Bigs alike, to know where they and their families come from and to celebrate those influences however possible,” said Skye. “As Americans we are lucky to have so many different races, nationalities and cultures around us and to be able to experience those together with our friends, families, coworkers and peers. I feel like it’s more important than ever to come together to embrace the uniqueness of every individual, and to appreciate and recognize the amazing contributions so many people make to our country.”

History, culture, memories, traditions, bonding… they are all part of belonging to a community and of honoring each other’s differences, as well as our similarities.

“BBBS is part of the Central Texas community. To be part of the community is to recognize its history and culture and to be connected to it,” said Nick.  “What makes BBBS impactful is its connection to the community and the way in which the organization brings people together. It is important to celebrate and share in the community’s culture and history as wholeheartedly as we can.”

“I love Hispanic Heritage Month because it is a time when we can come together and celebrate our diversity. It is a time to learn about other cultures and their history,” said Diana. “It is special for me because we celebrate who we are and we celebrate that we are different in many ways but are open to learning about each other.”

Join BBBS in celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. It is also a good time to consider volunteering with BBBS. We are always in need of more male volunteers, volunteers of color, and bilingual Bigs.

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