Commemorating Hispanic Heritage Month: A Personal Anecdote

By Stephanie Gonzalez, ERC Immigrant Rights Program Manager

Heritage is a word that I’ve never quite fully understood. Perhaps this is because I come from an Ethnic Studies educational background, where the concepts of culture being “socially constructed” and in a constant state of “fluidity” have challenged any notion of something actually belonging to me by right of birth. As I sit here with several invitations for Hispanic Heritage events looming on my calendar, I can’t help but think of what my Hispanic heritage has meant to me. For many individuals born in the United States, whose parents left their country of origin to pursue a better life in America, a discussion of heritage would be amiss without acknowledgement of the challenges their parents faced to start a new life in the land of opportunity.  Heritage is not just colorful flags, finger-licking foods, boisterous music, and flashy costumes celebrating cultural traditions. Heritage is the journey.  Heritage is the strife, the sweat, and the tears.

Alfredo Zittarosa, a famous Uruguayan singer, composer, poet, writer and journalist, wrote a song titled “Pal que se va,” or “For the one that leaves.” Regarded as one of the most important figures in the popular music of his country, and Latin America in general, Zittarosa sings to the traveler who is leaving the countryside to start a new life in the city. In his lyrics, Zittarosa gives advice to the traveler, and reminds him that the path is for those who come and go, and to never lose sight of your origins wherever the path may lead. Zittarosa’s words resonate with my parent’s journey to the United States from their small, yet big country of Uruguay. I can hear my mother and father say “somos pequeños,  pero SOMOS grandes”—an oxymoron to express that although the country may be geographically small, the people there have big hearts.

Sure, Candombe music, murgas, mate, tortas fritas, futbol, Punta Del Este and asados all scream Uruguay; but it is the story of how these icons and people arrived and left. It is the “path” that decorates a person’s identity.  I am a proud American, but if you get to know me, you know that I always travel with a hyphen in my purse because the Uruguayan never leaves my side. Uruguay is engrained in my soul.

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