Hello, Choose901! It’s been a minute. I’m honored to offer a snippet of my life to paint an image of what I carry with me each day in my classroom and is amplified during this special month for me, Hispanic Heritage Month.
During my first days and weeks here in Memphis, I was discouraged by the little amount of Latinos here. I was used to stretches and stretches of blocks full of taquerias, supermercados, paleterias, store fronts full of Spanish…but of course, Chicago’s Latino community has been established for decades. In Memphis, it is a much newer community still finding its footing in a city that is also discovering its new self in this decade, as societal tides change.
In this city where I felt so foreign and confused about finding my place, I stumbled upon a gem of an opportunity.
This opportunity didn’t present itself until my first parent-teacher conferences last year, actually around this same week a year ago. It was this night that all the pieces of my jumbled up existence in Memphis all fell into this beautiful formation. I was speaking to Spanish-speaking parents in Spanish, explaining how wonderful their child was, how helpful they were, how they actually were doing well and didn’t have to worry. They nodded, thanked me, looked at their child sitting next to them, and gave them a proud smile, that smile and joy between a parent and child that only those two know.
At that moment, it hit me. First, tears in my eyes, then a lump in my throat. To look across the table and see reflections of my parents and myself looking back at me shook me to my core. I realized that the parents I serve in Memphis…were my parents and relatives back in the ’80s.
My parents arrived from Mexico with no English, struggling and pushing forward to find their place in that big city. Being able to speak to a teacher and feel comfortable to express all their concerns in English was something inconceivable. To be able to fill that role that my parents lacked back then is such a blessing. To have this glimpse into the past, a living representation of what the beginnings of my parents’ time in Chicago looked like to some extent, has been a powerful and humbling experience.
This realization, as intense as it was, has never felt like a burden. It is a heavy load of course, but one I carry with pride and honor. I represent to parents the person who understands, who can listen to any concern without having to use their child as a translator, without worrying about an accent or lack of English words to express their concern. Though my parents were not able to understand all the praise my teachers had for my siblings and me, and didn’t have the resources available from the school district, nor the chance to feel confident in parent-teacher conferences, I am at least stepping into this moment in my students’ lives and being there for them. Being an educator has taught me so much about myself, my family’s struggles, and my people. I am blessed beyond words to have this role in the Highland Heights community.
The Latino community in Memphis is a small, humble community that will continue to grow. We hail from as close as the deserts of northern Mexico, to as far down south to the Patagonia of Chile and Argentina. We are a people bound together by Spanish but belong to distinct countries and cultures we made our own. We are teachers, we are news reporters, we are restaurant owners, we are cooks, we are entrepreneurs, we are landscapers, we are advocates, we are construction workers; whatever role we carry out in this city, in the end, we are Memphians.
May you find the spirit and warmth of my people this upcoming month and beyond. To truly know us is to love and appreciate what we bring to the fabric of this city and this country.
¡Saludos a mi gente y feliz mes de la patria hispana!