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Compassion Project: Hispanic Heritage Month

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A Reflection on Hispanic Heritage Month

by Shannon Montaño, Prevention Program Specialist


National Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from September 15 to October 15. September 15 marks the day Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua celebrate their independence from Spanish colonial rule. Mexico’s Independence Day is September 16.

For many multigenerational Hispanic families (like my own), thinking about and celebrating our heritage and culture comes with many considerations. “Hispanic” is a large umbrella term that covers many people, from many countries. Can I identify myself as Hispanic? My school forms say so, but I was born and raised in the US, as was much of my family before me. My brother was able to trace our family roots to Central New Mexico as far back as the early 1700s. Our family has been on that land decades before the border between Mexico and the territory of New Mexico had shifted. We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us! Because of all these factors, I have since come to embrace my identity as Chicana (Chicano, Chicanx), which refers to a woman who embraces her Mexican culture and heritage, but simultaneously, recognizes the fact that she is an American.  

Even still, having lived on the land for hundreds of years, my father and his siblings were forced to assimilate. They were heavily disciplined for speaking Spanish in school and any hint of an accent they had was swiftly wiped away. My tía Sally once described how she and my father were put on opposite sides of the playground so they were unable to speak in Spanish to one another. 

This was the reason my cousins and I were never taught Spanish in the home. How was our family to know that one day being bilingual would be a commodity? Our parents were trying to raise us to have the best possible outcome for acceptance. I often think about what my father went through in his very young years and how his experiences affected me and my brothers. We were told not to cry but to stay proud. We were told never to start a fight but certainly to finish them. For him it was survival, but, for us, it became an internal emotional conflict. 

An important step I have found myself taking is allowing compassion to enter into my life, not only for myself but my father as well. I understand that everyone has different experiences in their life that shape them. It does not matter what umbrella you find yourself under; humans are not a monolith. We all experience life in different ways, and we can understand one another better if we let compassion be a driving force. My older brother is a perfect example, as he encourages his son that it is okay to cry and be sad. When we are leaving he allows him to send his goodbyes with “a hug, a high five, or a kind word.” Examples like these showcase what compassion can accomplish. It allows us to grow and continue to put forward goodness for each other and our little ones. I challenge you to allow, or continue to allow, compassion in your life and see what it can accomplish!
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