What Hispanic Heritage Month Means To Me

Vidal Mendoza (she, her, ella)| Assistant Director, Hispanic, Latina/o/x Initiatives

What culture(s) and/or ethnic group(s) do you identify with?

Mexicana, Latina, Chicana

What does being Hispanic/LatinX mean to you?

It means carrying the strength of my parents, grandparents, and ancestors who faced obstacles and barriers with courage so that I can have more opportunities then they did.

How do you celebrate Hispanic Heritage month?

Rica en mi culutra con música, comida y baile con familia. (Rich in my culture with music, food, and dance with family.)

Can you share a favorite tradition from your culture(s)?

My favorite tradition is attending my communities Fiestas Patrias. September 16 is a patriotic holiday in Mexico, the anniversary of Mexican Independence from Spain — it is much like America’s 4th of July.

What’s your favorite cultural dish?

My favorite cultural dish is my Chile Verde — Slow cooked pork in green chili, garlic, tomatillos, and lemon juice.

How can people be better allies to Hispanic communities?

Attending our Hispanic, Latina/o/x events here on campus. They are open to everyone!

Gabe Montaño| Professor, Chief Diversity Fellow

What culture(s) and/or ethnic group(s) do you identify with?

Chicano, Mexican American, Latino

What does being Hispanic/LatinX mean to you?

While we are all the result of multiple identities, being Chicano and Latino are core to my identity. Part of that is intrinsic, the world sees me and typically can assess that I am from my physical appearance.

But it’s more than that — my core values and views of the world are centered in my identity as a Chicano and it tends to permeate how I engage with the world.

It means different things to me, but my cultural identity is at the center of who I am. It’s my non-hesitational response when asked and one I share proudly.

How do you celebrate Hispanic Heritage month?

Growing up, Hispanic Heritage Month was not something I was familiar with nor spent time considering. As such, it has only been later in my life that I began to consider it as a month of dedicated attention.

As such, I don’t have activities that are intrinsic to the month, but as I have gotten older I continue to find ways of engaging my community and introducing aspects of my culture and the Latinx culture to my world.

We’ve been exploring ways within APMS to create awareness and recognition around Latinx initiatives and organizations devoted to the Advancement of Chicano/Hispanic communities in STEM such as the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS).

Can you share a favorite tradition from your culture(s)?

My favorite tradition is not one centered around Hispanic Heritage Month but around the Christmas holiday — and that’s making tamales.

This goes back to my grandma and now is something that my mom and I do together. It’s an important event, focused around food, with Mariachi and bands like Los Lobos playing in the background. It’s as much to honor my grandma and ancestors as it is about the food, it’s that continuation of tradition and time together that is really at the core.

What’s your favorite cultural dish?

See the answer above! :-) There is nothing like a New Mexican tamale!

How can people be better allies to Hispanic communities?

I think one of the most important things with any culture is to actively engage and to be active listeners in engaging. The Latinx/Chicano/Hispanic communities are not monolithic. There are dramatic differences between the various communities that constitute these populations and they’re worth getting to know and appreciate.

Enter into discussions openly. And it’s ok to make mistakes or assumptions when dealing with our communities — that’s why it’s so important to engage.

Don’t feel you need to be knowledgeable to a point of not making an assumption. That’s why we all need to talk more — we learn from each other. I learn something knew with every question that comes to me about my culture and I view that as an opportunity for me to learn.

José Díaz Aquino| Program Director for Career Development in CEIAS

What culture(s) and/or ethnic group(s) do you identify with?

I am from Puerto Rico and was born and raised on the island until I was 23 when I moved to Chicago for work. So I would say Puerto Rican or Boricua — I would say that is Latino.

What does being Hispanic/LatinX mean to you?

This is an interesting question. I am very proud of my Latinidad and the history of where I come from — but it is a complicated history. Growing up in a US territory, there is a mix of cultures that helped define and shape who we are as a people. The presence of colonialism is there and that makes me personally have mixed feelings about the terms Hispanic and LatinX. To me, I try to be an example and guide for others of what they can do.

How do you celebrate Hispanic Heritage month?

I celebrate Hispanic Heritage month by trying to be involved in events where possible to interact with others in the community. As a member of the Coconino Hispanic Advisory Council (CHAC) I am helping coordinate events for the month that will celebrate our culture and contributions county wide. At NAU, I will be part of Spanish speaking conversations within student affairs. For my work, my wife and I will be doing trainings with the county as part of lunch and learns that they have for Hispanic Heritage Month. I think just finding ways to connect is important.

Can you share a favorite tradition from your culture(s)?

Dancing and music are very important to Puerto Rican culture. It is an example of our mixed roots and heritage. With my wife being Colombian and me from Puerto Rico, salsa dancing is so important to us and something that we are teaching our 18 month old son already (he LOVES to dance). We also celebrate the African heritage in our culture through a form of dance and music called Bomba y Plena. It is beautiful to watch people dancing to the beat of the Congas and drums.

What’s your favorite cultural dish?

I get hungry just thinking of all the amazing food from the Caribbean. My favorite Puerto Rican dish is mofongo.

Mofongo (Spanish pronunciation: [moˈfoŋɡo]) is a dish with fried plantains as its main ingredient.

The plantains are picked green and fried, then mashed with salt, garlic, broth, and olive oil in a wooden pilón (mortar and pestle). The goal is to produce a tight ball of mashed plantains that will absorb the condiments. It is traditionally served with fried meat and chicken broth soup. Of course, rice and beans is a staple of any dish that we eat!

How can people be better allies to Hispanic communities?

Listen with an open heart and learn from your friends. The Hispanic/LatinX community is not a monolith. Every country and region has it’s own unique history. Take the time to learn about what makes each unique and find the beauty in why people love where they came from.

Emyly Fernandez

Graduate student in the Biology Master’s program, this is my second year!

What culture(s) and/or ethnic group(s) do you identify with?

I identify myself as a Mexican-American and/or as a Latina.

What does being Hispanic/LatinX mean to you?

Coming from a Mexican culture — for me it means family, diversity, first generation and it ties with the expression “the American dream.”

Even though as a women in STEM, who is the first from her family to graduate from a 4-year university and continue with her education (Master’s program) — we still see underrepresentation of not only women but Hispanic/Latinx people.

With that being said, I encourage everyone as a community to encourage others to continue their education, to be leaders, and/or to be advocates.

How do you celebrate Hispanic Heritage month?

I honestly don’t celebrate just one month — I mean it’s nice that the U.S. recognizes Hispanic Heritage for at least a month. But it’s an everyday or year celebration. I do this by embracing my culture, with food, with family, with friends.

Can you share a favorite tradition from your culture(s)?

I would say I don’t have a favorite tradition but I do love when my mom makes our favorite dish for our birthdays.

What’s your favorite cultural dish?

My favorite dish would be Tamales Nejos with Chicken Mole Verde! 

How can people be better allies to Hispanic communities?

At the end of the day people can be better allies to Hispanic communities by not creating barriers or labels. By standing up to those who are not being allies. Educating themselves, having some kind of knowledge on the hardships of our people. For all of the Hispanic/Latinx communities — don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself!

Ayla Martinez |PhD Biology student

What culture(s) and/or ethnic group(s) do you identify with?

I identify as a Mexican-American Latina

What does being Hispanic/LatinX mean to you?

Being Latinx means welcoming all peoples from different backgrounds into the US.

As a daughter of immigrants, we (my siblings and I) were taught to share the American dream with others — be it sharing our food to migrants close to our house, helping people on both sides of the border, or sharing our love of our food with others.

Being Latinx means showing kindness that is not always offered to all Latinx people who call the US their home.

How do you celebrate Hispanic Heritage month?

If I am being completely honest, I do not celebrate just one month, but an entire year.

Can you share a favorite tradition from your culture(s)?

My favorite tradition is celebrating El Dia de los Muertos (the day of the dead). I always carry photographs of my Tata (grandfather), Nana (grandmother), close family, and friends.

Honoring the memory of those I love has always been sacred to me. Even though I take time everyday to remember those I love, I really cherish having one day dedicated to them.

What’s your favorite cultural dish?

Arroz anaranjado con platano macho (orange rice with fried plantains)

How can people be better allies to Hispanic communities?

Not asking people where they are from. We all migrated from somewhere, with the exception of indigenous people, and we are here for the American dream.

Many diverse peoples call the US their home — I’d say celebrate people’s differences and be respectful of different Latinx cultures.

Yvonne M. Luna | Associate Vice Provost for Curriculum and Assessment

What culture(s) and/or ethnic group(s) do you identify with?

Mexican-American and Chicano/a

What does being Hispanic/LatinX mean to you?

Being Latinx means being part of a diverse and large ethnic category that includes all groups with Latin American ancestry.

My cultural identity is specifically Mexican-American or Chicano/a, a beautiful and rich cultural heritage with Mexican roots and unique American experiences.

This means my family speaks both Spanish and English, we favor Mexican cuisine, and we engage in many Mexican traditions, such as during the holidays.

How do you celebrate Hispanic Heritage month?

I try to attend campus events to the extent possible and I enjoy celebrating Mexican Independence with good food and discussions about the significance of that historic day. My dad is a history buff so I particularly enjoy talking with him about Mexican history.

Can you share a favorite tradition from your culture(s)?

I love Dia de los Muertos.

I specifically make it a point to go to the Museum of Northern Arizona every year to observe the altars and watch the Mexican dancers like baile folklorico.

I also make my own altar in memory of my mom and brother.

What’s your favorite cultural dish?

I love tacos! And, when my mom was alive, she made Mexican bread pudding and it was one of my favorite dishes.

How can people be better allies to Hispanic communities?

People can be better allies to Hispanic communities by advocating for increased awareness of cultural variations among Hispanic groups.

In addition, they can be aware of social and political issues unique to these populations such as disenfranchisement and (un)equal access to higher education.

Once aware, they can educate others and support policies and actions aimed at inclusivity, such as promoting voting rights.

Valeria Chase

Double NAU Alumna 2001 & 2006

I have a joint position between the city and the university and my role is to help build positive relationships between students and local residents.

What culture(s) and/or ethnic group(s) do you identify with?

Mexican

What does being Hispanic/LatinX mean to you?

Food, family, and fiesta. It’s the notion that those who came before us paved the way for a better future.

It’s piñatas, quinceañeras, and cumbias. It’s tamales, and tortillas. It’s faith, language, and culture.

There are so many things that make me proud of who I am and I want to make sure that my children also know where they come from.

How do you celebrate Hispanic Heritage month?

I listen to audio books written by Spanish authors — my favorite are historical fiction.

Can you share a favorite tradition from your culture(s)?

Making tamales for Christmas. It’s a whole day affair but the end result is worth it!

What’s your favorite cultural dish?

Arroz con leche

How can people be better allies to Hispanic communities?

Get to know us as individuals — sometimes one person can do the wrong thing but it doesn’t mean that we’re all the same.

We are more than our brown skin and curly hair.

Alejandra Espinoza

I’m a senior double majoring in Political Science and Strategic Communication with a Public Relations emphasis.

I’m also in my third year working at NAU ITS in the communication department which has really shaped my experience at NAU for the best.

What culture(s) and/or ethnic group(s) do you identify with?

I’m Mexican as my parents are both from Mexico.

What does being Hispanic/LatinX mean to you?

Being a first generation Latina is a huge privilege to me. I feel so honored to get the amazing education that I do now which I know makes my family proud. I hope to empower the rest of the Hispanic community.

How do you celebrate Hispanic Heritage month?

I was born and raised in Arizona, but celebrating Hispanic Heritage month is not common in my family at all. Growing up it was never celebrated in Arizona or Mexico.

However, September 16th is Mexico’s Independence day which was always celebrated with huge parties in Mexico.

I do love to shop and eat out and that’s a big way where I try to honor my heritage and culture. Whenever I shop I often try to support local Mexican artisans and restaurants.

Can you share a favorite tradition from your culture(s)?

I love celebrating Christmas because it’s very common to gather your entire family (and extended family) on Christmas Eve to stay up all night and celebrate. I think it’s really nice that at least once a year everyone gets together.

What’s your favorite cultural dish?

My favorite cultural dish is hard to pick but I think it would be tamales just because they remind me of making them every Christmas with my mom and aunts.

How can people be better allies to Hispanic communities?

I think people can be better allies to Hispanic communities by listening to their stories and supporting them.

People show their support in many ways but I think one of the main ways would be to voting. It’s hard for me to believe someone that isn’t Mexican is willing to support me if they vote against me and my people.

I also think that if people stopped supporting big corporations or celebrities that are appropriating our culture it would stop enabling them.

Oscar Lujan | Pursuing my Master’s in Biology

I am currently helping Vidal Mendoza in the Office of Inclusion to create a more inclusive environment for Latinx students at NAU. I was also the former graduate advisor for the Latinx Student Union (LSU) organization at NAU between Fall 2019-Spring 2021.

What culture(s) and/or ethnic groups do you identify with?

I primarily identify as Mexican, but also identify as Latino, Chicano, and Hispanic.

What does being Hispanic/LatinX mean to you?

Hispanic to me means never forgetting what sacrifices were made for me to be where I am today, while also enjoying the beautiful components of our culture, such as food, music, and values.

How do you celebrate Hispanic Heritage month?

I participate in parades, club meetings, and other activities the community plans.

What’s your favorite cultural dish?

My absolute favorite dish is sopes!

How can people be better allies to the Hispanic community?

Be involved in our discussions and really listen to our perspective on issues.

Isabella Ferrero, NAU Freshman studying English with an emphasis in Creative Writing

What culture(s) and/or ethnic groups do you identify with?

I am Latina and from Venezuela!

What does being Hispanic/LatinX mean to you?

For me, being LatinX is being part of a culture that is immensely diverse but also understanding of each other.

Being Latina means finding familia everywhere.

What is one of your favorite cultural traditions?

One of my favorite traditions from Venezuela is the Christmas season!

We get together and throw these amazing parties called parrandas every single week all the way through the New Year and listen and sing gaitas.

What’s your favorite cultural dish?

A favorite cultural dish is either the Arepa Cabimera or the Patacón — both are incredible.

Dr. T. Mark Montoya |Director & Associate Professor, Ethnic Studies

What culture(s) and/or ethnic group(s) do you identify with?

LatinX & New Mexican

What does being Hispanic/LatinX mean to you?

Family, community, & collaboration

How do you celebrate Hispanic Heritage month?

By being my authentic self

Can you share a favorite tradition from your culture(s)?

Familia! Always celebrating something or someone.

What’s your favorite cultural dish?

New Mexican stacked red chile beef enchiladas with an egg, overeasy (especially Mom’s).

How can people be better allies to Hispanic communities?

Listen, learn, & communicate

Alondra Hernandez Cedillo

PhD Candidate of Applied Physics and Materials Science and Teaching Assistant

The photo is me with a sculpture of a Mayan goddess at Isla Mujeres, Mexico

What culture(s) and/or ethnic group(s) do you identify with

LatinX

What does being Hispanic/LatinX mean to you?

For me, it’s being proud of my roots — which makes me feel like being part of this whole universe but still being part of my grandma, parents, all of them.

They are what I am today, they bring me my roots as my cosmovision, my beliefs and my love for food, so for me is only that I carry within my inheritance to the root.

How do you celebrate Hispanic Heritage month?

I’ve never celebrated Hispanic Heritage month, this is my first time.

Can you share a favorite tradition from your culture(s)?

My favorite tradition is Xantolo, the word comes from Nahuatl (native language) and it means “all saints” that celebrate every year on November 1st and 2nd in my hometown. It’s a bit different than the Day of Dead in Mexico because Xantolo is celebrated through huehues, these huehues are usually disguised people eg. women disguise men and vice-versa, and also huehues have their traditional costumes like a monk, devil, etc.

Huehues dance to traditional music and invite people to dance with them. This tradition is celebrated only in a region called Huasteca. I love the music, dance and the meaning behind this tradition. For me the meaning is we can celebrate life as dead, dancing, because death is also part of life. Its beautiful.

What’s your favorite cultural dish?

I can’t even say only one!

I love bocoles, migadas, zacahuil, tacos de barbacoa, grandmas tamales, and pozole.

How can people be better allies to Hispanic communities?

Being empathic, because I think this is why make all humans, being empathic with all cultures, minorities, etc.

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