Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration Speeches

October 3, 2020

On September 30, Princeton Day School hosted a virtual assembly during Community Block to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. It was composed of five student speakers, senior Josh Colon, junior Ida Perez, senior Fabio Yales, senior Britney Chia, and sophomore Joaquin Rodriguez, as well as the two faculty advisors of PDS’s Black and Latin Student Union, Alana Allen and Darling Cerna. The seven of them spoke about their struggle in finding their identities and in fitting in within different spaces in America, as well as their pride in their identities. All speeches can be found below.

Introduction, by Josh Colon

Good Morning Upper School,

For those of you who don’t know me, My name is Josh Colon and I am the head of the Black/Latinx Student Union, also known as BLSU, this year. I am very excited to say this will be PDS’s third annual Hispanic Heritage Month Presentation. I still remember sharing my own narrative at the very first celebration of Hispanic Heritage month my sophomore year about what this month means to me. I am hopeful that this tradition will continue long after I leave the Day school. Every year we select a theme to highlight certain aspects of the Hispanic and LatinX culture. This year’s theme is language and the many different ways it impacts those of us who identify as Hispanic or LatinX. I,myself, am a native speaker o un hablante nativo, meaning I have known Spanish for as long as I can remember. For me, language has always been synonymous with family. Most of my family speaks primarily Spanish especially my grandparents and family members who live in Colombia and Guatemala. Being able to communicate with them is truly a blessing and I am very grateful to be able to speak both English and Spanish. However, my connection to the language could be vastly different compared to someone who might not even speak it or understand it. Regardless, anyone who identifies as Hispanic or Latinx has some connection to the native tongue of our culture. Today, you will hear about these diverse experiences and connections to the language from some of your fellow peers. In my PDS experience, the stories that have impacted me the most have come from members of our own community. I ask that you all actively listen to the stories that will be shared today and to appreciate the courage of your friends and classmates for sharing their stories. Lastly, I want to thank our amazing faculty advisers Ms. Cerna and Ms. Allen because without them this would not have been possible.

And now, without any further ado, I would like to introduce our first speaker, Ida.

Ida Perez

Before I start I just want to say that you’re going to need your context clues skills to understand this speech. Ok thanks. Mirar yo se que no tengo mucho tiempo, y que algunos de ustedes no van a entender lo que voy a decir pero cómo ustedes se siente de – nah I’m just kidding.

Hi, my name is Ida, I’m a junior here at PDS and Spanish happens to be my first language. I actually remember the first time that I learned English. Well not exactly, pero siempre me gusta actuar como aprendiendo ingles was such a hardship. It wasn’t. My three year old self was more than happy to learn how to say “That’s not supposed to happen” simply because it made me feel superior to other 3yr olds during small groups.

Being bilingual has definitely made my life more interesting. I’m able to send secret messages to my friends en Español whenever I feel like telling them some top secret tea. I can naturally roll my r’s without even trying. Like watch this: Three, Through, throw.  I can switch back and forth from Spanish to English, as I’ve been doing this entire time, with ease. And my personal favorite, speaking Spanish to a non-native speaker and watching their eyes widen in shock when I correctly translate “amo ir a escuela” to “I am dropping out” (I’m kidding).

But um anyways, I’m not going to lie, being bilingual is all fun and games until your friend that’s in a Spanish course feels the need to ask you questions about grammar as if you actually knew the intricacies of the language. Babes, yo no sé nada de lo que tu maestra te está enseñando. Let me repeat that. Yo no sé nada de lo que tu maestra te está enseñando. I mean I remember this one time, freshman year, someone asked me about conjunctions… needless to say…they never came to me ever again. The Spanish that I know is the one learned in rural areas in Dominican Republic, not Spanish from Spain or “proper” Spanish if you will.

But do not get me wrong, I love the fact that I was blessed with the privilege of being fluent in Spanish. Growing up, students at my school were basically forced to learn Spanish, since it was the only language offered in Trenton Public School systems. It was so common that I didn’t never realized how significant it is that I am a native speaker, until I came to PDS. Before, I didn’t see the big deal of knowing the language, since everyone I knew was studying it too, but now there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t remind someone that I am 100% Dominican. (Yea I was born there and everything, no biggie.) Embracing my native tongue has probably been one of the best decisions of my life and I hope that uno de estos dia, todo de ustedes pueden entender esta última línea.

Gracias and now I pass it on to Fabio.

Fabio Yales

Good morning everyone. My name is Fabio Yales, and to tell you a little bit about myself, I was born and raised in Guatemala, and moved to the United States in 2010.

When Ms. Cerna informed me that the topic for this year’s gathering was about the idea of language in relation to identifying as Latinx, I immediately thought about my struggle with identity and how language had a major role. Although speaking a second language is presumed to be the key to many opportunities, speaking Spanish held me back from feeling comfortable in my own skin. Growing up in the United States as an immigrant made me self conscious about my appearance and where I am from. I believe that there is a line dividing those who are born in America and those who are not. This is not to say that no member of the Latinx community is accepted in the United States.; I just understand that not being recognized as an American is a disadvantage.

For this reason, I avoided speaking Spanish in public for years. From waiting in line at stores, to sitting at the beach, I was always aware of the strangers around me before I spoke, or I would mumble “ahorita no” in order to avoid conversation with my parents. Speaking Spanish in public always made me feel vulnerable to the judgement of others. The same fear of being judged for speaking Spanish with others around made me feel ashamed every time my dad picked me up blasting a merengue that was heard from miles away.

I lost a part of myself when I decided to conceal my love for the culture that made me who I am today only within the safe walls of my house. As I matured over the years, I grew to understand that the language I speak and my experiences as an immigrant are all a privilege. Being from Guatemala has allowed me to live the best of two worlds. I get to be part of a rich culture that involves a wide variety of unique dishes, and my ability to speak Spanish fluently has influenced my taste in music. Similarly, migrating to the United States exposed me to a whole new different culture, and learning English introduced me to new genres of music. Most importantly, being bilingual has allowed me to connect with more people and have a variety of relationships. Even though it took me a long time to get here, today I embrace who I am and I am thankful for how my experiences as an immigrant have allowed me to grow and experience my life.

Thank you and now I will pass it on to Britney.

Britney Chia

I have always had a love-hate relationship with language. I knew that I loved my culture but I did not know why. I would be made fun of when I couldn’t roll my “Rs.” People would be shocked when I spoke and didn’t have an accent. I would constantly be asked “Aren’t you Spanish?” or  “Shouldn’t you know this?” Particularly during standardized assessments and now during the college process, I often felt frustrated and guilty when checking “Yes” on the “Are you Hispanic?” question. 

I grew up in a household where things like culture and identity were never talked about. Living in America, a country that operates on a supremacist notion of race and English, I always felt like I didn’t fit in with my roots because I could not speak Spanish. At home, my father speaks Spanish and my mother, Italian. Sometimes they will speak a mix, with a sentence starting with one and ending in another. So, yes, that means lots of loud, quick, voices and yelling. And yes, lots of Britney nodding her head. But, it’s also a constant reminder to me of what culture means across generations. Something so easy and innate to them, is so distant to me. This is part of what motivated me to pursue Spanish at PDS. I wanted to communicate on a more global scale and to speak with extended family more often. Coming from a family that speaks three languages, I have naturally learned the basics of language across my identity points. I learned that although language is a unique part of your culture, it’s not the ultimate thing that makes you who you are. So, that’s why I value PDS so much. My family never taught me what it meant to be a Latina. But, each Spanish class I have taken at PDS has taught me to look at language in a different way; to connect it to who I am and where I come from. So, that’s why I value PDS so much. And after each class, I’m one step closer to rolling my “Rs.”   

Thank you. And now I will turn it over to Joaquin.

Joaquin Rodriguez

When I think of what it means to grow up in a Spanish speaking household, I often realize how I differ  from the people I am surrounded by. My first example is my name. I can guarantee that most people who read my name for the first time pronounced it as joe-a-quinn, joe-kin, and even jaquan, instead of Joaquin. Secondly, is my hair. I have a very big, curly afro that is very uncommon. However, rather than seeing my hair as just regular hair, people tend to think that it is a toy. They will reach out and just touch it and grab it without asking because it is “so rare”. Finally is the language Spanish itself. I adore the language and hope to one day successfully speak it without having to think twice about what I say. But, when my family speaks Spanish in public, there are times when people look at us funny and then look at us again as though speaking a different language scares them. What my name, my hair, and the Spanish language have in common is that they all scream “different”. I have been forced to reconcile with the fact that I will always be different from my peers, and from most people I associate myself with. 

These differences have led to the formation of stereotypes in all aspects of life. My first time encountering them was around the age of 12 when I traveled down south to Florida and we made stops in states such as Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. I got plenty of looks and many side comments. Even when I walked into the mens bathroom with my hair out, other men would see me, turn around, double check the sign, and snicker as they walked by while looking at me as though I was some alien. It was a very hard concept for 12 year old Joaquin to grasp. It even pushed me to the point where I no longer wanted to have my hair because of the way people used to look at me. 

After finally getting past that obstacle, I then ran into my first issue in the classroom. In my eighth grade year, I was placed in the hardest math class my school had to offer. I was the only hispanic student in that class, so I already felt extremely intimidated. A common theme was that every time I would have a hard time in class, I felt as though the other students saw me as the “Dumb hispanic kid that does not belong here.” Although I told myself that what people may think of me would never bother me, this always stuck with me. This feeling of being lesser than someone else because of my ethnicity all of a sudden became very real. Although that is not the way I should have felt, that feeling was beyond my control. I felt as though the odds were stacked against me and I did not belong with those students. I thought, “I am a Puerto Rican and Dominican kid from Trenton, New Jersey. I have no business being in a class with kids that much smarter than me.” Because I struggled in the class, I often went to my teacher for help. She did her best to help when we were one on one, but whenever we were in the classroom with other students, she would continue to rush through material. 

As some time passed, I became more aware of who I am. I began to realize that no matter how scary it may be that I am the only hispanic kid in most of my classes, I owe it to myself, my family, and the millions of hispanics I represent to put my best foot forward, through all of the adversity. It’s my job to prove that a Puerto Rican and Dominican kid from Trenton is just as, if not more capable, than anyone else. And to all my fellow Hispanics in the audience, always remember; Si se Puede. 

Wrap-Up by Ms. Cerna and Ms. Allen

Thank you, Joaquin. And a big thank you to all our speakers: Josh, Ida, Fabio, Britney and Joaquin. 

We want to thank all of you, whether you are on campus or remote, for tuning in this morning. It’s important to take a moment to acknowledge the strength and courage that it takes to stand (or in this case, sit) in front of your peers and share something so personal and meaningful. If you see any of our speakers in the hallways today, please take a moment to thank them for their words. 

Now: If you are wondering, “What should I be taking away from the past few minutes?” take a moment to reflect about the things that were mentioned. Your peers, who walk the same hallways as you, sit at the same tables as you, and learn the same material that you do, have shared incredible insight with you this morning. Our prompt to them was to talk about the significance of language and how it pertains to their culture, and look at what they’ve shared after reflecting on this. Their stories are real, their experiences happen in these hallways and in these classrooms. 

Think twice before you ask a Hispanic member of our community for help with your Spanish homework. Please don’t touch people’s hair without asking, even when we’re allowed to be closer than six feet apart. Don’t look at your peers a certain way because they are speaking a language other than English, or because of how loudly they may be talking. Let’s be mindful of each other’s feelings and do our best to be respectful members of the Upper School.

Something else you might be wondering about HHM is “What should I do now? Or Is there something I could be doing differently? Besides being more aware of your actions and words towards your peers at PDS and the community as a whole, at PDS we always emphasize the importance of service and finding ways to do good for the community. 

A fun and engaging tradition has always been our pulsera sale. Every May, PDS partners with Pulsera Project to sell hundreds of bracelets (or pulseras) on campus. Due to COVID, we didn’t have our sale this past spring, but we brought it back to campus in honor of HHM. 

If you haven’t done so yet, I urge you to look through our website  – pulseraprojectpds.com – and look through all the beautiful bracelets that were handmade by employees in Nicaragua and Guatemala. All bracelets are $5 and proceeds go directly back to support jobs, educational programs, scholarships, community development and worker’s rights. Countries such as Guatemala and Nicaragua were already struggling with their economy and resources before COVID, the state of their country is now in greater danger than before. 

Think about this. 

Every dollar we send back is equivalent to 34.68 Nicaraguan Córdobas or 7.78 Guatemalan Quetzales. Imagine the difference we can make if each one of us purchases just one bracelet. 

More details about how to pay and delivery of pulseras will be posted to Schoology later this morning. 

We are lucky and thankful to be back on campus and to resume our normal lives as best we can. We ask you to please think about purchasing a pulsera, it’s for a great cause. 

Thank you again for tuning in today and happy Wellbeing Wednesday to all!

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