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Listen to Learn: Latine Heritage Month

Two Upper School students write about what their identity means to them and their experience at UPrep.

The co-leaders of the Latine Student Union share what their identity means to them

During October, the Diversity and Community Office is leading our community in celebrating Latine Heritage Month. Throughout the month, students from the Latine Student Union (LSU) will share parts of their culture to help the UPrep community learn more about the holidays, histories, experiences, foods, writers, and more from the many cultures within the Latine community. Later this month, students in LSU will create an altar in the lobby of the Administration Building (next to Head of School Ronnie Codrington-Cazeau’s office) to celebrate Día de Los Muertos, a holiday celebrated throughout Latin America on November 1 and 2. Below, the co-leaders of LSU, seniors Adriana H. and Maylin G., write about what their identity means to them and their experience at UPrep.

Reflecting on My Mexican Culture and My Experience at UPrep

By Adriana H., 12th grade

The US celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15, but I found out about this celebration through a Snapchat filter two years ago. As silly as this seems, it’s true. In the two years that I’ve known about Hispanic Heritage Month, I now take the time to reflect on what it means to me, my identity, and to my experience at UPrep.

Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to celebrate Hispanic countries and the immense culture this encompasses. When I think of my Hispanic heritage, I think of my Mexican culture. I think about the delicious food my family cooks on the day before Christmas. As the smell of chilies fills the house, everyone coughs because the spice is too strong. But no one complains because we all know the tamales will turn out good. I think of the night before Día de los Muertos when my brothers and I gather around the living room watching my dad build the altar. Bright orange marigolds fill the floor. At parties, I can hear the tapping on the floor as people dance zapateados with everyone uniting to create one rhythm. The music is so loud that you cannot hear the other person speak. And finally, I see a crowd of kids who are my cousins, playing soccer on the field as parents circle around the grill waiting for the carne asada while telling childhood stories from their hometown.

As connected as I am to my culture, I can’t help but feel a disconnect at times. I grew up attending a diverse elementary school with many students that looked like me. We shared common experiences, such as attending church on Sundays, speaking Spanish at home, and discussing the novelas our parents were watching. Based on this upbringing, I thought that I would always go to school with a diverse group of students. When I began attending a private school in seventh grade, everything changed. I was one of three Hispanic students. I would only speak Spanish to the Spanish teacher because she was the only one that was fluent. There was no one to share music in Spanish with and there were less people to talk about shared experiences. These moments made me feel really far away from my culture and as if I was missing out on important experiences.

Fast forward to my freshman year at UPrep: I was happy to see more Hispanic students. During our affinity group meetings, we would play Lotería. One time we drank hot chocolate and ate pan dulce. I recall the memorable time during Culture Night when we performed a dance. During my time at UPrep, there have been times where those moments of disconnect come back, but it’s nice knowing that I have a community that I can go to during these years. Now, as a co-leader of the Latine Student Union, I aim to create a shared cultural space for students.

It’s important to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month at UPrep so Hispanic students see their culture being celebrated and appreciated. We need spaces where we can discuss our experiences and feel heard and seen. But most importantly, during Latine Heritage Month, I want to remind students that Hispanic Heritage Month exists, so they don’t have to resort to a Snapchat filter to find out about it.

Bringing My Home Self and My Mexican Identity to UPrep

By Maylin G., 12th grade

When I was younger, I did not take much consideration of my ethnicity or identity. It was not something I was ashamed of, but rather that my culture and traditions felt so normal.

This all changed when I joined the UPrep community in the fall of 2016. This was the first time in my life that I had been in classes where no one looked like me. I also slowly started to realize how different my upbringing had been from my classmates. Growing up, my classmates' parents played Queen or David Bowie; at my house we listened to Los Ángeles Azules and Los Bukis. We did not have Mexican-themed dinner nights since Mexican food was just something that was always present. I had never watched an episode of Judge Judy; I only knew Ana María Polo from Caso Cerrado. Being raised by my immigrant parent’s culture has made it difficult to participate in US pop culture conservations. Throughout Middle School, it felt much simpler to completely stay away from those topics. I did not feel like I had to hide parts of myself, I just had a difficult time finding someone to relate to.

The start of high school was when I began to take more interest in exploring my identity, specifically my ethnicity. I took comfort in the fact that another Mexican American student had joined my grade. This completely changed my experience at UPrep. I was able to share and have conversations that I could have never had with any of my other friends. Not only do we have very similar interests, but we also speak the same Spanish at home and to each other. I believe that language plays a key role in preserving culture, which is why I feel grateful to be able to use it at school. Saying “Hola” to Spanish-speaking faculty members has also become a norm since the start of high school.

In the past, it had felt like I had two distinct personalities. My personality at UPrep that I had created specifically for my friends and teachers, and my personality at home that was targeted towards my family and other Hispanic individuals. For the first time, I was able to truly embody my home self at UPrep. 

There are not many Hispanic students or faculty at UPrep, which is why having an affinity space feels vital. I joined the Latine Student Union during my freshman year of high school and became a co-leader my junior year. Through this club, I have been able to connect with other Upper School students that share similar cultural backgrounds and experiences at UPrep. Even though we are a small percentage of community members, I want our culture and customs to be seen and represented at our school. 

Read more blogs in the Listen to Learn series.

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