Category Archives: Hispanic

Fiesta Fridays! 2007

NOTE:  Fiesta Fridays is a special series to highlight the many memories I have of Fiesta through the photographs I’ve taken since 2003.

The Blue Demon Luchador makes his first appearance at Fiesta in 2007!

Fiesta 2007 brought several new additions to the event.  It was our 5th anniversary so everyone involved was so excited that we had made it this far!  It also turned out to be one of our biggest years ever with over 20K people attending!  I was board president that year and the board members and volunteers seemed to be settling into a great rhythm with the planning and engaging both the English and Spanish-speaking communities.  This was also the year we went out on a “so-called” limb and decided the time was right for wrestling!!!

Our presenting sponsor – Coca Cola – had just launched a new energy drink called Full Throttle Blue Demon and had acquired Mexican luchador (wrestler) Blue Demon, Jr. to help with promotions in Mexico. The board was having a meeting several months before our 2007 Fiesta event when we started discussing new aspects of our event.   Lucha Libre was mentioned and board member, Mike Suco (with Coca Cola) brought up Blue Demon.  Things took off quickly from there and before you knew it, we had Blue Demon making a weekend appearance in Alabama and we had also partnered with Wrestle Birmingham to bring a ring and local wrestlers to Fiesta!  The ring was set up right next to the Coca Cola Main Stage and the crowd that gathered was incredible!  I remember standing on the main stage and getting some pretty awesome photos of the wrestling matches!  The crowd that gathered that year was incredible!

Blue Demon made a return appearance in 2008 to huge crowds.  He was definitely popular!  The current Fiesta board is looking at bringing wrestling or Lucha Libre, back to Fiesta for our 15th anniversary celebration.  Fingers crossed it works out!  I would love to see all that excitement once again at our event!

Antonio Sacre, storyteller, performer and author, makes his first appearance at Fiesta in 2007 in the Storytelling Village.

Fiesta also created a new village in 2007 – the Storytelling Village.  We were lucky enough to find Antonio Sacre, a storyteller, performer and author of Irish-Cuban descent to highlight the village.  And let me tell you, he not only highlighted the Storytelling Village…he ended up highlighting the entire festival!!!  He didn’t just stay in one part of Linn Park that day!  He was all over the place, finding opportunities to tell stories in the cultural village, on the main stage and just lend his all around good nature and great stories to the delight of the many guests that day at Fiesta!  No group was too small or too large for Antonio!

The Storytelling Village itself was such a great set up…we had beanbag chairs for kids to relax in and hear stories read to them by UAB college students.  The Birmingham Public Library also partnered with us to make this village come alive.  Bilingual books were donated so kids got to read, hear the books read, and then go home with one to enjoy!  Families flocked to the new village that year and seemed to really enjoy the peace and quiet offered there…away from the activity of the other areas of Fiesta but close enough to still see what was going on.

Antonio Sacre made a return visit to Fiesta in 2008 and this time he came for the entire weekend.  We arranged for him to visit several schools on Friday and he became quite the ambassador for Fiesta that year!  I know we saw an increase in family attendance from the schools visited.  I was fortunate enough to chauffeur him around that day.  And on Friday night we had a reception at the Birmingham Public Library where we heard from Antonio,  had a book signing and we also hosted several Fiesta scholarship winners.  Our local CBS news affiliate even came out to cover the event!

I have one more great memory of Antonio and the 2008 year and it is unrelated to the Fiesta event…  There was a Leonardo DaVinci exhibit at the Birmingham Museum of Art that fall.  The BMA had been a partner with Fiesta for many years so I had some tickets to the exhibit.  We had some time before the first school visit and I asked Antonio if he wanted to go.  He said “sure!”  It turned out to be such a fun few hours walking around the museum with him and listening to his thoughts on the DaVinci’s drawings and other artifacts.  It was such a treat for me to hear Antonio’s impressions through an artists’ mind.

More to come so please come back every Friday through September 30, 2017 for more behind the scenes stories of Fiesta!

Fiesta Fridays! 2003 to 2006

NOTE;  Fiesta Fridays is a special series to highlight the many memories I have of Fiesta through the photographs I’ve taken since 2003. 

Fiesta, Alabama’s largest celebration of Hispanic culture and heritage is 15 years old this year!  I’ve been spending a lot of time going through old files and photos and reliving the early years of this festival.  Getting a festival like this started was a lot of work and yet those of us who were there at the beginning really didn’t know how big this event would become – or how long it would last!  These photos and document revealed so much history and so many people involved for all these years.  As I was reliving moment through photos, I was also recalling stories and my personal thoughts.  So as we get closer to our 15th anniversary this year, I decided to begin posting a photo each Friday with a little story – I’m calling these “Fiesta Friday” photos on Facebook and Instagram.  It occurred to me though that there is more to tell about some of these photos and the people involved and the best way to do this is on my blog.

So this post will be about the photos I’ve already posted from 2003 to 2006.  There are so many photos to choose from too!  I started taking the photos at Fiesta the first year never imagining that I would become the official “unofficial” photographer of the event.  I was using film and switched to digital a few years later but these are the photos that really stick out to me of the thousands that I’ve taken.

Fiesta 2003 – My friends Lui Fernandez and Jasmine Reyes dance next to the Main Stage while Susan Daywood, Rei Ramos and Hernan Prado watch and enjoy the music!

2003 – Fiesta’s first year…  I was at the main stage – the Coca Cola main stage and found a group of friends from the Hispanic Business Council (HBC)on the side of the stage dancing and having a great time.  It was getting close to the final acts and everyone was so happy about the success of our first ever event!  We had expected about 2,000 people to come through but when the numbers were finally counted, we had about 7,000 attendees our very first year!  Overwhelming would be an appropriate word to describe our feelings that day.  I snapped this photo of Jasmine Reyes dancing with a young man.  Behind her are Susan Daywood with the City of Birmingham and a member of the HBC, Rei Ramos with the HBC and Hernan Prado, also with the HBC.  What I didn’t realize at the time is that the young man Jasmine was dancing with would become a huge part of Fiesta.  Luis “Lui” Fernandez is a current board member and has been instrumental in creating the “heart” of Fiesta – the Cultural Village.  He took it from a few posters to a group of community members excited about portraying their respective countries and sharing this information with Fiesta guests each year.  When he is in charge of something, I never worry about how it will turn out because Lui has a special talent in creating something to remember!

Fiesta 2003 – Salsa dancers on the main stage

2004 -Fiesta’s second year – This photo was taken from the Coca Cola Main Stage and is of two dancers.  They drew quite the crowd early in the day that year.  Their dancing was on point along with the DJ playing salsa music.  I was taken by the pure joy of the dance that they shared with Fiesta guests that day.  This photo was used in many of the early marketing and advertising we used of Fiesta to potential sponsors and on our website.

Entrance to the Cultural Village created by Lui Fernandez – Fiesta 2004

2004 – Another photo from Fiesta’s second year is of the entrance to the Cultural Village.  You’ve already read how much I admire and respect Lui Fernandez’s talent and this particular year, he decided to create an actual entrance to the village!  I like to say that this was the year the Cultural Village really came to life!  It was the year that music broke out all over the village and people were dancing on the sidewalk and there was always a steady crowd of people walking through to experience this community driven village.  Lui created the entrance with the logo and before the event opened, he added flags from all the Hispanic countries to the white posts which made the entrance even more colorful.  It was such a beautiful sight!

Fiesta board member – Mike Suco – helps his parents, Teresa and Ramon Suco – set up the Cuba booth in the Cultural Village in 2005.

2005 – Fiesta’s 3rd year – This is such a favorite photo of mine because it features Fiesta board member, Mike Suco with his parents – Teresa and Ramon Suco.  Mike’s mother, Teresa, found out that Cuba was NOT represented the year before in the cultural village and she was not going to let that happen that particular year!  She took it upon herself to create a beautiful Cuba booth along with her husband and as you can see in this photo – her son, Mike too!  Teresa and Ramon Suco fled Cuba under the Castro regime in 1962, shortly after they were married and came to the US not knowing the language or anyone and made a great life for themselves and their children.  Mr.Suco worked his way to District Supervisor at Big B Drugs while Teresa Suco became a Professor of Spanish at Jacksonville State University.  I remember the first year I was President of Fiesta, Mike told me his mother asked about me and wanted to make sure I was doing all right and he was helping me enough!  I always felt we had a special bond because we shared the same name.  Such lovely people…

2006 – Fiesta’s 4th year – I had been photographing Fiesta all day and was trying to head over to the VIP area to grab a quick bite to eat when I saw Cultural Village (CV) Chair, Lui Fernandez rush over to me.  He excitedly told me I needed to get to the CV stage right away and get some pictures!  Of course, I followed him right over and there on the stage were the cutest children dressed in traditional Mexican costumes dancing traditional Mexican dances!  Their faces were so sweet too!  I remember thinking they seemed so shy and yet they were smiling and dancing their little hearts out for the crowd that had gathered.  This was the year we added the CV stage and I remember there was quite a bit of activity with other dance performances and even a short play in Spanish!  I’m just so grateful that Lui saw me when he did and told me to get to the stage or I would have missed this performance.  This became one of my favorite memories of Fiesta in 2006 – seeing the sweet faces of these children and seeing my friend, Lui’s face, beaming from a distance as he watched this take place…

More to come so please come back every Friday through September 30, 2017!

Edwina Taylor – Helping People One Smile at a Time

img_3055I got my Cahaba Valley Health Care newsletter in the mail today.  I always like reading about the people who are helped by this wonderful non-profit and also the volunteers involved.  And in this edition of the newsletter – I spotted a photo I took at the See More Smiles Breakfast in 2010!

Let me start with a little background on Cahaba Valley Health Care or CVHC.  This non-profit was founded in 2000 by Edwina Taylor, a hematology and oncology nurse who had worked for decades at UAB Medical Center and then in palliative care at Cooper Green.  This is where Edwina began seeing how difficult it was for the uninsured to access health care.  In 1979 she and her husband adopted a daughter, Emilie, from Guatemala.  Because of her daughter’s background, she began paying more attention to the needs of the Hispanic community.  This reached a peak in the 1990s with the influx of Hispanics to the Birmingham region.  Edwina has told the story many times but I never tire of hearing it because of her enthusiasm and giving heart.  She said if it was hard for people who were born here and spoke the language to access health care, what must it be like for someone who wasn’t born here and doesn’t speak the language.  On top of that, there is the cultural and trust barrier that compounds all of this.

Edwina decided she needed to act on her desire to help the uninsured and with the help of friends and her church – Cahaba Valley – she set out to start a non-profit that offered health screening for the uninsured population with a focus on Hispanics in Jefferson and Shelby Counties.  The latest newsletter already has the dates for the 2017 screenings listed and almost all are at area churches with a Hispanic congregation.  Always happy to see my own church, Prince of Peace Catholic – on the list!  These screenings include vision, dental and blood pressure.  I’ve attended a few of these screenings and I’m amazed at the number of people who come out.  Many people who come to these screenings are in dire need too.  Edwina talks about how if you have a tooth ache, you have a bad day…but what if you have several?  Many of her clients require much care and have no way to access if it weren’t for CVHC,  I even heard one story of someone pulling their own tooth with pliers because of the pain.  I can’t even imagine…

I first met Edwina when I visited their first offices at Cahaba Valley Church along with a friend from an area foundation who was going to present a check to her.  I went along to learn more about her and her organization because of my involvement in the community.  I had actually met her at the United Way Latino Issues Committee but had not had a lot of time to talk to her.  Something about Edwina that I found out early on is that her demeanor is always the same – smiling and positive – ALWAYS!  She is not someone you say “no” to either and she can pull volunteers and collaborators together like no other person I’ve ever known.  Another thing I learned about her is that she is always looking for ways to help more and more people.  She is not satisfied with the status quo and her energy is inspiring to me.  She is the type of person who makes you want to do more.

Earlier I mentioned my photo being in the newsletter advertising the See More Smile Breakfast.  This fundraising event has grown so much since my first breakfast about 8 years ago.  Edwina gets everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – donated and there is no cost to attend.  You are simply asked to make a donation at the end of the breakfast and after Edwina talks, you WANT to donate!  I never attend a See More Smiles breakfast without my camera anymore.  That’s one of the things I’ve learned over the years of working with non-profits …there is always a need for more marketing and PR assistance and a good photo can go a long way!

Speaking of being able to generate volunteers…Edwina many years ago took on the task of creating the Fiesta Health & Wellness Village for us (the Fiesta board).  We had a vision for having all the health care agencies and non-profits in one area at the festival and she took it and ran with it!  At one point, she would just ask us for the registration forms and would report back close to the event who was coming so we could prepare.  We never questioned because we knew that in her hands, the village would be phenomenal…and it always has been.

Edwina speaks to visitors to the Fiesta Health and Wellness Village that she coordinated through 2015.

Edwina speaks to visitors to the Fiesta Health and Wellness Village that she coordinated through 2015.

In April this year, CVHC moved to Cooper Green Hospital.  The ability to serve even more clients in their dental clinic is exciting.  It seems almost like it has come full circle for Edwina though…as a nurse at Cooper Green so many years ago.  She is back where she originally saw the need to serve and is doing just that.

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Fiesta 2016 – Some of my Favorite Photos

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Drummer for Los Canarios on the Fiesta Coca Cola Main Stage

We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day!  The sky was blue and the temperature reached the low 80s and the sun made itself known throughout the day.  After the constant drizzle of the previous year, this was so welcomed to the Fiesta board, volunteers and especially the patrons!

Approximately 14,000 people made their way to Linn Park in downtown Birmingham for the 14th annual Fiesta event on Saturday, September 24.  My favorite things to do every single year is to walk the park, visiting all the booths and meeting and greeting all the nonprofits, businesses and vendors who come to be a part of this incredible event.  I take their photos, welcome the new folks and catch up with old friends along the way.

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A little girl wearing a traditional Mexican dress gets her nails painted in the Family Village.

One of the highlights of this years event was the competition between countries in the Cultural Village – the heart of Fiesta.  A group of judges went through – anonymously – and voted on the best country booth based on presentation and creativity.   This year the Mexico won the competition and took home $500!  Next year, the stakes will be even higher as the best country booth will walk away with $1,000!

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A collage of photos from past Fiestas adorned the Mexico booth in the Cultural Village. The Mexico booth won the first ever competition of Cultural Village country booths!

By the way…next year will be Fiesta’s 15th year anniversary – our quinceanera…and we have big things planned for this milestone!  Mark your calendars for Saturday, September 30, 2017, for Fiesta 2017 and stay tuned for an event packed year leading up to this great event!

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Mark your calendar for Fiesta 2017!!!!!

Meanwhile…please enjoy some of my favorite photos from this year’s Fiesta!

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We Are Better Than This…

IMG_7628I had dinner with some great friends this week…we started talking about all the negativity in the world these days…in particular with politics.  We all vowed to keep things as positive as possible in anything that we post on social media and in the way we conduct our lives.  It made me think of another time in recent years when things got pretty nasty but friends and neighbors pulled together to show unity and hope.  This is a post from a blog I had back in 2011 about events surrounding the anti-immigrant bill (HB56) that was signed into law by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley.  This event that I attended and documented showed that not everyone in the state agreed that this law was a good thing…

June 28,2011…

This past weekend I attended, along with my husband and daughter, a candlelight interfaith vigil to protest an anti-immigrant bill that was signed into law by the governor of my state.  This misguided law goes into effect Sept 1st and if you believe the comments on media stories you would think we were back in the 60s and that everyone in the state was anti-immigrant.

The day the governor signed the bill, with the state representatives who sponsored it smiling broadly next to him, I felt sick to my stomach.  Comments ranged from “this will send them all back where they belong” to “this will create jobs for more Alabamians.”  The pure mean-spirited nature of the comments and personal attacks were hard to read at times.  It is being called the toughest illegal immigration bill in the US, modeled after the Arizona law but supposed to be foolproof when it hits the courts.  Again…people smiling broadly like this is something to be proud of in a state where race relations and violations of civil rights are well-known.  People across the US once again are looking at Alabama as the epicenter of discrimination – only this time it is against our “brown” brothers and sisters.  Haters spouting that we are a nation of laws and they must be enforced…quick to forget that just 50 to 60 short years ago segregation was the law of the land and it was clearly unjust.  It seems incredible to look back at such a short time ago and think people thought that was okay.  I’m sure people asked themselves then…WHO are we that we would think this is right…clearly we are better than this.  And many set out to change things…and were successful.

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St. Peter Apostle Catholic Church leads the marchers out of Linn Park.

 

Clearly we are better than this once again. People can’t truly believe this law is just.  If you lived in Alabama in the 60s – like my husband did – you must have the perspective that this is wrong.  Do we really want to go through all that again?

Well the march on Saturday evening set out to prove we have learned something from our history and we ARE better than this.  The march was organized by the faith community…and churches of all denominations were present and denounced this law as morally wrong.  Organizers expected about a thousand people but clearly word got out and people – feeling like they had to do “something” – showed up in bigger numbers.  I think the final estimate was about 2,500 attendees.

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Benedictine nuns…some from out of state…joined in the march.

 

And what a sight it was to see…marchers were asked to wear white shirts and bring a candle.  Churches were asked to bring their banners but other signs were discouraged.  Families came out in full force…it brought tears to my eyes to see the little children – so sweet and innocent….leading the marchers, holding candles and riding on the shoulders of their dads…

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Many families joined in the march…children rode on the shoulders of their fathers. This sweet little girl stayed on her father’s shoulders during the entire march.

 

The crowd was diverse too with about half being Hispanic but the other half was quite a mix.  I’m sure there were many documents AND undocumented who would have liked to have been there but were afraid and I can’t blame them.  The police were present but they were there to make sure the marchers were safe and the Spanish language radio stations tried to get that word out.  Still…fear is real right now…you could see it in some of the marchers eyes and you could hear it in the stories being told to one another throughout the evening.

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Marchers re-enter Linn Park after walking peacefully through the streets of Birmingham.

Afterwards my husband, daughter and I went to dinner with my friend Isabel Rubio and her husband Freddy.  Isabel is the Executive Director of HICA – Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, an organization that I’ve been a part of for about 8 years.   We talked about the march and the law and how it will be challenged.  Isabel mentioned how the one thing missing in her mind is that during the 60’s the marchers had songs to sing.  She said “we don’t have a song.  We need a song.”

She’s right…music unifies and in this case we do need something – a song, a slogan…something that people can grab on to and pull us together.  Maybe others are thinking the same thing and just maybe this will be something organic that grows from further marches and protests to this dreadful law.

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A precious little boy works to keep his candle lit during the march…

We ARE better than this…I think we proved that Saturday night at Linn Park and through the streets of Birmingham.

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Speaking Spanish and Being Latino

Nuestra Cultura (Our Culture) Town Hall at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) in January featured a discussion on being Latino and speaking Spanish.

Nuestra Cultura (Our Culture) Town Hall at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) in January featured a discussion on being Latino and speaking Spanish.

At the January Town Hall I attended at The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute called “Nuestra Cultura” (Our Culture), the topic of language in the Latino community was discussed.  Does not being able to speak Spanish make you any less Latino/Hispanic?  I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic since then and wanting to write about it.  My own experience learning Spanish kept coming back to me as I listened to several members of the Town Hall audience share their stories and opinions.  Meanwhile, so many instances of Spanish language and what it means to the community have popped up in new articles and on social media.  The Pew Research Center published some research on this and breaking it down many different ways.  Overall, 71% of Latino adults say it is NOT necessary to speak Spanish to be considered Latino.  Even Republican Presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Tex Cruz sparred a bit recently about speaking Spanish at a Republican debate in South Carolina!

Graphic from the Pew Research Center - taken from the Pew Research website.

Graphic from the Pew Research Center – taken from the Pew Research website.

When I was 6 years old, my family moved from Beltsville, Maryland to Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico.  I remember vividly walking into my first grad classroom at Cupeyville Elementary and not speaking a word of Spanish.  My teacher spoke English and helped me maneuver getting set up in the classroom but I don’t remember anyone else speaking to me in English.  It was frightening not being able to understand what was going on those first few weeks.  I soon learned on the playground that my classmates were rather curious about the new “American” kid in the classroom.  I was considered the American kid – because I only spoke English – even though my father was Mexican-American.  Many of the kids were very kind to me and we got along using the universal language of playground games – jump rope and others – during recess.  Meanwhile, I was like a sponge soaking up my classes in Spanish and learning to speak the language that I knew was my father’s first but I rarely heard him speak until we made the move to Puerto Rico.

Some of my Spanish books from 7th grade at Sagrado Corazon school.

Some of my Spanish books from 7th grade at Sagrado Corazon school.

By 4th grade, my parents moved me and my sisters to a Catholic school so we would be exposed to a religious education.  All subjects were taught in Spanish except for Religion and English.  Those two were taught by the Benedictine nuns at Sagrado Corazón (Sacred Heart) school.  I was immersed in Spanish from the ages 6 to 12 and when we moved to Chicago, Illinois midway through my 7th grade year, I continued taking Spanish as an elective all through high school.  Friends in high school would say it was an easy “A” for me every time they would see Spanish on my schedule.  But I begged to differ.  Once, after this statement was made to me I asked my friend, “don’t you take an English class?”  She said, “yes, you know I do…I sit right next to you!”  I grinned and asked her “do you get all A’s?”  To which she replied…”good one…”

Having a second language has been a great benefit all my life.  When I was a senior in high school, I took a school sponsored trip with a few classmates to Mexico.  My friends relied heavily on me during that trip.  One day we were looking for a market and two friends found a policeman and started asking him for directions.  They were supposed to be practicing their Spanish but were struggling so they pulled me up and I began asking for help and directions.  When I had finished he answered me in perfect English!  It was rather amusing – my friends asked him, “why didn’t you tell us you spoke English?”  He said, “you didn’t ask?”

Some of the photos from my senior high school trip to Mexico - top left is me on top of the Sun Pyramid. Bottom pic is of some of our group on the tour bus - we got rained out at the pyramid sound and light show that night!

Some of the photos from my senior high school trip to Mexico – top left is me on top of the Sun Pyramid. Bottom pic is of some of our group on the tour bus – we got rained out at the pyramid sound and light show that night!

Living in the suburbs of Chicago, there were times I would be called upon to help interpret or translate Spanish.  It didn’t happen very often, but it was great fun when it did happen confirming further how fortunate I was to be bilingual.  I know my father was happy me and my sisters were getting exposure to Spanish.  He was always such a proponent of language and was self-taught in several.  He was equally happy that we were able to speak to our grandmother – nana – in  Spanish when we would call her in New Mexico.  If I ever started speaking English to her, she would simply say “en español” – meaning “in Spanish,” so I would respect this request and return to speaking Spanish.

When I moved to Birmingham, Alabama in 1980, I encountered no Spanish speakers…for a long time.  I would look for ways to hear Spanish and with cable television – again this was the mid-1980s – I was able to get the WGN Chicago station and a Saturday morning show called “Charlando.”  This was a long-running Spanish-language community affairs “chat” and the guy who hosted the show spoke SO fast that it was a challenge to understand him at times.  My father even said to me one Saturday, “if you can understand what he is saying, then you are doing quite well.!”  That made me feel good!  Of course, in the late 1990s through early 2000s, the Hispanic population in the Birmingham region grew tremendously and it was not unusual to go to the local mall and hear Spanish being spoken.  It was like music to my ears and always made me smile as I eavesdropped just a little.

Now after almost 15 years of involvement with the Hispanic community in Birmingham, Most of my Latino friends know I speak Spanish but there are some who are still surprised when I do.  I was at a Hispanic event last fall when I joined a group of friends in Spanish conversation.  On the way to my car later, one of the women said to me in Spanish – “Teresa, I had no idea you could speak Spanish like that!”  I said, “Yes, I’m just full of surprises!”  I do look for opportunities to speak Spanish.  You would think it would be easy these days but English always seems to override.

Looking back, I’ve had varied experiences being bilingual.  Some would say that I’m not bilingual “enough,” while others say I speak just fine.  It all depends on who you are, I suppose.  And all this goes back to the original question I posed…does a Latino need to speak  Spanish to be considered Latino?  I identify as Latina and have done so for a long time.  So, how much Spanish is enough?  I will explore this multi-layered subject more in future posts.

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