Hispanic Heritage Month began as a weeklong celebration in 1968 to recognize the achievements and contributions of Latinx people in the United States. In 1988, it became a monthlong celebration through the passage of a bill put forth by the Hispanic Congressional Caucus.
Celebrated annually from September 15 to October 15, Hispanic Heritage Month recognizes and celebrates the histories, cultures and contributions of Americans whose roots trace back to Spain, Mexico, Central and South America and the Spanish-speaking nations of the Caribbean.
For Yessenia Carlos, who co-chairs the Latinx + Friends Employee Resource Group at the Port of Portland, taking time to pay homage to Hispanic Heritage Month is personal.
“This is important to me because, as a high school student, a teacher jokingly asked if they knew more about my culture than I did. This was after they asked me questions about the history of my ancestors,” she shared. “Embarrassingly, I learned nothing about my heritage and couldn’t give them answers.”
Looking back now as she leads a group of Latinx employees, Yessenia added, “Each year when my Employee Resource Group comes together to plan events to engage, learn, and celebrate – we do this so our history, our story and what our heritage has accomplished doesn’t go unnoticed or unheard.”
This year, the Latinx + Friends Employee Resource Group organized several educational, cultural and social events and activities to commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month:
• On Thursday, Sept. 28, Maria Caballero Rubio, Executive Director of Centro Cultural, and David Martinez, Deputy Director of Internal Operations at Latino Network, joined Port employees for a virtual town hall where they shared stories of their upbringing, advocacy, challenges, successes and activism as Latinx community leaders.
• Though the normal festive sights and sounds of a heritage month celebration couldn’t be enjoyed in-person this year, the Latinx + Friends Employee Resource Group partnered with Mandos Mundo Entertainment to put together a virtual program featuring Son Huitzilin with a mix of Afromestizo sounds, as well as Danza de Los Viejitos Alegres with a traditional “danza” from Michoacan. In addition to the beautiful performances, program hosts Elizabeth and Hortencia prepared a demonstration of “agua fresca,” delicious watermelon and pineapple water refreshers.
• To wrap up this year’s celebration, the Latinx + Friends Employee Resource Group brought the Churros Locos food cart to the PDX Maintenance parking lot to serve up delicious fried dough, a treat commonly found in Spanish and Portuguese cuisine as well as other Latin American cultures. The event was also a way to thank these frontline PDX workers for their dedication and hard work during the pandemic.
Though Hispanic Heritage Month is coming to an end, the work and contributions of the Latinx community continue year-round. Yessenia paid tribute to the the motto of the United Farm Workers of America when Cesar Chavez led a protest for better working conditions for farm workers: “I come from a family of farm and labor workers. One thing we take pride in is our work ethic and strong mindset that ‘Si Se Puede’ or ‘Yes You Can.’”
As she reflects about the strides and progress made, Yessenia looks forward to the future with optimism. “I think about how far we’ve come and how much more we all need to go. We CAN learn more, we CAN do better…”