by Julia Puac Romero
You would think that Hispanic Heritage Month, like other small minority celebration months, come and go like the seasonal changes. For me, it has always been so much more.
My name is Julia Puac Romero and I am a first-generation immigrant from Guatemala City, Guatemala. I came to the United States sometime in 1995 with my mother. We were greeted at the airport by my father who had been here for nearly six months prior to our arrival. My father came to the U.S. years prior to pursue a business degree from Wesleyan University in Bartersville, Oklahoma. He came mostly on a soccer scholarship and had a long distance relationship with my mother during that time. After he moved back to Guatemala and became a father, he received two job offers in the United States. One was in Elgin, Illinois and the other was in Mansfield, Louisiana via his friend who worked as a Spanish teacher in Louisiana. My dad accepted the offer in Louisiana. Back then, the State Department of Education for Louisiana had a specific program that intentionally looked for qualified Spanish teachers from Latin American countries and Spain.
My parents enrolled me in a preschool to specifically work on my English before entering grade school. In the small preschool I attended there was only one teacher willing to work with my very broken English and the extra issue of me being left-handed. As time went on, I gained a great deal of vocabulary before entering kindergarten. I never knew until I was older that my dad had to fight the school system before I entered. To the church where I was attending school, being bilingual was a special needs deficiency and could only be controlled in a special education class. My father did not see the need in this and refused to let the school system put me in this position. While I was placed in a higher ranking class, the judgement of my bilingualism did not stop. I was never considered for the “gifted” classes or treated like the other students by several teachers. While intellectually I understood just as much, I was never asked to participate.
My English was constantly an issue with writing until middle school since the language I would think in was Spanish. I entered high school again being at a disadvantage from having been treated like I was less intelligent, thus believing that I was. I eventually pushed through and was able to show that I was just as capable and competent as my peers who were in the top five of my graduating class. But, I digress.
Growing up with a Spanish teacher for a father had its ups and downs. The downs mostly came when our visas would get close to expiring based on legal matters. My father’s excellent teaching skills and capability to understand students easily influenced the school to request for us to stay longer in the U.S. Eventually, my father saved up enough money that we were able to apply for residency. That is, until 9/11. We were one of various cases that had our residency paperwork process wiped clean from the events of 9/11. This meant instead of it taking two to three years, we spent seven years working on residency papers. The time and money that went into this process is something I can never repay my father for.
However, not all is as bleak. Being his daughter, I was able to attend several events during Hispanic Heritage Month where there were flamingo teachers, fiestas, etc. My dad would incorporate Hispanic heritage into his lesson plans. I enjoyed seeing his students put on plays where they appreciated and learned more about Hispanic culture. I grew up knowing that being Guatemalan was something to take pride in. Whenever other students would be mistaken about my nationality and call me Mexican, I would have this urge to run up and down the school hallways proudly with my Guatemalan flag.
Going to college increased my understanding of who I was and the community around me. After going to Costa Rica for a semester I was able to see how another country lived and worked so hard to just get food on the table. I could go on and on about the stories I have from Costa Rica, especially when it comes from the stories of the women I interviewed for my Global Gender studies class. For my final senior project, I studied and interviewed a group of women who met regularly for a Bible study. The women were mostly immigrants who spoke little English and were coming out of the Roman Catholic Church into another denomination. This environment made me aware of a type of ministry that was harmful to women in ways that I cannot fully articulate. As a female Hispanic immigrant reaching for ordained ministry as an elder in The United Methodist Church, this experience was a far cry from any ministry I will ever want. The Bible study and the church caused harm to the women in the way they would teach and create hate in the women’s hearts against their families.
Being Hispanic during Hispanic Heritage Month means several things to me. It means claiming your nationality of where you come from or your family. It means celebrating and teaching others who don’t know much about your culture. It means we need to remember those who have worked hard. It is a time to acknowledge the oppression, but still be able to celebrate. If there is one thing I have known my culture to do best, it’s keeping a smile and keeping faith even through the hardest of times. Being Latina, Latino or Latinx is more than just a birthright, it is part of our ever present culture! No matter where one goes, there will be a part of that culture that will follow you. I am grateful for the struggles that I have faced, and even more for the milestones reached because of my father who never gave up trying to make the best for our family. Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to celebrate a very prevalent and important culture in this country. As long as I have lungs to scream it out, I will shout out my pride of my heritage.
Julia Puac Romero is a second-year MDiv student at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. This year, Julia is serving as a chaplain intern for a hospital system in the Chicagoland area. She is pursuing ordination as an elder in the Louisiana Conference.