Happy Hispanic Heritage Month!
Adriana Matamoros, Office Manager at Rocketship Dream Community Prep
Oftentimes, when people think about large, vibrant Latino communities in the US, they may think about California, Texas, or even New York – but did you know there are large, vibrant Latino communities in Tennessee, from Hondurans to Venezualans to Mexicans to El Salvadorians?
At Rocketship Dream Community Prep, we take pride in our diverse community, which is a beautiful melting pot of cultures, including many Latino cultures. Our staff, teachers, parents, and Rocketeers represent a wide range of backgrounds and ethnicities. It means so much to me and Elizabeth Ayala, our office assistant, that our cultures are represented so strongly on campus in this way. As proud Latinas, we celebrate the independence of our countries, Honduras and El Salvador, during this month. I know our families feel as proud and thankful as we feel, and as our Rocketeers grow older, they’ll more deeply understand how important these celebrations are for them and for our community.
As an immigrant who moved to the United States at the age of 13, Latino representation means so much to me. It can be hard to connect to other people here, especially when I feel like the minority. It can be hard to be far away from home, and any activities or celebrations where I get to see my people, my culture, and my food is special. It’s these celebrations that give me the connection with other people with the same roots as me and who have the same feelings of nostalgia for our food, music, and culture.
I know this is true for a lot of the recent Venezuelan immigrants in our community, as well. Moving to the United States from South America is a big transition. But the reason we have the honor of serving so many Venezuelan immigrants at Dream is because we have built such a welcoming and inclusive campus culture. In fact, because our front office staff, myself included, all speak Spanish, Venezuelan families feel more comfortable, because they are able to express themselves fully in their own language and feel understood by the people in front of them. That’s why so many Venezuelan families have enrolled and recommended us to their family and friends. I loved seeing how our Venezuelan families were so excited to participate in our celebration, proudly manning three full tables of food and sharing cultural artifacts, music, and dances.
As a Honduran, I’ve found more connection with my culture in Tennessee than California, if you can believe it. There are so many Honduran restaurants, cultural centers, and celebrations here. I am so proud to represent my culture and proudly declare that I am a Latina, even in majority-white spaces. But I didn’t always feel this way. When I first moved to California, I felt shy and ashamed that I was still learning English. But in 8th grade, a year and a half after immigrating to the US, my whole worldview changed. I remember being at Walmart, still learning English, but I could see that there was this woman who could only speak Spanish that was having a hard time speaking to the cashier. So I went over, helping her finish her transaction. It was only then that I finally realized the power of being bilingual. I no longer felt like I wanted to replace my Spanish with English, but felt proud to be Honduran and to be able to speak two languages.
This is what I want for our Rocketeers – I want to help them build that pride in themselves, their roots, their heritage, and their family origins. I want our multilingual Rocketeers to have pride in the fact that they can speak more than one language and understand the power of their identities. Celebrations like our Hispanic Heritage Month festival helps students take pride in their roots and reaffirms the importance of their culture outside of the home, too.
At Dream, I know we have succeeded. We have built a culture of love and acceptance. Many of our families participated in this event, appreciating each other’s cultures, and many asking when our next multicultural event would be so they would get their turn to share. Having these types of community events and engagement for our families brings us together for social development for our students. It’s a fun way to connect with families, and a very effective family engagement tool.
I want to give a big shoutout to the entire Dream team for making this happen, and a special shoutout to Elizabeth for contacting our families so they would feel comfortable participating and showing up to represent their country. It’s essential to shine a light on all of our school community’s cultures whenever possible, as it enables us to embrace one another and learn about the unique food, music, dances, and language that comes with them. And it’s especially important to us that we embrace and honor our Hispanic students, who make up 42% of our school population. By valuing and celebrating our differences, we can create a stronger, more inclusive community for all.
Published on October 2, 2023