Honoring Your Heritage and Loving Your Country

Growing up it took a while for me to realize that I was an American.  Everyone around me said they were Puerto Rican and told me I was as well.  I learned Spanish and English at home.  I watched the Muppets and Smurfs and Sesame Street while also watching Iris Chacon, Don Francisco, and every telenovela under the sun (Dos Mujeres, Un Camino was one of my favorites!) with my grandmother.

It wasn’t until I went to school that I truly realized I was an American.  At school, I said the Pledge of Allegiance in English but also learned Spanish from teachers who looked and sounded like my family.  I learned nursery rhymes in English and dressed in these big flouncy dresses so I could celebrate my Puerto Rican heritage.  I thought this was normal and you could be Puerto Rican and American because the people I grew up with were Italian and American, Portuguese and American, Cape Verdean and American, etc., etc., etc.

It wasn’t until I was in high school that I learned how threatening this was to people who didn’t grow up with the diversity I did.  Unfortunately, that ignorance still exists.

On Tuesday, Sebastien de la Cruz sang the national anthem at Game 2 of the NBA Finals. Boy, did he sing.  You see, Sebastien, who is of Mexican Heritage, is a known singer in Texas (and beyond) of mariachi music who stepped in at the last minute to sing the national anthem.  Personally, it gave me chills to hear him sing and it made me proud that a young Latino had the opportunity to shine on such a large stage.

But as I mentioned earlier, ignorance still exists and this young boy was attacked as an other because he dared to come out in traditional mariachi dress to honor is heritage and honor his country of birth with a terrific rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.  Of course, the backlash against the ignorance was swift but the best response was directly from Sebastien.  He made it clear that he was a proud American and part of a proud American family.

Hearing his response made me remember my childhood growing up as a Puerto Rican and an American.  But most importantly, it made me remember that I could honor my heritage and still love the country I was born in.  It’s a lesson I am passing down to my daughter.

By the way, if any of those ignorant folks are wondering what an American looks like.  Here is my American Salvarican (half Salvadoran and half Puerto Rican daughter) celebrating her Puerto Rican heritage last year.



Why All Mamis Should Make Their Voices Heard on the Fiscal Cliff

Mamis, think the fiscal cliff isn’t a big deal?  Think again!

The fiscal cliff is approaching rapidly and negotiations between Congress and the White House appear to be going nowhere.  It seems like falling off the cliff is inevitable.  What isn’t inevitable, however, is the damage that this will cause to the economy, our communities, and our schools.

The fiscal cliff refers to the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts and the start of new budget cuts required by the Budget Control Act of 2011 through a process known as sequestration.  How this will affect the economy has been front-page news, but what is talked about less is what happens to our education system on January 2, when the budget cuts go into effect.  For our most vulnerable children, particularly the more than 17 million Latino children in this country, the stakes are high.

While our education system is funded primarily by local property taxes, federal funds account for 8% of all education spending.  However, poor districts receive additional funding from the federal government that they count on to keep schools open, teachers in the classroom, and assistance available to the neediest students.  For some districts, federal funding covers a substantial portion of their budgets.  For example, a recent analysis found that federal funds make up more than 15% of the school budgets in Los Angeles, Miami, and Philadelphia and more than 20% of the budgets in Chicago and Milwaukee.

What does this all mean?  After the fiscal cliff, for every $1 million that a school district receives in federal funding, sequestration will take away $82,000.  For districts with disproportionately large Latino and Black populations, that loss could have devastating effects.  The programs that stand to lose most are those created to help these children compete.  For example:

  • 1.8 million fewer children will be served by Title I, which helps the poorest students.
  • 145,180 children will lose access to before- or after-school programs.
  • 10,899 fewer educators will be available to support special needs students.
  • 26,949 fewer infants and toddlers will receive early intervention services.

Latino children have so much at stake during this debate.  They are 23% of all public school students.  Thirty-seven percent of all Latino children attend the nation’s poorest schools.  Over one-third of all students served by Title I are Latino.  If we fall off the fiscal cliff, our children will suffer the consequences of our inaction.  As the mamis of our future leaders, we must inform ourselves and act to ensure that Congress and the Obama administration make the right decisions.  Our children are depending on us.


This was first posted at the NCLR blog at nclrblog.wordpress.com.