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Hispanic Heritage Month: A Privilege

Written by our Operations Director, Griselda Garibay

Privilege: Coming to America

This September marks 35 years since I arrived in the United States to join my mother, thinking it a temporary visit. A U.S. citizen since 1992, I am glad I was mistaken. As a poor female, my education in Mexico was limited to enrolling in secretarial or teaching school. Thankfully my mother had the foresight to know this country would afford me many privileges that unfortunately my small town could not offer.  

The most important of these opportunities was access to higher education. Upon arrival to Chicago, I immersed myself in my studies. School was a haven as I tried to adjust to my new life, new language, new customs, and a city one thousand times bigger than where I grew up.

Unconscious Bias

At that time, dropout rates for Hispanic youth were at an all-time high of 36%.  I believe those statistics triggered bias over time.  No high school counselor spoke to me about my life beyond graduation. I feel the lack of career counseling was influenced by stereotypes of what a young, brown female immigrant could accomplish. With over 300 students to orient, I might not have been a priority for either counselor. Or perhaps, this is my own faulty assumption.

Ever since first grade, education defined me.  In my mind, there was no other option for me. I received a full scholarship for my bachelor’s degree. While some might see the scholarship as a result of affirmative action, I know that while the door might have been opened for me, it was my efforts that made me successful. I was the first in my extended family to obtain an MBA – for which I’m still paying. As a brown Latina, from a single-parent family, this was an achievement. My resilience paid off.

Today I enjoy many benefits as a result of my commitment to higher education – safe neighborhood, financial stability, and insurance, to name a few. While I acknowledge I owe a lot to this country, I also feel the investment of college tuition has been repaid in many ways over the years.

Hispanic Heritage Month

In this month of National Hispanic Heritage – September 15 to October 15  – we recognize the contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America. Fifty-eight million Latinos lived in the United States as of 2016. They are often viewed as one homogenous culture, even though they represent 14 major countries of origin.

Like those 58 million, I am proud to call myself an American, with a heritage rooted in Latin America. Like all Americans, at some point, one of our ancestors had the vision to seek a better future for generations to come.


How Can You Celebrate National Hispanic Heritage month?

  • Talk to people that you perceive as being different than you.
  • Learn about their culture and the commonalities that you share.
  • Attend a celebration, for example, a parade in your area.
  • Look up Hispanic contributions to the United States.
  • Read a book by a renowned Latino author, i.e. Carlos Fuentes, Jesús Colón, Julia Alvarez., and Junot Díaz.