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The Hartford Courant

A Month Steeped In Hispanic Heritage

Bessy Reyna

15 October 2004
Copyright © 2004 The Hartford Courant. All rights reserved. 

I am a Latina woman year-round. But I get to increase my Latinidad (Latinity) from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 during Hispanic Heritage Month. Being Latina means that my first language is Spanish, that the way I perceive the world is shaped by my years growing up in Cuba and later in Panama. It also means that, even though I hardly ever cook, I love eating Latin food. I enjoy restaurants that serve ceviche or empanadas and where the rancheras or boleros blast from loudspeakers, taking me back to a time before I became an immigrant, before I became part of a minority, of the other America.

When asked about my accent, I love to challenge people to guess my country of origin. Probably because I don't look like Latinas are supposed to look, they hardly ever get it right. My skin is not a lovely olive color, my hair, now gray, was never black, and truth be told, I would rather listen to opera than to salsa music.

But once a year, I join U.S. Latinos in the ritual known as Hispanic Heritage Month, hearing about our accomplishments and, more amazing yet, seeing ourselves on TV not as criminals or illegal aliens but as the serious, hard-working people most of us are. Better yet, we get to hear commercials in Spanish on network TV during the Hispanic Heritage Awards, the Latin Grammys and other shows. In one month, you can see more Latinos on TV than you'll find throughout the rest of the year.

This month, I decided to go all out and celebrate it with gusto. I enjoyed something Hispanic every day. I attended a meeting for the One Book for Greater Hartford project at the Hartford Public Library in which we discussed the work of Puerto Rican writer Esmeralda Santiago.

I listened to classical music by composers like Ernesto Lecuona of Cuba, and Villa-Lobos of Brazil, at the Guitars Under the Stars concert organized by guitarist Daniel Salazar Jr. and presented as part of the Riverfront Recapture programs. I saw the wonderful photographs of Pablo Delano and an exhibit of contemporary Puerto Rican artists at Real Art Ways.

At the Latino summit organized by Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, I listened to great ideas for energizing Latino voters for this crucial national election from Hartford's extraordinary Edna Negron Rosario, now regional director of Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration; Fernando Betancourt, who, as executive director of the state's Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, zealously guards the well-being of our community; Clarissa Martinez De Castro, of the National Council of La Raza; Rep. Lydia Martinez, who serves Bridgeport; and many others interested in promoting voter registration

At the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hispanic Professional Network presented awards to outstanding members of our community, such as Marilda Gandara, president of the Aetna Foundation, while later in the program, Argentinean jazz great Gato Barbieri was the featured artist. A few miles east, at Cheney Hall in Manchester, Panamanian jazz pianist Danilo Perez and his trio guided the audience on a wonderful musical trip around Latin America.

Businesswoman Marilyn Alverio organized the conference ``Latinas and Power,'' where I met Deborah Rosado Shaw, who arrived in Connecticut to be the keynote speaker the day after she appeared on ``The Oprah Winfrey Show.'' Rosado Shaw, who inspired conference participants to ``Dream BIG'' (the title of her first book and name of one of her companies), is a multimillionaire entrepreneur. She dared to defy the limitations of the South Bronx neighborhood where she grew up. She described her feelings as she accepted a major award at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, where her grandmother had supported the family working as a cleaning lady.

There isn't space here to list all of the upcoming Latino-related programs, but I urge readers to join me in appreciating the commitment and talent in the Latino community right here in Connecticut. And while we're at it, let's encourage arts organizations and TV networks to keep Hispanics visible the rest of the year.

I hate having to wait a whole year to see myself reflected on a TV screen, or to be able to celebrate a culture which is vibrant and which has so much to contribute to society year-round.

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