I never realized that I was different until it was pointed out to me in eighth grade.
My teacher pulled me out of class during a standardized test to let me know I’d made a mistake on my form regarding the race checkbox. When I told her that I’d correctly penciled in the ‘Hispanic’ checkbox, she told me I was wrong and that I needed to “drop the attitude.” Later that night, I found out that she’d called my parents to let them know of my behavior. She did not treat me the same for the remainder of the school year.
That was the first time I’d dealt with prejudice, but it definitely was not the last.
I had only been doing what my parents taught me to do. I’d always been proud of my family’s Mexican roots. But in that teacher’s eyes I was not Mexican enough. Deep down I knew that I was more than Mexican enough and continued to share my pride in my heritage.
Hispanic Heritage Month spans from September 15-October 15. During this month-long celebration, we honor the cultural and historical contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean.
Just like my parents did for me, I want my son to know that he is more than any checkbox. I want him to know the history of generations before us and to know the impact that Latinx people have had on the world, and especially our community.
Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with Milwaukee Public Art
Milwaukee Downtown has taken all the guesswork out of driving, biking or Hopping around and has provided us with a detailed listing of all Public Art in Walker’s Point and other areas in Milwaukee. I was able to check off what we were interested in looking at and off we went with addresses in hand. You can select the neighborhood you are interested in exploring, the type of transportation you want to use, and the website helps you plan your visits!
Public Art Tour in Walker’s Point
On a beautiful fall day, I took my son and my husband (who is from a very different background) to a few different murals in Walker’s Point to show them a history that they may not see in a textbook.
We first went to a mural called “Culture Work,” which emphasizes the themes of work, family, education, and culture. It was installed May 20th, 2017 and it tells the story of United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS), founded in 1965. UMOS is now one of the largest Hispanic-based service organizations in the Midwest.
The team that created the mural interviewed former migrant worker organizers and activists. The mural is a true statement of what it looks like to fight and struggle for a better future.
The look on my son’s face was incredible and I was able to use this as a teaching opportunity linking the past to the present and explaining to him that all people want is to have a fair future where they can be proud of who they are and where they’ve come from.
The text in this sign translates to “I am bilingual, bicultural and I am proud of my race.”
A short 3 minute drive later, we arrived at the mural “History of Latinos in Milwaukee, located at Bruce-Guadalupe Community School and created by Robert Cisneros. Thanks to a Google search, I was able to find more information on the Milwaukee Public Library’s website about the mural to teach us all about the 9 different panels documenting the migration of Latin Americans against a backdrop of historical events.
With panel topics such as “Rise in Social Activism,” “Workers Lend Their Hands,” and “Education is the Key,” we were able to have some timely and necessary dialogue as a family.
We hopped in the car and drove 5 minutes to see the mural that I’d passed numerous times but never really stopped to enjoy. And selfishly, this was the one that I was most excited to see.
Selena Quintanilla-Perez, also known as the Queen of Tejano music, is celebrated and memorialized in this mural by Milwaukee’s own Mauricio Ramirez.
A few weeks after the incident with my teacher, we watched the popular 1997 movie about Selena’s life and I immediately researched as much as I could about Selena. Everything about her amazed me, from her wardrobe to her voice to how she carried herself and remained proud of her Mexican-American heritage. To this day, Selena remains a constant on my playlist, in my heart and my wardrobe via a favorite crop top.
A scene in the movie between Selena and her father has always stood out to me and it helps me realize who I am and where my roots lie.
“You’ve got to be who you are. You can’t change it. You’re an American, I’m an American. But you’re also Mexican deep inside, and that’s a wonderful thing. You can’t be anything if you don’t know who you are.”
This may have seemed like a way to pass time before a Packers game to my kiddo, but to me it meant so much more. I was able to teach him things about great LatinX people before us and have real conversations. I hope he walked away from the outing with more pride in who is and realizes that he is so much more than any one checkbox can hold.
The public art experience resource on the Milwaukee Downtown website made this teaching moment so easy and created the perfect socially distanced outing for our family!