By Jeilianne Vazquez
Hispanic Heritage Month is a period from September 15-October 15 recognizing the contributions and influence of Hispanics to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States. It’s a month of celebration, remembering those who came before us, and recognizing the people who influence us now.
GTA has several students of Hispanic heritage that grace us with their hard work and dedication. I and two of my beautiful friends, Ethan and Marcello, share what being Hispanic (and this month) means to us.
What is your current major and what do you plan to do with your degree?
Jeilianne Vazquez: I am a junior BA Theatre major. I have interests in theatre, film, playwriting, and marketing. I love all four with a passion, so I think, for now, I will continue doing what I love and putting myself out there. Letting God open the doors.
Ethan Baez: I am a junior theatre major pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in the program, and I’d like to use my degree to either perform professionally or teach high school.
Marcello Valencia: I am a BA Theatre major with a minor in entrepreneurship. I plan to pursue a career as an actor, but I’m also very interested in the business side of theatre and how it operates.
What does being Hispanic mean to you?
Jeilianne Vazquez: Being Hispanic means being unapologetically myself. I love being Puerto Rican. It is a beautiful culture and people. It’s the connection with our family and roots that make it all so wonderful.
Ethan Baez: Being Hispanic means being proud! Growing up, I quickly learned that culture and family is something to be proud of, so I was always excited to learn new things concerning my Venezuelan heritage.
Marcello Valencia: Being Hispanic to me means having a rich culture full of love and passion. I have such fond memories of watching my dad cook and play his favorite salsa station on the TV while he made empanadas. The aroma that would fill the home was amazing and I always felt so special to be a part of a culture that was so centered around celebrating life and cherishing all the gifts we are given. Both of my grandparents came from a very poor rural part of Puerto Rico and I’m so fortunate to have parents and grandparents who were willing to work day in and day out for the chance to better their families. At the end of the day being Hispanic to me has truly shown me the importance of family and the endless possibilities I’m able to achieve.
How has your family and their culture impacted you? Any unique family traditions?
Jeilianne Vazquez: My family taught me to love music, dancing, food, and being a Latina in general. I listened to Juan Luis Guerra, Marc Anthony, Gloria Stefan, Jon Secada, Jesus Adrian Romero, and DLG. Whenever I was told I didn’t sound or look Latina enough, my mother would always remind me to be proud or quote her, “haters gonna hate.” My mother taught me a lot about Puerto Rican culture, and I loved hearing stories about her experience living in Puerto Rico and moving to Buffalo, New York. My father taught me bachata, salsa, and merengue! We would play music and dance in the kitchen. He taught me the proper steps and how to move my body. The downside is that I feel awkward dancing with anyone else because my dad has been my dance partner for 20 years now. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I remember traditions of Three Kings Day, celebrating the Kings who brought gifts to baby Jesus, Coquito and having it for every holiday, playing dominoes, and singing happy birthday to someone very, very early in the morning.
Ethan Baez: Going off the idea of being excited to learn new things about my culture, it was very easy to get close with my father in that he would be the one to teach me about the things that made our family unique. It was through him that I learned about arepas, Oscar DeLeon, how to dance bachata, he connected me to other Hispanic people, and he was instrumental in teaching me what it means to be Hispanic. As far as tradition goes, the only one that comes to mind is eating 12 grapes every hour in the 12 hours before new years. You make a wish with each grape for how you want the year to go, and eating the grapes is a means of obtaining good luck and prosperity for the new year.
Marcello Valencia: When my siblings and I were really young my parents made the decision to move to Georgia from New York. It wasn’t easy, to say the least, because for over a year my mom raised me and my two siblings while working all on her own. My Dad had to stay in New York and continue to work with Amtrak in order to receive the retirement benefits that he was entitled to after being with the company for so many years. I remember watching my mom not only work as hard as she could to provide for my siblings, but then come home to cook us dinner and make sure we were adjusting to the big move. I honestly don’t remember missing my dad because we knew he was working hard and he flew down to visit us as much as he could. Seeing their work ethic and drive to be the best parents was always an inspiration for me and really pushed me to become self-sufficient financially and allow me to pursue higher education without being a financial burden for them.
One of the biggest traditions we have as a family is we have game tournaments in where we either play dominoes or bingo and each round has X amount of prize money and the final has a pretty big jackpot that brings out the competitive side of everyone. To me, it’s one of those things that no matter how bad of a day we are having everyone leaves happier than we started.
How do you celebrate Hispanic Heritage month? What does it mean to you?
Jeilianne Vazquez: I celebrate by being in touch with my family and just being all-around proud of who I am! Though learning more about Latin culture can be any day of the year, Hispanic Heritage month is an opportunity to learn about other Latin cultures. It’s such a beautiful community.
Ethan Baez: I celebrate Hispanic heritage month by being Hispanic, I think that’s all I need to do. I’m in a constant state of being proud of who I am, so I’m already in the habit of appreciating the Hispanic qualities that make me who I am. Growing up, my dad and I would go to the occasional party to meet with friends and enjoy each other’s Hispanic company, but even back then it was more to celebrate friendship more than it was to celebrate being Hispanic.
Marcello Valencia: I celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by giving thanks to those who came before and dreamed of a better life. I know I wouldn’t be anywhere without them and I’m forever in their debt.
What is something you want people to know about you?
Jeilianne Vazquez: I am a passionate person! I love hard! That sometimes intimidates people, or they use it to their advantage. (Be kind).
Another thing I want people to know is that my experience as a Latina is valid even though English is my first language. I am still learning Spanish, and I learn every day. Don’t ever let anyone tell you how Latinx you are; only you decide that.
Ethan Baez: My favorite color is orange! For the past ten years I’ve left the house every day with at least one orange thing on me, whether in clothing or accessories. I know this because in August of 2011 I decided to make orange an every day part of my life considering how much I love the color.
Marcello Valencia: I’m a people person! I love getting to know people and listening to their stories. I also want to see the world and do every possible thing I can regardless of the risk or how crazy it seems. My main goal in life is to be able to say I followed my heart regardless of the outcome. We have one life to live and I’m going to do whatever it takes to live to the fullest.
How does your family feel about theatre?
Jeilianne Vazquez: My father is a film actor and minored in theatre in college. My family has always been involved with the arts. When I first told them I wanted to major in theatre, they were concerned at first. They wanted me to be sure this was what I absolutely wanted. Since then, they have never stopped supporting me!
Ethan Baez: My family loves theatre! I think they love seeing me on stage more, but I’ve never had to struggle with them to support me in my endeavors concerning theatre and I’ve always been extremely grateful for that, considering that isn’t the case for a lot of my peers.
Marcello Valencia: They honestly are really supportive of me. I have been a part of theatre since middle school and I can’t ever recall a time they didn’t approve of it. I think their main concern was if I was going to pursue higher education. Like all parents, they want the best for their kids and they know life doesn’t always go the way we want it to and by having a college degree it gives them peace of mind that I have the ability to pursue other things if push comes to shove.
What do you love about theatre?
Jeilianne Vazquez: When I was a child, I was very shy. As I got more comfortable with the people around me, I got loud, happy, and goofy. A lot of people found me weird. When I did that on a stage, I was accepted and told I had a great presence. So I decided theatre was my safe place. Theatre is an art that can never die. I take everything I learn in theatre wherever I go. Storytelling is my favorite thing, and I get to do that in theatre with my performance and writing.
Ethan Baez: I love that theatre is fun more than anything else; it’s profound and it’s bigger than ourselves, yes, but before all that I’ve always maintained that the purpose of theatre is fun, regardless how you participate it.
Marcello Valencia: I love its heart and the ability it has to transport you to another world, experience things you could have never dreamed of, or feel things you’ve never felt and make you leave the theatre with a completely new perspective.
Five years from now, where do you hope to be?
Jeilianne Vazquez: I don’t know exactly where I’m going to end up. I can see myself in different cities, and I like the idea of traveling for work. But I do eventually want to settle down. (We’ll figure it out.) I love acting for theatre and TV and film, playwriting, screenwriting, and theatre marketing. There are many opportunities right now, and I’m excited to go out there and find them.
Ethan Baez: I hope to be in Washington D.C. with a job in theatre, whatever that means. A lot can happen in a year alone, so to think of what my life is like five years from now is almost unfathomable when I haven’t figured out what I’m going to do for the rest of this week.
Marcello Valencia: I would love to see myself still within the realm of theatre and able to financially support myself. While I would prefer to be a performer, I know things happen and life doesn’t always go to plan, but as long as I can still be a part of the theatre world regardless of what my role is, I’ll be fine.