This reflection was written by Tiffany Calderon Leon, a fellow in Meridian’s Center for Diplomatic Engagement.
In 2008, a musical called In the Heights premiered on Broadway that centered around the lives of residents in Washington Heights, New York. As a theatre enthusiast, I got my hands on the original Broadway cast CD from the library as soon as possible. With the CD in hand, I popped it into our old radio and listened attentively. For the first time in my life, I felt seen. It was not the first time Latine people were Broadway stars—Chita Rivera was a hero of mine—but it was the first time the content of the show felt, to say the least, relevant. In the Heights was not about gang rivalries or forbidden love like many other shows; it was about financial struggles, community, and the difficulty of being who you are. Not being American enough, missing home while being home, torn apart by the two worlds you considered your own. I am not ashamed to say I cried a little when I heard Carnaval del Barrio, “¡Pa’ribba esa bandera! ¡Álzala donde quiera! Recuerdo de mi tierra!… ¡Esa bonita bandera! ¡Contiene mi alma entera!”
In 2009, during my fourth-grade Spanish class, my teacher spoke to us with contagious enthusiasm about the newly nominated Sonia Sotomayor. “She’s from Puerto Rico! We can have a Latina woman in the Supreme Court!” We all cheered—we had no idea what the Supreme Court was, or the magnitude of this event—we just knew Sotomayor was Boricua, important, and nominated by Obama. Little did I know how much of an inspiration Justice Sotomayor would be for me and every other Latine with big dreams.
Latine Heritage Month, known as Hispanic Heritage Month, begins with Costa Rica’s Independence Day, alongside Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua on September 15. That day is spent listening to El Punte Guanacasteco and Calypso de Limon, eating some gallo pinto and drinking as many cups of coffee with leche pinito as possible. Over the course of Latine Heritage Month every year, I feel a little more confident about my heritage, I feel a little prouder about being bilingual, of overcoming the obstacles I’ve faced for being Latina, and a little more motivated.
In a country where you’re not American enough or not Latin enough—in a society that immediately doesn’t trust your presence, where representation has been sparse, and it feels like reality is against you at every turn—a month to celebrate you, who you are, where you come from, and the accomplishments of people like you is a big deal. Lin Manuel Miranda, Sonia Sotomayor, Jose Andres, Ellen Ochoa, Sylvia Rivera, Sylvia Mendez, Jorge Ramos, Celia Cruz, Dolores Huerta, and so many more are beacons of Latine success—this month is for them, for those that came before, and for the generation after. I’ve realized that this month is more than just representation; it’s about acceptance. Accepting that Latinidad is a superpower, that we deserve to be seen, we deserve to thrive, and we deserve to be anything we can be.