Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with Maria
Celebrating Hispanic Heritage with Maria Martinez
National Hispanic Heritage Month is underway and runs through October 15. It’s that time of year where we get to celebrate the history, culture, contributions, and the importance of Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we will hear from a handful of our Velocity team members who volunteered to share their personal stories on topics that will touch upon Hispanic/Latino traditions, values, culture, cuisines, and more.
The next story in our “Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month” series comes from Maria Martinez, tier 1 agent, photo support, who joined Velocity in 2018.
Hi Maria, tell us about yourself.
¡Hola Velocity familia! A little about me, I was born in Nicaragua (Central America). It is a beautiful country known for its lakes and volcanoes. As an infant, I came to Miami, Florida, with my parents, and we lived there until I was ten years old. After leaving Miami, we moved to Toledo, Ohio, where I finished school and started working.
Spanish is my first language, and to this day, it is the language my parents, brothers, and I use to communicate with each other. My parents immigrated to this country not knowing English. However, in Miami, many people speak Spanish down there. When my family and I moved to Toledo, we experienced some culture shock with the language barrier, although my brothers and I were young enough to adapt quickly. Speaking Spanish is very important to us and keeps us united as a family, and for that reason, we will make sure my daughter and my niece understand and speak Spanish.
Do you have any favorite Hispanic heritage family recipes that you would like to share?
When it comes to food from Nicaragua, most people find it surprising that we do not incorporate spicy foods! A lot of our dishes use basic staple ingredients due to a lack of resources, sadly. However, the adaptability of our country is truly remarkable. Meals typically consist of a lot of rice, beans, corn tortillas, cheese, beef, soups, and any vegetables that can be found.
The main dish we like to enjoy, especially for celebrations, birthdays, and gatherings, is called Arroz a la Valenciana. Essentially, it is a big pot of fried rice, shredded chicken, Vienna sausages, cubed carrots, peas, bell peppers, and seasoning. Whenever my mom asks for a birthday or holiday meal request, we all say, “Arroz a la Valenciana, por favor.” Enjoy!
Do you have any eating habits/rituals that are specific to your culture?
Growing up, it was essential to eat together as a family at a table, which is also how most families in Nicaragua gather as far as mealtime. Helping prepare the meal and being together as a family is a big part of our tradition. Nowadays, it’s harder to keep family mealtime with crazy life schedules. Still, we prioritize getting together for a traditional meal that we all pitch in towards for a special holiday or event.
What is a Hispanic tradition you wish to pass down that your parents/ relatives have passed down to you?
Growing up with parents who were alone in this country, we inherited most of their cultural beliefs and traditions. A tradition I always loved growing up was instead of celebrating Santa Claus for Christmas, we would celebrate Baby Jesus on Christmas Day. It is basically the same concept of presents, except that instead of Santa delivering the presents, children received presents from Niño Dios (Child God). Gifts are received, and children will place a Baby Jesus statue on the Nativity scene, displayed at most houses. My daughter and niece have grown up with this holiday tradition and understand the concept. They both enjoy experiencing different versions of the holiday.
What is the most important (or most celebrated) holiday of your culture?
We love Christmas and New Year’s! In my culture, Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve. It’s usually a big event, and the whole country puts everything on hold on this particular night. All families gather, put on their best outfits, eat a traditional meal, and enjoy fireworks at midnight. On New Year’s Eve, every house celebrates music, food, and families spending time together. I have been in Nicaragua for these occasions on both nights to celebrate — and they are both unforgettable fun-filled events.
Why is Hispanic Heritage Month so important to you?
This month is so meaningful to me because my Hispanic culture was everything to me growing up. It was challenging for my parents to be alone with all of our relatives far away. They only knew what they learned from their native country, so that is what we grew up with. Luckily, since my brothers and I adapted well to American culture, we can teach our children both Nicaraguan and American culture. When my parents immigrated to this country, they were fleeing political unrest, which is still occurring today. It is important for me to honor my relatives who are still there and who I carry in my heart. Many of them have passed on, but they have taught me so much about Nicaragua, our culture, and how our small but mighty country can overcome any battle.
How do you honor/celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month? How can others honor/ celebrate?
Independence Day in Nicaragua falls on September 15. During the month of September, we try to look for local events to celebrate the month. Recently, I went to the library with my daughter, and they had a setup for Hispanic Heritage Month, showcasing books by Hispanic/ Latino authors. We ended up picking up two children’s books for her and read them together. One of the books was about a granddaughter’s relationship with her grandmother, similar to my daughter’s bond with my mother. My daughter enjoyed the book a lot, and she identified how she related to the book. This brought me so much joy just seeing how she can recognize our culture and celebrate it. I am a big believer in teaching our children about how important culture is and passing on everything you can so they can remember when you are gone.
Who are some famous Hispanic/Latino-American musicians, artists, writers, and actors? How have they impacted U.S. culture? How have they inspired you?
I grew up learning about Nicaraguan writers. One of the most famous Nicaraguan writers is Ruben Dario, who is a poet. He wrote a lot of great work, but there is a quote he is most famous for, “Si la patria es pequeña, uno grande la sueña.” This translates to “If the homeland is small, one dreams it large.” I have grown up with this quote in my heart, especially with my country’s political and civil unrest. In Miami, where we grew up, there is a middle school named after him, Ruben Dario Middle School.
My second influential Hispanic/Latino artist is Lin-Manuel Miranda, the genius behind the Broadway hit “Hamilton.” He has a deep love for his Puerto Rican culture. I really look up to him because he is a Hispanic/Latino public figure who is proud of his background — and makes it known through his work. He also composed the musical “In the Heights,” based in a largely Hispanic/Latino neighborhood. When the hurricane hit Puerto Rico in 2017, he later created a fund to raise money to help revitalize the Puerto Rican arts organizations.
Have you experienced a cultural stereotype, challenge, or bias? Can you share your experience(s)?
Yes. Many people are surprised when they learn I am not Mexican. In my opinion, I believe there is just not enough knowledge about all the Spanish-speaking countries like there are for Mexico and Spain. There are many more like the Caribbean and Central and South America.
It’s also important to know that Spanish-speaking countries have different cultures, traditions, and dialects.
What advice do you have for Latinos and Hispanics that may have experienced cultural stereotypes, challenges, or biases?
My advice would be to hold your head high and be proud of where you come from. I have never doubted or tried to hide my culture. It is who I am. Growing up, there may have been rough times trying to adapt to the English language or being “different” from other kids in school. I did not let it affect me as I was focused on learning! Also, remember your relatives, and let them be a reason to keep your culture alive.
How can Velocity or others in the community support our Hispanic/Latino community?
I would love to see if we could do a donation drive or fundraiser for a Hispanic community down the road. A big part of who I am is finding ways to help others, and I have always wanted to give back to my community. I used to volunteer at a non-profit in Toledo, Ohio, called Adelante, The Latino Resource Center. Adelante’s mission is to serve and empower individuals and families in Northwest Ohio through education, prevention, economic literacy, health, and other social services. They are known for tutoring, reading programs, and childcare resources. Another idea would be to help the migrant community. They do so much for us in terms of our crops, and they need our help in so many ways. In my opinion, the fundraising/donation projects I mentioned above would be the best way to raise awareness of the Hispanic community and give back.
I really enjoyed doing this project and sharing details about my culture. It was effortless, and I could go on and on about how much it all means to me. Thank you for allowing us to have a platform during Hispanic Heritage Month.
Thank you, Maria, for sharing your story with us. We’re incredibly proud of all of our team members. We are dedicated to ensuring that Velocity is a place of inclusiveness and an environment where all of our team members feel comfortable being themselves and supported.
Let’s continue to celebrate, educate and share the rich history and traditions of Hispanic/Latino culture. Here are a few resources to better acquaint yourself with organizations that support the Hispanic/Latino community:
Hispanic Heritage Foundation identifies, inspires, prepares, and connects Latino Leaders in the community, classroom, and workforce.
UnidosUS serves the Hispanic community through research, policy analysis, advocacy efforts, and program work in communities nationwide. They partner with affiliates across the country to serve millions of Latinos in the areas of civic engagement, civil rights and immigration, education, workforce, and the economy, health, and housing.
Council for Latino Workplace Equity fosters workplace equity for Latino talent and seeks inclusion and opportunity for Latino leaders to claim their place at the table.