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Thoughts on Identity and Diversity for Hispanic Heritage Month (part 1)

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Chapter 1

This blog post is the first in a series on Hispanic Heritage Month.

Today marks the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, a celebration of the histories, cultures, and contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America, and Spain.

All of us – Latinx or otherwise – have stories that need telling so that we can better understand one another. And the COVID-19 pandemic only seems to have exacerbated the situation. So I’m going to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with you by telling you the story of my journey of self- identity – no holds barred. It’s important to share this story to illustrate the dynamic nature of self-identity and how that can help you grow professionally and otherwise.  As for myself, I believe that bringing one’s whole self to your career helps you become better at whatever you do.  In my case, it makes me a better statistician, mentor and leader. 

My journey of discovery of self-identity came in distinct timeframes, so I will devote a separate blog to each. This blog represents the first contribution. So let’s begin! 

Now, I’m going to start my journey with a story about when I was about 4 years old – and I promise it has relevance later on. I was born and raised on the west side of San Antonio, Texas, just south of Woodlawn Lake. The first few years of my life were spent under the care of my maternal grandmother, my abuelita. She cared for her nietos (grandkids) while my parents worked at Kelly Air Force Base, the biggest employer in the city at the time. 

Image of cactus

As a young child, I was given wide leeway playing in our barren backyard. Nestled in one corner was an intriguing cactus garden populated with prickly pear, agaves, and other native cacti. I was fascinated by that garden, and specifically with the prickly pear. When my grandmother would check on me during the day, I often was at the garden peering into its mysteries, despite her admonitions to steer clear of it.

Well, one day I found myself alone in the backyard and used a stick to lop off a prickly pear pad. I moved it over to the shed for some in‐depth probing. While squatting above it and poking with the stick, I heard the screen door slam behind me. I glanced back and saw my grandmother coming out with a load of laundry to hang on the nearby clothesline.

Seeking to avoid detection, I quickly formulated a devious plan. I spun around, still in a squatting position, and poked the ground in front of me, pretending to be interested in the dirt and expecting my body would shield my botanical specimen from view. I remember being both happy and relieved when the clothes started going up on the line because it meant my plan was working.

Unfortunately, fate intervened. In the midst of my excitement, I lost balance and fell backwards –sitting directly on that prickly pear pad with all those needles. I made a screech heard ‘round the neighborhood and my grandmother rushed over. Between my tears, I expected to see compassion and sympathy. Instead, I was shocked to be the subject of delight and howling laughter. In fact, my grandmother howled until the last espina – or thorn – was plucked off my baby bottom… although anyone who’s been victimized by a prickly pear knows you never really get them all out.

After that traumatic experience, you might think I learned my lesson -- and I did.  I was a lot more careful the next time! Prickly pears were way too interesting for me to suspend my independent research.

That tenacity to pursue my interests – even at the cost of a little pain – is something I learned early on and I hold to this day. And it ties into the journey I’m going to tell you about over the course of this month: my search for ethnic identity that involves terms like Hispanic, Latino, Lantinx, Mexican American, Chicano, Mestizo, Raza. It’s a journey that has spanned more than half a century, and it continues to this day, because such quests never really end. 

The next chapter of my ethnic discovery will weave together the Mexican Revolution, Irish nuns and the Brackenridge estate in San Antonio.  I look forward to sharing it with you. Quédate, ¡no te vayas!

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