Heart of the Hispanic

Updated: Sep 8, 2019

by BEN RICHARDSON and TOMMY PUGH.

Giseth Leon (10) in front of the Somos Westfield sign.

WESTFIELD, Ind. (Sep. 2018) - Savory steaming tamales wrapped from scratch in golden husks. Elaborately designed papeles picados depicting flowery folk art. Ancestral altars adorned with marigolds and portraits of lost loved ones. These signature festivities are just a taste of the customs Hispanics in the Westfield community observe during a month so near and dear to their hearts, or corazones. They reveal the sights and sounds and colors of a culture deeply rooted in family and tradition.

The calendar welcomed Sept. 15 like any other midsummer day, but for over 52 million across the US, it marked the kickoff of a month-long celebration of their Hispanic heritage. The congressionally-recognized month honors the momentous histories, cultures and contributions of folks whose roots trace to Spain and Latin America.


“My family and I are from Tecpan de Galeana Guerrero, Mexico, and there’s lots of food involved in the month,” Javier Patricio Galeana (12) said. “For example, something you guys would know, like tamales--they’re all homemade. I don’t know how to say it in English, but we make masa.” (Masa is a popular corn-based dough used in all kinds of Mexican favorites, like tortillas and tamales).


Food, an integral part of Hispanic culture, not only brings the family together, but also reminds each person of where he or she came from. Certain smells even brought back cherished memories of the small Mexican town, or pueblo, where Patricio Galeana lived.

“For big holidays, we Mexicans try to do food that really takes time,” Galeana said. “It’s a big event that you usually don’t do in 50 minutes or something. We put effort into it, so when it’s finally time to feast, it feels like the time was worth it, and we took great pride in it. And that’s actually pretty cool.”


Several Hispanic holidays spark a great sense of pride within the community between Sept.15 through Oct. 15, but it’s crucial to stress that the month itself honors a heritage of year-round celebrations.


“We have Día de los Niños… we have el Día de Los Tres Reyes Magos, we celebrate Virgin Mary, Día de Los Muertos, and we celebrate it quite differently with the whole concept of the day of the living dead,” Galeana said.“It’s pretty weird.”


Viviano Gonzalez Chavez (10) strongly related, appreciated and looked forward to the celebrations and emotions surrounding Día de Los Muertos, a joyous annual event that demonstrates love and remembrance for family members on the other side.


“We put pictures of family that have passed away that were loved by us, and we also put offerings, their favorite foods, favorite beverages, and arrangements of flowers, and some candles and their pictures,” Chavez said.


Familism, the concept of putting family over self, resonates profoundly throughout Latin America, as most Hispanic students will proudy attest. Westfield students suggested that la familia truly represents what Hispanic heritage is at its core.


“For Mexican Independence Day, there’s usually a boxing match going on, so my family and I go to visit our extended family to see the match,” Andy Sanchez Dominguez (11) said. “We sit down and eat before the match to give thanks to God for everything that’s been given to us, like good health, friends, most importantly, family.”


Families celebrate in all different manners and sorts, but the core of it is time spent together. One tradition for Kevin Estrada Murillo (12) is playing lotería, a game played with four by four gridded boards of pictures.


“We play some games that are traditional in Mexico,” said Estrada. “It’s like the lottery, and it’s kind of like bingo."


While one’s household members and familial activities are a foundation of Hispanic life, physical distance between extended family and Westfield students has felt like a barrier. But for Hispanics, home is about people, not places.


“I have two uncles here in Indiana,” Dominguez said. “The rest of my family is basically in Mexico, not including my parents.”


The physical gap is bridged on occasion, however, and long separated family members reconnect.


“It’s only on Christmas, and in summer we also see my cousins from Monterrey, and normally we talk about how has life been for all of us,” Chavez said.


While family may not be often connected, Hispanics often form a close bond with another type of family: the family of friends. These close circles of friends are very inclusive and help students to stay open about their culture.


“I like to hang out with my friends and do many things. They speak Spanish but I try to have a lot of friends of different kinds because it’s important to be social,” Giseth Leon (10) said.


As the meaningful month slowly draws to a close, the hubbub of the holiday season commences across Latin America. Whether the focus is on celebrating La Virgen De Guadalupe, el Día de los Reyes Magos, or Navidad (Christmas day), Spanish-speaking students at Westfield surpass expectations to honor the customs and legacies passed down to them. Their culture was inherited; their passion for sharing it with the rest of us is unapologetically their own.


“I am proud of how in general all Hispanics treat you not like a stranger,but like family,” Chavez said.


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