PHS staff and students celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month

From September 15 to October 15, PHS celebrated National Hispanic Heritage Month, a nationwide holiday that sheds light on the accomplishments, contributions, and historical origins of Hispanic Americans in the United States.

Throughout the month, PHS hosted a variety of activities, including dance lessons that were taught by members of the PHS Dance Club. Students were able to learn dances such as the merengue, a distinct style of dance originating from the Dominican Republic.

PHS staff continued to spread awareness on the contributions Hispanics have made to America with the implementation of posters that showcased popular figures in media and scientific fields in Maribelle Robinson’s Spanish III Advanced classes and Ángel Fuentes-Pesquera’s Biology class.

Both Hispanic students and staff acknowledge how their heritage allows them to see the world with a different mindset.

“I’m originally from Puerto Rico, so that’s [where] my Hispanic heritage comes from. I was born and raised there and I moved to New Jersey in 1998 …. My upbring[ing] is [rooted in] my Hispanic culture. [We have] very tight families [and are] very community-oriented. We share and cherish values [such as] community, family, food, culture . Coming from an island with Hispanic origins gives PHS and Princeton a different point of view,” Fuentes-Pesquera said.

Similarly, Brianna Silva ’18 sees that her experience growing up as a Latina has allowed her to understand the importance of family.

“Growing up with Hispanic culture, [I see how] community is a big part of it, especially family. For me, family has always been my first priority, [with] responsibilities. My need to help out the Hispanic community also takes a role in it because I feel that [it is] responsibility to give back.”

While Hispanic members of the district continue to live in a changing world, they understand the importance of honoring their personal history and how it is part of of their identity.

“I think that it is important to know your roots. There is a lot of well-being in knowing your roots moving forward and keeping that tradition in mind,” said Graciela Elia, a Computer Science teacher at PHS, originating from Argentina.

Kimberly Rojas ’19 expresses similar beliefs, believing that by understanding culture, one can have a greater sense of appreciation of where they originate from.

“To me, [Hispanic Heritage Month] means being able to still connect to my country, and my heritage. To still be here in America, and like they say, to never really forget where you came from,” Rojas said.

While staff and students are grateful for the celebrations, they still stress the importance of combating issues facing minority students.

In Fuentes-Pesquera’s eyes, one of the main problems that goes unaddressed with Hispanic students is that people fail to see the different types of Hispanic students, specifically with Hispanics and Hispanic-Americans.

“There’s Hispanic American students that [have] families [that] have been in the US for many generations and there is another group of Hispanics that are recently immigrants and they have different characteristics and weaknesses that also need to be addressed. Treating the whole Hispanic population at PHS as one, is not appropriate if you don’t consider those technicalities. So there’s different needs that need to be addressed in order to achieve equity,” Fuentes-Pesquera said.

On a similar note, Silva believes that PHS should increase visibility for Hispanic students by raising awareness of the struggles they face.

“I find that there’s not many role models or people speaking out for Hispanic people [at PHS] and when [problems of Hispanic students are] brought up people are like ‘what are you talking about?’ I remember when I spoke at the civil rights committee, I talked about my observations about ESL students, specifically how Hispanic students were being treated, and when I brought it up people were surprised because they would’ve never thought to think that was an issue at PHS,” Silva said.

Despite not quite addressing the problems Hispanic students face in the Princeton community, Hispanic members are grateful for the progress that has been made toward celebrating various forms of diversity.

“I think that this is a country with many different cultures and we all benefit from the differences. Every culture brings more enrichment to the country,” Elia said. “It will be really nice if we honor every culture that we are surrounded by. This is a very [diverse] town and I think that we should take advantages of our differences [and] enjoy them.”

Likewise, other Hispanic students emphasize how learning about other cultures allows them to discover the unity that lies among people of various heritages.

“There is a lot that we can learn from Hispanic heritage as well as other heritages,” Rojas said. “I think that we can learn that we [may be] different and that we come from different places, [but] there are still things that unite us like music, art, or language.”

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