written by Elizabeth Valencia, Service Leader on the Beech Street Elementary School team generously supported by Dartmouth-Hitchcock
The greatest gift I could receive during Latinx Heritage Month was a powerful statement piece from a student. One morning, three students approached and handed me a bracelet that was engraved “Girl Squad.” One student told me, “Ms. Valencia, you are officially a part of the Girl Squad… wait no! The Latina Squad.” I asked her, “What do you think it means to be Latina?” Her response: “Well, it means to be independent and powerful.” With the sense of certainty I saw in her face, I knew these three girls had begun their journey as Latinas who are already changing the world. This bracelet is a new addition to my everyday readiness check.
Each year, the United States celebrates Latinx Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15. This period celebrates the history and culture of the Latinx community, as well as the rich diversity the community has contributed to American culture. It is called Latinx Heritage Month and not Hispanic Heritage Month because Hispanic is a narrower term that refers only to people of Spanish-speaking origins. For instance, the term excludes Brazil because although Portuguese is the predominant spoken language there, it is still a part of Latin America. Latinx is a gender-inclusive term that replaces Latino, Latina, and even Latin@. Latinx is the all-inclusive non-binary term adapted as our community seeks to be further tied to one another.
I applied for a second year of service at City Year New Hampshire because of beautiful Beech Street Elementary School and City Year New Hampshire itself. CYNH has fostered a safe space for uncomfortable conversations in order to cultivate growth within individuals and the site. AmeriCorps members are given opportunities to lead trainings and host events that educate the site in diversity and social justice topics. During my first year, one corps member led a training on gender, and another led a training on microaggressions. Just this year, Service Leaders of color have started the People of Color Affinity Group, which invites all ACM’s, alumni, and staff of color to attend. Recently, first year corps members felt empowered to start an LGBTQIA+ Affinity Group. City Year allows for each of its members to feel independent and powerful.
When an organization gives its employees a platform to speak on topics that are important to them, it creates a safe and inclusive environment. Thankfully, Inclusivity and Ubuntu are two of CYNH’s five core values. These core values of City Year create an environment that allows me to celebrate and appreciate my cultural heritage far past the month of October. These values have me constantly ready to appreciate my students, to appreciate my Latina Squad. When I tie this bracelet around my wrist every day, I am reminded that my humanity is tied to that of my students. I am, because they are.
If you or someone you know is interested in joining City Year, click here for information about the application process. The next application deadline is October 27th.