The St. James Plaindealer proudly supports the Hispanic community. During Hispanic Heritage Month, the Plaindealer will be writing weekly features on Hispanic community leaders.
Convivencia Hispana’s mission is about raising Hispanic/Latinx voices in the community by taking on the role of a resource channel and taking part in local democracy. The organization, active for the last four years, currently consists of ten members. Meetings are held at the Watonwan County Library in a reserved room with a capacity of four people. They make it work.
Some of the resources they’ve provided to the Hispanic/Latinx community include nutrition classes, workshops regarding finance and domestic abuse and healthy housing assessments, and for over a year now, Our Golden Age, an ongoing effort providing caregiving support, education and activities to the elderly.
Convivencia Hispana stemmed from a conversation during a lunch break among employees at Smithfield Foods. Some workers shared where their children were going to college, but most stated they weren’t attending because they couldn’t afford it.
They questioned among themselves, “Why don’t we come together to form a group to support these Hispanic/Latinx kids?”
Convivencia Hispana began with a mission to help the youth. The first year the organization awarded five scholarships, the second year were seven and then 10. The recipients have began to be of other ethnicities apart from Hispanic/Latinx.
Sharing cultural traditions has been one of Convivencia Hispana’s largest efforts. Along with creating the idea for annual Multicultural Fiesta, the organization has continued to bring their heritage to the community such as with Day of the Dead.
“I’ve talked about the process of Day of the Dead to my daughters,” said member Juliet Ochoa. “They listen, but it’s not the same as when you live it. When you live it, your memories are forever. It’s not just a talk. A talk you remember a thing or two, but living is unforgettable. That’s the reason we celebrate.”
The essence of sharing cultures the organization continues to try to capture for the community is similar to what it’s like to come across a party in Mexico while walking on the street.
“You don’t know if you showed up to a baptism or a wedding, but it’s a party,” said member Everardo Varges. “Letting everyone do their thing, everyone dancing.”
Another part of the essence is sharing without stereotypes and breaking barriers. The organization states they’re not here to force their culture on everyone.
“We’re here to learn your culture, but we’d like you to learn ours, too,” said Varges. The organization understands not everyone will accept them.
They are a minority in a “white country” where they’re punished for speaking Spanish and eating beans. They don’t see that as an end to their work. They choose to focus on the good people who do accept them such as the ones who show up to their fundraisers asking for churros or the coworker who lets them know they’re learning Spanish with their children by watching Dora the Explorer.
Hispanic Heritage Month to the organization is more of a time to reminisce of old times in their native countries when it came to mass celebration and the fact that there’s a whole month to bring that celebration to the United States.
But they acknowledged there’s a majority of the Hispanic/Latinx community who aren’t aware of the month, and the celebration isn’t large enough. They believe the Hispanic/Latinx community should be more conscious of how important they are and be proud, because they are significant and one’s culture should always be celebrated.