Hispanic Heritage Month officially came to an end on October 15, but of course, for many of us, we celebrate our heritage the whole year long.  However, the months of October and November are especially cherished by Latinos. While most of the United States celebrates Halloween by dressing their children in costumes and asking for candy, many Latin American families celebrate our ancestors and honor the passing of our loved ones in elaborate Day of the Dead celebrations. It is no coincidence that the Catholic celebration of honoring saints called All Saints Day is celebrated on November 1while All Soul’s Day is the next day and is a day of prayer and remembrance for all who have died.

Day of the Dead, in Spanish: Día de Los Muertos, is traditionally celebrated on November 1and November 2 especially by people of Mexican heritage and is usually described as a combination of ancient indigenous Aztec rituals and Catholicism. It is a public holiday in Mexico and families honor the deceased by building private altars called “ofrendas.”  The altars are then adorned with flowers (usually marigolds), skull decorations, paper cut outs, bread, other food, and pictures.  These ofrendas are believed to encourage visits from our ancestors.  It is a beautiful holiday where we remember our family members who have passed on and celebrate their lives.

Keeping with the tone of remembrance and positivity, this month I asked several people from different Latin American countries, living here in the Chicagoland area to tell me what makes them most proud of their heritage, and here are some of the beautiful answers they gave:

“As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, Hispanic Heritage Month for me is a time to reflect on the contributions of Latinx immigrants to the fabric of American life. I celebrate the richness in our culture, traditions, and language. I am proud of the labor and resilience of Latinx communities and honor our many accomplishments and contributions to the great American dream.”

-Norma Manjarrez, attorney from Chicago

“What makes me proud about Mexico are the pre-Hispanic cultures. Just to look at the pyramids the Aztec and Maya civilizations build, makes realize how amazing they were.”

-Anonymous contributor

“I’m most proud of the depth of Mexico’s indigenous cultures, going back thousands of years before the European occupation of the Americas. And after the Spanish were ousted, Mexico forged its own identity as a Mestizo nation, embracing its past and present, represented in its culinary and artistic greatness.”

-Federico Rodriguez, attorney from Chicago

“I was born in the United States and raised in Mexico. I learned about rich heritage and pride in our accomplishments as a leader in Latin America. My family was very involved in drafting the new constitution and making Mexico a better place. I carried that mindset back to the USA, and it has helped me be successful.”

-Salvador Cicero, attorney from Chicago

“Solidarity is a beautiful quality of Chileans. When natural disasters happen (like earthquakes and tsunamis) and people lose everything they have, we all get together; donating blankets, nonperishable foods, clothing, construction material, etc. and help to rebuild. It is beautiful to see how we all become one and support the weak with whatever we can share. More important than what it is donated is the act of giving.”

-Maca Navas, Martial Artist from Chicago practicing Kung Fu and Tai Chi

Finally, though I didn’t have the honor to interview her for my article, with her quote, she captures the spirit of Latinos perfectly:

“The Latina in me is an ember that blazes forever.”

– Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

So, let’s continue our celebration of our Hispanic Heritage throughout the whole year by teaching our children to remember where they came from, by remembering our ancestors, and striving to make our world a better place.

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