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Juanita Zertuche: "We really are making a difference, people just don't see us."
From TV6 news, it's Descubre with Montse, I'm Montse Ricossa. It's Hispanic Heritage Month, one of the most important times of the year for Latinos ... and the Latino population is only growing. What does this mean for the Quad Cities? We'll hear from fiesta organizers and community members.
Zenaida Landeros: "I think it's beautiful to celebrate all cultures and traditions, it's what makes up America, so I think it's important to reach out from your experiences, get to know others in the community and recognize the contributions in our community."
First, let's let Augustana College professor America Colmenares explain how this got started:
America Colmenares: "I'm going to talk about the history because I think it's important to know how it came about, and it came about the administration of Lyndon Johnson on September 17 of 1968. It became law and it decided to have a week to celebrate the presence of Hispanics and the contributions to this country."
20 years later, it was turned into a month-long celebration by President Reagan. It starts on September 15th, which is the Independence Day for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. A few days later are Mexico and Chile's independence days.
Montse Ricossa: "Why do you think it's important we have this to celebrate?"
Zenaida Landeros: "I think that it's important to recognize the contributions that Latinos have had in the US. It's especially important to make sure everyone feels included in our community and everybody participates in celebrating those contributions we have in our community"
The Quad Cities is a region of five cities clustered on the banks of the Mississippi River along the Iowa/Illinois border, including Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa and Rock Island, Moline and East Moline, Illinois.
For Zenaida Landeros, the Executive Director for the Greater Quad Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic Heritage Month is about celebrating Latino culture, community, and the contributions.
"I think Latinos have contributed to the formation of the US.. for a very long time and we continue to do that. It's really heartwarming and beautiful to see our community come together and celebrate with us. Here at the Hispanic Chamber, we celebrate our culture every day. It's great to see our community come together and plan events and festivals around this time. For us, it's important to make sure we help foster an environment that just brings us all together."
Zenaida mentions the word "contributions" multiple times ... but which ones?
According to Forbes, by 2025, the increase in employed Hispanic labor could contribute more to the U.S. GDP growth than non-Hispanic labor.
Immigrants are also twice as likely to start a business than native-born Americans, Latinos especially, according to the Kaufman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity.
According to the New American Economy study, in Iowa, the percent increase in Hispanic-owned firms between 1992 and 2012 rose by 446 percent. Not only that, but Latinos are the largest minority group, and Pew Research estimates that by 2050. Hispanics will reach 29% of the population, up from 14% in 2005. White non-Hispanics will go down from 67% to 47%, a decrease of about 20%.
So, it's a busy month for those planning it.
Montse Ricossa: "What kind of things is the Hispanic Chamber doing this month? Because I understand that it's a lot!"
Zenaida Landeros: (Laughs) "One of the reasons why we like to support a lot of these events is because they contribute to scholarships and just community building! So we do participate in VIVA Quad Cities, Mexico's Independence Day parade in East Moline, and we try to host events like the Multicultural Speaker series on October 4 and we do have our open house on September 12 from 4-6pm. We wanted to celebrate it this month because it gives us an opportunity to show we're in the heart of the Quad Cities and in the heart of the Floreciente neighborhood."
Hispanic Heritage month changing throughout the years:
Zenaida Landeros: "I think since I'm from the QC and I think I've always been very excited to participate in Hispanic Heritage month because it is a big part of my identity. It's grown more and we're more involved as a community with these events. So for me, I've only seen it grow and have seen the positive and beautiful thing, so it's a very exciting time for us."
With identity can come some confusion about what it means to be Hispanic or Latino.
Montse Ricossa: "Can you explain the difference between Hispanic and Latino if there is one? Because I think people sometimes blend them together or don't really separate them."
America Colmenares: "Well pretty much, Hispanic is Hispanoamerica. When you talk about Hispanoamerica, it's people who come from Spain and you combine that with Latin America. Whereas Latino is people who come from Latin America from Mexico to Argentina. So that's why when someone asks you, are you Hispanic, are you, Latino? It's like, we're all Hispanic in a way because we all have descendants from Spain, so I am Hispanic. My great grandmother came from Spain and moved to Venezuela. So there's a mix from Spain and Latinoamerica."
Montse Ricossa: "Do you identify one way or another?"
America Colmenares: "I call myself Latina, even though I say my roots go back to Spain because my great-grandparents came from Spain, France and all of that, I consider myself a Latina woman." (laughs)
Juanita Zertuche: "When I think of being a Latina, I think of my mom. She was a hard worker, my grandfather, as well. So when I think of that, I think I have to celebrate that. And to me, it's all about family and I am very proud."
Juanita Zertuche, the organizer of the East Mline Independence Day Parade and Fiesta says it was her and her husband's dream to start.
Juanita Zertuche: "It was a vision my husband actually, Abel. He had a vision and he started sharing what he was envisioning. My aspect came because working in an educational institution, we wanted to offer an opportunity for the community to celebrate their culture, their language, and their family. I think there are some points where students would forget the importance of being bilingual and so much negative press was always out there about our community, that I thought we needed the opportunity to case the positive and what a positive community we had and celebrate it."
Both the East Moline Fiesta and VIVA Quad Cities Fiesta raise money for scholarships for local students.
Juanita Zertuche: "It's something I had seen is a big need in our community, a need for scholarships for students. What's a better way to help them than by giving them a scholarship and help to students and families?"
VIVA Quad Cities President, Toni Robertson wants to help others because she struggled with college when she was younger.
Toni Robertson: "I myself was not introduced to college when I was young. It was not affordable so they didn't even bring it to the table. And we have now various college graduations and in order to help Hispanics, even though it's not just Hispanics. Any nationality can apply for this, if they're within 50 miles of Scott County."
They think that by helping economically, they're able to get more Latinos to finish high school, and hopefully go to college.
Juanita Zertuche: "Planning for expenses of college is something you have to do way in advance. For those who don't, it is a barrier, and we want to alleviate some of those stresses. We found the scholarships was the best way for us, so that was my experience over the years. Even for myself, when I started college I'd do not know how to apply for financial aid and I found a scholarship by chance. So my own experience also helped me realize that scholarships are a big part, that making sure our students have those opportunities to pursue higher education."
In "The Economic Benefits of Latino Immigration: How the Migrant Hispanic Population's Demographic Characteristics Contribute to US Growth," Research Analyst Gonzalo Huertas and Senior Fellow Jacob Kirkegaard found that Hispanic graduation rates have risen 30% in the last 20 years, reaching nearly 90%.
With the recent mass shootings, safety is a #1 concern for those involved.
NBC Nightly News archive: "With the death toll now rising to 22 and dozens wounded"
Juanita Zertuche: "We are very conscious about those things going on. We are working, we have every year in the City of East Moline and work with this event. We are continuing that path, we are also thinking about that very closely. We also have security and are increasing that this year and we understand that that's something we sadly we have to be taking into consideration. I think we're trying to make it where everyone feels comfortable, feels safe and we have the city of East Moline police department behind us 100%."
The shooter in El Paso, Texas targetting Latinos in particular.
Today Show archive: "In a newly released arrest affidavit, he spells out his racist motive, telling officers in his words, he was targetting Mexicans."
America Colmenares: "I think it's in everybody's minds. I was just having conversations with a lady from Mexico and she said, 'they were coming after Mexicans and Latinos.' It's in everybody's minds. For example, I was leaving my kids in school, daughters, and I think about it, but it's hard not to think about. This is a big issue."
These Latinas hope that by getting to know each other, the misconceptions some may have will lessen.
Zenaida Landeros: "I think it's like everything, the more you become aware of it, the more you participate and engage within different communities, the more you share and humanize those experiences and become more involved."
Toni Robertson: "I think it's important to know not just Hispanic heritages but all heritages. As in any nationality, there are always the good, the bad, and the ugly. We know that we have had shootings ... of all nationalities and when we hear of one thing that's wrong, it seems to bring down the whole nationality of all people. With this, it shows we are the same as everyone else in the nation, that we are no different. We just have a different color of skin."
America Colmenares: "You have to be open-minded and celebrate other holidays or celebrations. I mean, I'm not African American but I always try to celebrate with Martin Luther King and other cultural celebrations. If we are a part of this country and make up a part of 18% of this population, why not take it into consideration? I mean, we are a part of it!"
51 years after Hispanic Heritage week was created, organizers are anticipating thousands in attendance and hoping you are one of them. VIVA Quad Cities is Saturday, September 7th from noon to 10:30 at LeClaire Park and the East Moline Mexican Independence Day Parade and Fiesta start at Runner's Park at noon.
This podcast was produced and edited by Montse Ricossa, reviewed by David Nelson and Brandon Stauffer, theme music composed by Gabriel Candiani.
I'm your host, Montse Ricossa, join us again next time, and in the meanwhile, you can find me on your social media.
Hasta la próxima, until next time!