SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — It’s National Hispanic American Heritage Month, so what does that heritage mean to people here?
“The word Hispanic, it encompasses a lot of different people,” César Juárez said.
34-year-old Sioux Falls lawyer César Juárez was born in Mexico. So was 39-year-old Jesús González, who works in banking and lives in Sioux Falls. 36-year-old Sioux Falls teacher Ivanna Kusijanovic is originally from Ecuador. 26-year-old Kimberly Muñoz’s parents are from Guatemala; she works in banking and lives in Sioux Falls. Finally, 20-year-old Andrea Huete lives in Brookings. Her parents are from Nicaragua, and she’s secretary of South Dakota State University’s Latin American Student Association. To all five, KELOLAND News posed the same question: what does Hispanic heritage mean to you?
“It means a common denominator, if you will, for several cultures joined into one,” Kusijanovic said.
“I’m happy that there is a Latin American club, and so knowing that I’m being supported here on campus makes me encouraged,” Huete said.
“It literally means just a celebration of how did we come to this point,” González said. “We weren’t always as accepted as we would have wanted to be.”
“When I hear the word Hispanic, I attribute it to my particular heritage, my Mexican heritage,” Juárez said.
Muñoz looks at the people who came before.
“I think to me, it’s gotten more important in my life the older that I get, because I see that my grandparents are getting older, and those stories that I used to not pay attention to when I was a kid, I really value now,” Muñoz said.
She also looks to the future.
“As I get older, I realize that it’s something that I get to carry on to the next generation if I ever have kids, so to me it means that I need to always be informed about my background and my upbringing and how I can continue to pass on the stories and pass on the traditions to the next generation,” Muñoz said.
They all commented on challenges with being Hispanic or Latino in South Dakota. González says there has been a change.
“In 2016 there was a drastic change about the tolerance and just the bluntness of how people reacted to someone being Latino,” González said.
“People do make bad comments towards me, but other than that I feel comfortable,” Huete said.
Juárez says challenges could depend on your job.
“I’m very privileged in what I do and who I am in life to where it may be the disadvantages are not as impactful to me, or they don’t have as much of an impact on me because of … a lot of the privileges that I have in life,” Juárez said. “But I think there is, if you were to ask the same questions to somebody that’s perhaps working a labor work, they may have a very different answer.”
Kusijanovic and Muñoz share comments they’ve heard.
“I think South Dakotans are generally nice people,” Kusijanovic said. “I’ve heard comments, teaching in the Spanish Immersion Program … ‘Well why would you teach kids Spanish,’ things like that.”
“I would say there are some difficulties but not to the extreme that it hinders me from finding success in my workplace or friendships or anything like that,” Muñoz said. “But just the other day someone made a comment that wasn’t correct … someone said, ‘Do you speak Mexican,’ and that was funny, because it’s ‘Do you speak Spanish.’ So I think it’s more of a everyday conversational type of issues that arise, more so of not direct attacks.”
Stories and experiences like all of these continue to make the United States a melting pot. It’s nuanced, complicated, and ongoing… and it wouldn’t be American if it were any other way.
Our upcoming National Hispanic American Heritage Month special will air on October 6.