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Celebrating Your Roots: Notes From The LatinX Team

For our final installments of our Latinx Heritage Month Feature series, we share the stories of three staff members working at LatinX. We ask Val Souza, Jessica Hoppe, and Freddy Izaguirre what their heritage means to them, what it’s like growing up as themselves, and how they use their identity for self expression.

Val Souza

1. What does your LatinX or Hispanic heritage mean to you? 

To me, Latino means to be a role model for others from a Brazilian background. We are often overlooked and misunderstood of what we identify with. To represent a minority makes me want to show and share our culture and traditions with people of all kinds. 

2. What was it like growing up LatinX/Hispanic?  

Growing up Latinx was not easy breezy cover girl. It was confusing at points to not identify myself within a group within my school and community, however it made me push my self-growth and embrace who I am.

3. Anything artistic/fun that you do.  If applicable, does your heritage have an influence in how you express yourself/what you do for fun?

I love expressing myself through fashion and makeup tying in with self care practices. Whether a color or trend makes me feel my best self I go for it and I always plan to inspire others that are looking to feel their best self through fashion and makeup.

Jessica Hoppe

1. What does your Latinx heritage mean to you? 

To me, the root of my identity is my family. I grew up immersed in my parents’ native cultures—my father from Ecuador and my mother from Honduras. I was always curious to learn about our family history, their respective journeys to America, and how those made me who I am. My parents instilled a deep sense of pride in our heritage and did not personally desire to assimilate in all the ways that became necessary for me. My father still refuses to speak English with us. As a child, I found it frustrating, but today I’m very grateful.

2. What was it like growing up Latinx?  

I am so proud to be Latinx and I always have been. But I struggled as a child to understand who I am. Where I grew up my skin tone, my hair, my attitude, my style, my taste in music (no ola Latina then) my parents, my home, my mother’s car, my father’s accent, my father’s uniform, were different. All these things were visibly, audibly, obviously different and therefore targeted. I got into many fights at school, to be honest, but I learned a lot about myself and how to help others by standing up for what is right.

3. Anything artistic/fun that you do.  If applicable, does your heritage have an influence in how you express yourself/what you do for fun?

Storytelling is a gift I inherited from my father. Both my parents have the most incredible life stories and it’s an honor to retell them. It’s also my duty to share them truthfully, without fear or shame, and I’m lucky that my family allows me the freedom to do so. It can be scary in today’s political climate but I know that we have the power to change hearts and minds just by raising our hands and sharing.

Freddy Izaguirre

1. What does your LatinX or Hispanic heritage mean to you?

I am Náhuat-descendant and Salvadoreño. My personal journey to self-love through the expression of my cultural identity went from shame to pride when I finally found others like me: mixed and living in diaspora. Being a part of the community is a gift and I am grateful that I no longer feel like I need to hide any aspect of myself. I am now re-learning my Native language, and not apologizing for pushing toward critical thinking that questions the labels that limit us.

2. What was it like growing up LatinX/Hispanic?

Growing up Central American in the Pacific Northwest was hard. We moved there when I was little from El Salvador, and learning to navigate the new landscape was challenging, even though we were among other Latinx people. I was bullied and mocked. We were poor but had each other. Our house was full of traditional meals with all the highs and lows of immigrant life. Being undocumented for so long tested my character and will. Over time I went from feeling muted and “othered,” to understanding how I could be a voice for anyone who felt the same way. Accessing that power became my source of freedom.

3. Anything artistic/fun that you do.  If applicable, does your heritage have an influence in how you express yourself/what you do for fun?

I am a writer and poet. The undocumented experience and search for the severed ties to my roots informs how I craft the projects I embark on. I have lived each part of the migrant experience: arrival, undocumented, in-process, and naturalized. Each step was riddled with its own complications. There were many dark days and agonizing fear. It took thirty years. So much of those conditions are unbeknownst to people lucky enough to be born here. One of my favorite parts when performing poems in front of audiences is watching them make connections; seeing a version of themselves in my story. Humanizing our journeys eradicates stigma and saves us from the distracting “good versus bad immigrant” narrative.

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Vivian Wang

Vivian is a travel enthusiast and food connoisseur living in New York City whose curiosity and passion for languages and culture has taken her across eight countries over the past year. When not writing, she can be found snacking on street food or wandering in a museum.

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