Personal Memories During National Hispanic Heritage Month

The author and his family.

The author and his family.

By Elias Rodriguez

America is presently engaged in National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 to October 15. Latino cultural pride is a diverse, multifaceted and nonpartisan experience. This national period of reflection and events began in 1968 under President Lyndon B. Johnson and was broadened by President Ronald Reagan in 1988.

To remember and honor my Latino ancestors during this festive period, I’m sharing a family photo that captures the affection, energy and delight of family life in my distinct Puerto Rican clan.

My father and mother migrated to Nueva York from Santurce and Canovanas, Puerto Rico in the 1950s. They met at church on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and the rest is history. In this photograph, taken in NYC, circa 1970s, the restless niño on my grandfather’s lap is me. Anchoring the family portrait is my beloved mother and maternal grandparents surrounded by my two sisters, four brothers, one aunt and an infant cousin. True to form, dad was absent during the photo shoot and at work after which he probably brought home from the local bodega: groceries, treats and, on one memorable occasion, a live rooster. The latter did not last long in a Manhattan apartment building and was promptly converted into a delicious stew.

A few short years after this photo, I experienced my first visit to Puerto Rico. Treasured memories of my abuelo and abuela include hearty meals of rice, beans, pork and freshly picked vegetables from our ancestral home; the luscious taste of leche fresca straight from cows milked early in the day; and the absolute recognition that the only way to address my grandparents was in a low, respectful tone, and in Spanish, their sole language.

Fortunately, my forbearers also left behind the legacy of a healthy respect for the Earth, an admiration for nature, and a commitment to responsible stewardship. Their enduring message is that every natural resource is a divine blessing and should be managed with wisdom, generosity and cooperatively. My abuelitos taught my family to respect the planet because it will outlast us, never litter because this is where we live, never be wasteful because every resource is cherished, and always be grateful for our days are few before we too are a memory.

About the Author: Elias serves as EPA Region 2’s bilingual public information officer. Prior to joining EPA, the proud Nuyorican worked at Time Inc. conducting research for TIME, LIFE, FORTUNE and PEOPLE magazines. He is a graduate of Hunter College, Baruch College and the Theological Institute of the Assembly of Christian Churches in NYC.

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