September is Hispanic Heritage Month, which has a very special meaning for me. Although I never knew him, my great-grandfather immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico and changed the entire course of my life. He fled poverty and lack of opportunity to come to the U.S. and work for what he could only hope would be a better life. He soon met my great-grandmother, an immigrant from Span, and so began our family’s roots in the U.S. 

My great-grandfather died in poverty, but he was able to provide an education for each of his six children. With their education, each child worked to provide a better life for their children—my father’s generation. I have had more opportunities than any generation before me: I’ve been able to travel the world, including interning with the U.S. State Department in Albania and Zambia, and am now working on a PhD in political science. This is solely because of the hard work that generations before me put in. I am eternally grateful for them and to them. 

In a broader context, I am thankful for so many Hispanic leaders that changed not only my life, but the lives of millions of others. Cesar Chavez was a civil and labor rights activist who fought to ensure that everyone—especially field workers—were treated fairly when working. He fundamentally changed the way that we think about labor in the U.S. And, as a member of the Savhera community, a company that exists to provide dignified employment for those who formerly were exploited, I see the roots of my fight in people like Chavez. 

I am thankful for Frida Kahlo who used her artwork to discuss formerly unspeakable issues, including miscarriage, depression, and isolation. For Laura Esquivel’s novel Like Water for Chocolate, which provides insight into the lives of Mexican women. For actors including Selma Hayek, Danny Trejo, and Jennifer Lopez who have contributed to our shared cultural identity. 

I am also thankful for the culture that Hispanics share with us and brought to the U.S. So much of the food that I consume has Hispanic roots. Whether it’s tacos, Cuban platanos, or a margarita at happy hour after work. Every time I eat a fajita, it is because of Hispanics that came before me and dared to share their culture.

Ultimately, it is for this that I’m thankful. Immigrating is one of the hardest things that someone can do. They are leaving behind the world they knew and everything that was familiar in the hope that they will find something better in their new land. Yet, they still hold onto their parts of their culture and they are able to share it with us. Their music, their food, their art, their beliefs, and it has enriched my life and so many others.

Thank you. Thank you to Hispanics who immigrated and shared their culture. Thank you to Hispanics who were born in the US and continue to share your beliefs and stories. Thank you to Hispanics throughout Latin America who engage with Americans to share your thoughts and ideas. Thank you for making everyone’s life a little better—mine not least.

Allegra Hernandez is currently a PhD student at Rice University. She is a 2017 graduate of Texas Christian University, and served as Savhera’s Strategic Communications Associate in 2019 until beginning her graduate studies. She is a proud native of New Mexico.