From mid-September through mid-October, the Graduate School joined the Nation in celebrating Latine Culture & Hispanic Heritage Month. We invite you to explore an expanded series of Q&As with graduate students in the arts, sciences and interdisciplinary programs that we featured on Instagram and LinkedIn – with bonus spotlights on two alumni, Abel Cruz Flores (G’21) and Lanika Tucker (N’23), and a professor of U.S. Latinx Literature and Culture at Georgetown, Ricardo Ortíz.
Their individual journeys and the ways they honor their cultures are varied, but at its core is the story of how Hispanic history has enriched American history, and how we should strive to honor it throughout the year: not just during a set number of days on the calendar.
Abel Cruz Flores (G’21)
Current Role: Assistant Professor at Santa Clara University
Q. What does Latine Culture and Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you? A. Hispanic Heritage Month is a moment of introspection for me. As a DACAmented individual, I constantly find myself trying to prove my worth to this country and tend to forget that my heritage is what makes me unique—and not a sealed piece of paper. And so, during this month, I celebrate all the contributions that the immigrant community brings to the country we call home.
Q. How do you enjoy celebrating your heritage not only during this month but throughout the year? A. I attend Baile Folklórico performances during the month of celebration and listen to Mexican rancheras throughout the year. I also teach a language course about Hispanic identity at my institution.
Q. What’s your favorite novel that celebrates Latine/x heritage? A. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza is my go-to reference when in need to retrospect about my Hispanic heritage.
Program:M.S. in Nursing AG-ACNP (Adult Gerontology – Acute Care Nurse Practitioner)
Hometown: Lubbock, Texas
Identity: Mexican American
Q&A with Lanika:
Q. What does Latine Culture and Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you? A. Never forget where you come from. I remember my grandmother telling me her life story: how she left school at 14-years-old to pick cotton in the fields hoping to earn money to buy clothes and shoes to return to school but never being able to. My mother joined the military hoping for a better future, and later became a single mother putting herself through Licensed Vocational Nurse school to again provide a future for her daughters. On my end, I remember sleeping in my mother’s place of employment in the breakroom, or even in the car in the early morning, while she took her lunch break to take us to school. Now, I am the first in my immediate family to obtain a bachelor’s and master’s degree. However, if it was not for those stepping stones taken by the ones before me, my dreams would not have been achievable.
Q. How do you enjoy celebrating your heritage not only during this month but throughout the year? A. Leading by example is, honestly, how I proudly celebrate Hispanic heritage – in silence spreading what we stand for. Perseverance and hard work, never giving up no matter the level of difficulty. Our peers see this then understand that our people are allies and dependable, further opening the door for more opportunities for us all.
Q. What’s your favorite quote(s) that celebrates Latine/x heritage? A. “If you have a dream, don’t let anybody take it away”; “If you’re going to be somebody, you need to be a leader not a follower. You have to be strong-minded”; and “Always believe that the impossible is always possible.” – Selena Quintanilla
Q. What does Latine Culture and Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you? A. As a scholar specializing in the Latine literature and culture of the United States, every month is Latine Culture and Hispanic Heritage Month for me. There isn’t a day in my life, or a moment in my work as teacher or scholar, that I don’t spend honoring the legacy of the world that my Cuban immigrant parents and family built for me when I was myself a young immigrant to this country.
As a Cuban kid lucky enough to grow up in the mostly Mexican world of immigrant working-class Los Angeles in the 1960’s and 70’s, I also learned early that Latinidad in the United States had many different flavors, many different ways of being, feeling and doing. That early experience has always informed my comparative approach to studying and teaching U.S. Latine culture. For me, U.S. Latinidad is a broad and inclusive umbrella: one that covers Mexican and Cuban Americans, but also mainland Puerto Ricans, as well as Latines from the rest of the Caribbean, Central and South America.
Q. How do you enjoy celebrating your heritage not only during this month but throughout the year? A. By loving and supporting my family and community as much as I can, every day of my life. Also by serving and representing the culture and its history as honestly and thoughtfully as I can in my research and teaching. I also enjoy the food, music and art from across all the Latine cultures that I’m lucky enough to access here in DC.
Q. What’s your favorite quote that celebrates Latine/x heritage? A. “Most days Cuba is kind of dead to me. But every once in a while a wave of longing will hit me and it’s all I can do not to hijack a plane to Havana or something. I resent the hell out of the politicians and the generals who force events on us that structure our lives, that dictate the memories we’ll have when we’re old. Every day Cuba fades a little more inside me, my grandmother fades a little more inside me. And there’s only my imagination where our history should be.” – Cristina García, Dreaming in Cuban (1992) — It’s really the last line, but the context helps. The speaker is a young Cuban American woman, born in Cuba but raised in the U.S.
“There isn’t a day in my life that I don’t spend honoring the legacy that my Cuban immigrant parents built for me when I was myself a young immigrant to this country.”
Q. What does Latine Culture and Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you? A. What Latine Culture & Hispanic Heritage Month means to me is a celebration and acknowledgement of my generational roots and the sacrifices my mother and father made for me: uprooting their lives and leaving their families for the promise of better opportunities for their children. They taught me to have a strong work ethic, appreciate and love your family, and that being Latina is an honor and privilege to change and break generational curses.
Q. How do you enjoy celebrating your heritage not only during this month but throughout the year? A. I love Latino art, I have a small collection of works from Latino artists from the galleries I have worked at. It is so special to me to be able to have those artworks. Additionally, I cook almost exclusively Mexican food for myself and my friends, getting to use the recipes my abuela and women in my family have passed down. Being Latina is such a big part of identity and the way I interact with the world.
Q. What’s your favorite quote that celebrates Latine/x heritage? A. I choose a quote from a popular song ‘Hasta La Raíz’ which has a theme of being away from your family and your country and still carrying them as integral pieces of you because they define who you are:
Spanish: Yo te llevo dentro Hasta la raíz Y, por más que crezca Vas a estar aquí Aunque yo me oculte tras la montaña Y encuentre un campo lleno de caña No habrá manera, mi rayo de luna, que tú te vayas
English Translation: I carry you inside me, to the root And, that you may grow better, you will be here Although I hide myself behind the mountain And find a field full of sugar cane There will be no way, my moonbeam, For you to leave
Q. What does Latine Culture and Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you? A. Latine Culture and Hispanic Heritage Month evoke deep emotions of family, brotherhood and unwavering strength. Family is the cornerstone of it all, as I was blessed to have a family that embodied the rich Hispanic-American heritage with roots in Puerto Rico and Spain. I vividly recall my childhood when my Puerto Rican relatives would journey to Spain in the summer and vice versa. Despite the physical distance that separated us during the year, we were bound by a common language, a shared perspective on life, an infectious joy and an unwavering care for one another.
Brotherhood is another profound aspect, especially when I first arrived in the mainland U.S. without my immediate family. The Latinos and Hispanics here became my chosen family, my brothers and sisters. They could understand me with a single glance, share in the laughter of a chisme, dance “abajito” for hours, or hold me tight when it was time to part ways. And then there’s the undeniable strength that courses through this country’s veins of Hispanic history. It’s a history defined by resilience, bravery and unyielding courage. All of this is for our cherished families, the preservation of our Hispanic heritage and the future we strive to build together.
Q. How do you enjoy celebrating your heritage not only during this month but throughout the year? A. Speaking in Spanish, swaying to the music rhythms and diving into the original editions of authors like Allende, Cortazar and García Márquez. Reveling in our unique way of living, our boundless hospitality and the warmth that radiates from us. And savoring the delights of our cuisine, whether it’s Puerto Rican alcapurrias or the perfection of a well-crafted Spanish tortilla de patatas.
Q. What’s your favorite quote that celebrates Latine/x heritage? A. This stanza from the hymn ‘Latinoamérica’ by Calle 13 (“Latinoamérica”):
Spanish: Soy lo que me enseñó mi padre El que no quiere a su patria, no quiere a su madre Soy América Latina Un pueblo sin piernas, pero que camina, ¡oye!
I am what my father taught me He who does not love his country, does not love his mother. I am Latin America A people without legs, but who walk, hey!
Q. What does Latine Culture and Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you? A. Latine Culture and Hispanic Heritage Month means taking the time to reflect on my roots and celebrate where I come from. It is also a period of time in which I can be proud of my Latine/Hispanic heritage and celebrate it with my loved ones.
Q. How do you enjoy celebrating your heritage not only during this month but throughout the year? A. Music and food! Coming from a Cuban family, there was always music in my household, whether salsa singers like Celia Cruz or Willy Chirino, to bachata artists like Juan Luis Guerra or Romeo Santos. As for food, it is our love language and something we enjoy together with family and friends. Some of my favorite Cuban staples are lechón, plantains and arroz congrís.
Q. What’s your favorite movie that celebrates Latine/x heritage? A. I am originally from Miami, and although I live in the DC area now, most of my family still lives in South Florida. Recently, I watched a movie remake of the classic Father of the Bride (2022) that really resonated with me. The remake continues to tell the same endearing story as the original, but from the point of view of a Cuban family living in Miami. Not only that, but the roles of the father and mother are played by two of my favorite Cuban artists, Gloria Estefan and Andy García. I don’t think I have ever identified with a movie more, especially because the family dynamics that I watched on screen were the same familiar dynamics I grew up with at home.
Q. What does Latine Culture and Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you? A. For me, Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity to celebrate the rich culture of Latin American countries. It is also a time to acknowledge the valuable contributions that the Latinx community has made to the United States.
Q. How do you enjoy celebrating your heritage not only during this month but throughout the year? A. I celebrate my heritage, traditions and ancestral roots the whole year by cooking Mexican cuisine, watching old Mexican movies, wearing traditional clothing, and in general, teaching others about my culture. I love it when I see others find a new appreciation for my culture after sharing a piece of it with them.
Q. What’s your favorite movie or novel that celebrates Latine/x heritage? A. I have two answers for this one! My favorite movie is the Selena movie (Anything for Selenaaaas). Aside from Selena being the iconic queen that she is, I think the movie really touches on the struggles the Chicano community faces when it comes to identity and a sense of belonging. I also love reading the Colombian author, Gabriel García Márquez. His use of magical realism in his novels really captures the essence of Latin America.
“I love it when I see others find a new appreciation for my culture after sharing a piece of it with them.”
Q. What does Latine Culture and Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you? A. As a Latino, Latine Culture and Hispanic Heritage Month represents a sense of pride in our cultural identity, traditions and heritage. It is a time to honor the contributions and achievements of our ancestors and acknowledge the sacrifices made by previous generations to create a better future. It serves as a reminder of the richness and diversity within Latine communities, encompassing various countries, languages, customs and traditions.
Hispanic Heritage Month provides an opportunity to celebrate the Latine culture and its positive impact on society. It is a time to highlight the accomplishments and talents of individuals within the community, ranging from the arts, sciences, sports, literature and more. The achievements of new generations demonstrate the resilience, strength and cultural pride passed down through generations.
Q. How do you enjoy celebrating your heritage not only during this month but throughout the year? A. I enjoy celebrating my heritage during this month and throughout the year by sharing my cultural traditions and the unique way of life that comes with it. I take pride in who I am and where I come from, and I love inviting people to learn more about my culture and traditions. By doing this, I aim to promote a deeper understanding and appreciation of our community’s rich diversity.
Q. What’s your favorite movie that celebrates Latine/x heritage? A. My favorite movie is Encanto.
Q. What does Latine Culture and Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you? A. Latine Culture and Hispanic Heritage Month hold profound significance for me as they provide a platform to celebrate the rich traditions, histories and identities that comprise my beloved community. It’s a time to honor the resilience, diversity and contributions of Latine individuals and communities throughout history. This month is an opportunity for education and reflection, a chance to share our stories and foster greater cultural understanding. Celebrating my heritage extends beyond this designated month. I believe that our culture is an integral part of our history and identity every day of the year.
Q. How do you enjoy celebrating your heritage not only during this month but throughout the year? A. One way that I enjoy celebrating my heritage is by immersing myself in my Mexican traditions, whether it’s through cuisine, music or participating in community events. During the month of September there are a lot of celebrations in Mexico; therefore, this month I not only enjoy Latine heritage month, but I also celebrate these important dates. During the month, I try to cook more traditional food such as enchiladas, Chiles en Nogada and Agua de Jamaica. These ongoing connections help me stay rooted in my heritage and create a sense of belonging.
Q. What’s your favorite movie or quote that celebrates Latine/x heritage? A. One of my favorite films that highlights the beauty of our traditions is the Disney movie Coco. It beautifully encapsulates the importance of family, tradition and the significance of remembering our ancestors.
The quote that resonates with me is from Frida Kahlo, the renowned Mexican painter: “Pies, ¿para qué los quiero si tengo alas para volar?” Which translates to: “feet, what do I need them for if I have wings to fly?” This quote symbolizes that although sometimes we do not have the most basic (needs) to achieve our objectives, we will always have within us an immense potential to exploit our talents.
Q. What does Latine Culture and Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you? A. This is a month to celebrate, honor and amplify the voices, experiences and contributions of our people. It gives us the opportunity to acknowledge the unique stories that have helped shape our identities as well as the history of this country.
Q. How do you enjoy celebrating your heritage not only during this month but throughout the year? A. To celebrate my heritage, I stay in touch with my native language through literature, music and making connections with other Latinxs. Also, I’m always looking for an excuse to learn about Colombian cuisine and share it among my friends.
Q. What’s your favorite novel that celebrates Latine/x heritage? A. A quintessential read on Latin American literature is Cien Años de Soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude) by Gabriel García Márquez. This iconic novel beautifully captures the complexities of Latin American history, culture, and the cyclical nature of human experiences.
Q. What does Latine Culture and Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you? A. It means having a profound sense of gratitude for the trove of language, gastronomy, the arts, customs/traditions, spirituality and familial closeness I was blessed to have through my roots.
Q. How do you enjoy celebrating your heritage not only during this month but throughout the year? A. Apart from cooking and sharing family recipes with loved ones, I am working toward a career in International Development that affords me the opportunity to serve others in Latin America.
Q. What’s your favorite movie that celebrates Latine/x heritage? A. My favorite move is Coco.