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What does being Latino mean in 2016?

Latinos are some of the most diverse people in the U.S. And there’s no one narrative that can encapsulate the Latino experience. So we want to hear your stories about what it means to be Latino. In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, we are publishing a collection of your stories.

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Don Francisco to Latinos: Be counted

Tienen que votar.

Don Francisco has a message to Latinos: Vote

Mario Kreutzberger, better known as Don Francisco, has one message for the Latino community this November: “Tienen que votar.” You have to vote.

And it’s not just to have a say in the leadership of this country, but also to show they are a force that matters.

There are about 27 million eligible Latino voters in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center.

“Hispanics need to understand – and I think this is fundamental – they need to be counted,” he said.

How Mexican immigrants ended ‘separate but equal’ in California

Sylvia Mendez, pictured at age 10, was named a winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. In 1947 the Mendez v. Westminster case ended official segregation of Mexican students in California schools.
Sylvia Mendez, pictured at age 10, was named a winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. In 1947 the Mendez v. Westminster case ended official segregation of Mexican students in California schools.
(Family photo)

Seventy years ago, Mexican immigrants moved American civil rights forward, away from racial segregation toward integration and equality. It happened eight years before the Supreme Court began to dismantle segregation by handing down its decision in Brown vs. the Board of Education in 1954.

In 1943, five Mexican American families took four school districts in Orange County to court, challenging the “separate but equal” education their American-born children were getting in “Mexican schools.” They knew their kids were treated as second-class citizens: taught by underpaid teachers, forced to use books and desks discarded by Anglo students, relegated to shoddy school buildings where the classrooms had so little light that reading was almost impossible.

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Learning to embrace two different cultures

We all loved each other deeply and willingly enough to live outside the box.

Irene Shaw

I faced stereotype issues being raised by a Dominican mother and an African American father. I wasn’t Dominican enough for the Dominicans or African American enough for the blacks. I learned to embrace it by combining all the good things from both sides and being me. I have the best of both worlds. We all loved each other deeply and willingly enough to live outside the box. Because of both heritages, I’m bilingual and more sensitive to other cultures.

Not every Latino in Los Angeles is Mexican

Not every Latino in Los Angeles is Mexican

Not every Latino is Mexican.

That’s one of the many misconceptions people have about Latinos, says Enrique Gabriel Legaspi, who is half Mexican and half Filipino.

It may be a point of annoyance for an increasing amount of Latinos who call other countries home.

The 2010 Census counted 1.8 million Angelenos as Latino. While 1.2 million identified as Mexican, a majority, many checked another box.

Eleven percent of Latinos in Los Angeles identify as Central American, a majority from Guatemala and El Salvador. The latter accounted for 255,218 according to the American Community Survey in 2013. That number shot up to 270,085 a year later.

TV host Don Francisco’s roots are German, but he ‘feels’ the Latino culture

Don Francisco on being multicultural

Before becoming Don Francisco, he was born Mario Luis Kreutzberger.

Kreutzberger. Not exactly a Latino last name. His first language, German, was that of his grandmother, whom he lived with in Chile. She and his Jewish parents had fled Europe in 1939. He only learned to speak Spanish when he started school.

But Kreutzberger feels no sense of conflict about being authentically Latino.

“I have the Chilean culture,” Kreutzberger, who was born in Chile, told The Times. “I feel that culture.”

Known to millions of TV viewers as the host of “Sábado Gigante” he ended his 53-year run on the show in September 2015. He’s since returned to television with Telemundo’s “Don Francisco Te Invita” partly for his ability to attract Spanish-speaking viewers.

Bilingual education may return to California public schools after almost 20 years

In essence, it is more about our future than it is about the past

Eric Heins, president of the California Teachers Assn.

(Axel Koester / For the Los Angeles Times)

Ricardo Lara was in college when California voters approved a law that required public school students to speak and learn only in English. It was a debate, the now-state senator remembers, that was tainted with racial undertones.

“There was a lot of shame cast on us,” said Lara (D-Bell Gardens). “There was a clear sentiment that we were somehow different and un-American because we were Spanish speakers.”

For the children of Mexican immigrants such as him, who had gone through bilingual education programs and valued their immersion in two languages and cultures, Lara said it was upsetting.

Now on the Nov. 8 ballot, almost two decades later, is a measure that seeks to overhaul that law. Proposition 58, the product of 2014 legislation written by the Los Angeles-area Democrat Lara, would repeal English-only instruction in public schools, giving local parents and teachers the control to develop their own multilingual programs.

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The strain of a segregated South stole their identity

My parents insisted that we assimilate.

We came to America from Honduras during the segregation period in the South. It was hard, so much so that my parents insisted that we assimilate, change name, etc. She spoke Spanish to me; I, English to her.

Our family carried Central American traditions that I was never ashamed of. I was proud and still am proud of my family and where we came from. I have been naturalized for many years now and proud to be an American also.

First-generation college grad always keeps his parents’ sacrifice in mind

Our family had gone from picking fruit and painting houses to working for a senator in Congress.

Abram Diaz, Sacramento

I’m proud of being Latino because we care deeply about our families and we have a strong sense of hope that opportunity will manifest itself if we just work hard enough. That’s what drove my parents to leave everything they knew behind to immigrate to the U.S., and it’s what I try to keep in mind on a daily basis.

Through college, I worked very hard to not just be the first in my family to graduate from college but also to get an internship and work in our nation’s capital of Washington, D.C. I was lucky enough to intern in California Sen. Barbara Boxer’s D.C. office in the spring of 2015, and it was amazing to give my mom her own tour of the Capitol. From her generation to mine, our family had gone from picking fruit and painting houses to working for a senator in Congress. It was one of the proudest moments of my life to walk her through the Capitol Dome. And I hope that, through my master’s in public administration and a future career as a city manager, I can show my parents even more progress.

I’m very proud of the achievements of Latinos in the United States, and our hope and willingness to work hard will certainly lead to more moments like this one.

Family is at the heart of the community

We take care of our own, and we are so proud when someone from the neighborhood goes off and makes a name for themselves.  

(Family photo)

Natalie Sierra, Pomona

My city, Pomona, Calif., is predominantly Hispanic. Everyone around me looked like me, had the same customs, all the moms were almost interchangeable  —  short, dark, warm, loud. I spoke Spanish at home, spent idyllic summers in rural San Miguel De Cruces, Mexico, with my family. My parents were both born in Mexico, and their stories of abject poverty and the schemes they had to run to stay alive and feed themselves or their siblings always astonished me.

It made me feel sad and yet proud of how high we had climbed. We weren’t rich by any means, but we had a hot dinner every night. I am so grateful that my parents decided to make the trek from their tiny homes, braved the Rio Grande and the federales, to become U.S. citizens and give myself and my siblings a better life than the one they had when they were young….

I take immense pride in the hard work ethic that my parents have. My mother and father were able to climb from destitution and literal slums in Mexico, to respected business owners in our hometown. My father is a U.S. Army veteran and very proud of his service and his country.

My story isn’t unique to the Mexican community. But I think that is what makes it so special. We are a tight-knit community of hardworking individuals who come together as a collective and bring up our neighborhoods, families, cities and friends. We hold each other up and band together when it’s time to send the first-generation kids to school, to take all the kids to school, give the neighbor down the street who just had a baby all the baby clothes you’ve been hoarding because, as my mom says, toda vía esta buena esta ropa, Natalia, ni creas que lo vas a tirar. We take care of our own, and we are so proud when someone from the neighborhood goes off and makes a name for themselves.

A wealth of opportunity built on a handful of cash and hard work

My parents came to this country with only $80 for two adults and two young girls ...

This is the last family picture with their matriarch, Doña Pifa, who was nearly 101 years old. Reyna's father was one of her seven children.
This is the last family picture with their matriarch, Doña Pifa, who was nearly 101 years old. Reyna’s father was one of her seven children.
(Family photo)

Reyna Garcia Ramos, Pomona

Being Latino in America means you learned how to read and write in Spanish, because you had to write letters for your parents addressed to your grandparents. We did all of this before the age of 5, but then were sent to U.S. school. And there, teachers labeled us “illiterate” because we did not know how to read and write in English.

My parents came to this country with only $80 for two adults and two young girls in the early 1960s. [They] worked two jobs at a time, but still had time for a family day and church on Sundays, and we learned values of family. We counted our blessing to be in [a] country that allowed my parents’ hard work to eventually provide for their children. They sent one child to college, who went on to earn a doctorate. One daughter decided to go into the U.S. Navy and when she left, she went on to become a bilingual teacher to help other children that had similar experiences as hers. The youngest of the children, a son, went on to manage the family business, an auto upholstery shop.

[Latinos] are a patchwork quilt of faces, colors, that use a variation of the Spanish language, have different backgrounds and countries of origin that continue to enrich this country in countless ways. The story is still being written by the grandchildren of the two original parents in the story above.

Picking berries spurs reflection on her grandmother’s sacrifice

Being Latino means having a deeper appreciation for the opportunities provided, having a deeper connection to the land you’re on and appreciating hard work. 

Veronica Rodarte celebrates with her parents after receiving her master's degree in public administration from Long Beach State.
(Family photo)

Veronica Rodarte, Anaheim

A few years ago, a couple of friends and I went berry picking for fun. It was a very warm day in Ventura County as we set out in search of the juiciest strawberries and blueberries. I had never been berry picking and thought it’d be fun.

As I walked down the aisles and bent down to search for the best strawberries I couldn’t help but think of my grandmother. As a child she’d tell me of the backbreaking work of picking strawberries. She’d tell stories of back pain, heat exhaustion and hard work.

Though my grandmother had no choice in picking berries, here I was doing it for fun. The irony of the experience wasn’t lost on me. I felt a connection to my roots, to my Latino identity. I took a moment to reflect, sweat dripped down my forehead, the heat was unbearable and I had only been out for about two hours. My lower back was hurting from continuously bending over and in this moment I understood what it means to be Latino. I thought of my grandmother and how much she hated this work, yet here I was doing it for fun and it was because of her sacrifices.

Being Latino means having a deeper appreciation for the opportunities provided, having a deeper connection to the land you’re on and appreciating hard work.

Blending cultures

Being Latino in America means having two cultures influencing you at once.

Jairi celebrates her sister's graduation from Cal standing with her parents. She and her sister are first-generation Americans.
Jairi celebrates her sister’s graduation from Cal standing with her parents. She and her sister are first-generation Americans.
(Family photo)

Jairi Sanchez, Pico Rivera

Every Christmas, my family and I eat tamales but also make gingerbread houses with my cousins and make mulled wine and champurrado. We switch between National Geographic TV and Univision holiday specials as a family. The noise of the conversations happening in the background is in English from my cousins, Spanglish from my uncle and Spanish from my parents. It is a blend of traditions coming together, and there is no judgment from my parent’s or relatives that we are bringing in American influences into our holiday get together.

My most prominent English tutor was the voice of Vin Scully

Reporter Hector Becerra, reading book, with his siblings and father during a family outing.
( Becerra family)

When your parents are immigrants, you generally grow up speaking their language. But at a certain point, you don’t dream so much in the language of your parents. You begin to dream in English.

I was 6, just starting school at Sheridan Elementary in Boyle Heights, and the narrator of those moments I so desperately wanted to happen — that baseball I wanted to see soar over the center field wall at Chavez Ravine — was Vin Scully.

His voice carried me through dreams where it was me, not Kirk Gibson, who got the big hit that brought glory and happiness to my city.

Scully was the first broadcaster I listened to regularly, and he sounded like no one I had ever met or heard. He brought alive the exploits of Steve Garvey, Dusty Baker and my favorite, Pedro Guerrero.

As much as school, sports and an endless loop of Bugs Bunny cartoons, he taught me English.

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His dad said they were Italian to avoid the stigma of being Latino

Denial was part of his survival mentality, but who he was, and what he was, was apparent. 

This image marks the first time then-3-month-old Theo met his dad, Pete, who had been riding in New York in 1954. They rode in that new Cadillac across the country to California.
(Family photo)

Theo Moreno, Cambria

My father, who used to tell us we were “Italian,” was a 4-10 jockey who made a great living in the profession. As I grew older, and I recognized the racism so prevalent in our country, I began to fully appreciate how my short, dark-skinned dad survived and, indeed, prospered in the world of yesteryear. Denial was part of his survival mentality, but who he was, and what he was, was apparent. In the U.S. at that time, he had two strikes: short and dark. But, he won races!

My dad pronounced our last name Mo-REE-No . My college Spanish professor questioned me on the pronunciation ;  I told her that’s how my dad said it, though I recognized his reasons (it sounded Italian his way!). But my professor and I talked about it, and it came down to having self-pride. … I realized I was denying my truth. I pronounce my last name Mo-REH-No now — I have since the talk with the professor in 1978. Proud to do so.

I’m Mexican and American

It doesn’t matter if we are farm workers, students, postal employees or CEOs of a major business, we put forth the same kind of effort and take pride in the work that we do.

Yvonne Flores, Santa Ana

Being Latino means we take care of each [other] and help each other progress in our respective lives. We never let our family go homeless, and we always share our food with guests. No one goes hungry when they are at our home. We work hard to get each of our family members educated, and ultimately, we take pride in being great aunts, uncles and grandparents.

I am proud of being Latina, as we are [a] resilient and hard-working people. It doesn’t matter if we are farm workers, students, postal employees or CEOs of a major business, we put forth the same kind of effort and take pride in the work that we do. There is no shame in hard work. There is only shame in not working at all.

For myself, the most misunderstood part about being Latina is that everyone expects us to only claim being American. I AM American, and a proud one at that, but more accurately, I am American of Mexican descent or as I like to refer to myself, I am Mexican American. I can be proud of my ancestry and be proud of being American, but I am not one without being the other.

Ni de aqui, ni de alla

The most misunderstood part of being Latino is we are not seen as American even if we love our country where we were born, raised and are proud to be American. On the same note, rejected by our parents’ country even if we are fluent in Spanish and know all there is to know and feel a close tie to it.

Ernesto Bobadilla, Whittier

Being Latino can mean living between two worlds

Brian de los Santos with his family in San Francisco during his middle school years.
Brian de los Santos with his family in San Francisco during his middle school years.
(Courtesy photo)

As a child, The Times’ Brian de Los Santos was just an American — without a hyphen, asterisk or modifier. And being American meant reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, learning about the War of 1812 in history class and watching blockbuster hits with friends.

Still, being at home was living in another world.

His ma would cook enchiladas en salsa verde and, at least once a week, insist, “Ten, habla con tu abuela que te quiere oír.” Translation: His grandma wanted to hear his voice.

He loved being in two worlds.

But that feeling of being a total American was short-lived. When he was about 8 years old, his parents radically redefined his American life. They told him he was actually born in Mexico.

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Raising my daughter to be Latina in more than name

When Denise Florez's daughter turned 5, she dressed her as five important Latinas, including Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, a Mexican writer and nun.
When Denise Florez’s daughter turned 5, she dressed her as five important Latinas, including Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, a Mexican writer and nun.
(Melinda Torres)

“Why is my name in Spanish?”

That question came up one morning as my daughter and I were getting ready for the day. She mentioned she knew her friend’s full name – even her middle name.

After she told me her friend’s first, middle and last names — all “American” names — I asked her whether she could say her own name. She could, with a little difficulty.

Then she asked,“Why is my name in Spanish?” I laughed. “Well, because we’re Mexican,” I told her.

Later, she asked her father the same question. And he told her the same thing.

“But I was born here,” she said.

Hispanic Heritage Month: Tell us your story >>

It’s a delicate balance incorporating my culture into our family. She understands Spanish and speaks it “poquito” (a little), but relatives from Mexico often give me a hard time that I should speak to her in Spanish more. I want her to be proud of her culture and her ancestry, but I know at her age, she’s just trying to fit in. I know her identity will be different from mine.

Her experience growing up is already vastly different. She’s not just Mexican; she’s Mexican-Guatemalan American.

For a moment, I wondered whether I should have named her Ashley or Brianna, but then I quickly remembered that’s not who I am. We chose the Mayan name Nicte-Ha, which means water flower, because the Mayan civilization flourished in Mexico and Guatemala. I wanted a name that honored her ancestry.

It’s little moments like these that remind me I’m a Latina raising a daughter in the U.S.

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Angelenos on why they’re proud of being Latino

We asked several Latinos across Los Angeles to share with us what their identity means to them and what’s most misunderstood. Here are some of their thoughts. We’d love to hear yours.

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Being Latino in the U.S. in 2016.

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What does it mean to be Latino in America today?

Hispanic, Latina, Chicano. Immigrant, naturalized or U.S. born. Black, white, brown, blended.

Being Latino can mean so many different things, rooted in about two dozen places of origin. And though Latinos may have a language in common, there isn’t a singular voice or narrative for the Latino experience.

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, The Times wants to hear about your Latino identity. We plan to publish a collection of stories that highlight the variety of voices and experiences within the Latino community.

So tell us your story: What does being Latino in 2016 mean to you? You can fill out the survey here or share your story on Instagram using #MyLatinoIdentity or #MiIdentidadLatina.

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