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RCSJ Las Vias Students Discuss the Importance of Hispanic Heritage Month

12/6/2021


​Rowan College of South Jersey’s (RCSJ) Cumberland campus commemorated Hispanic Heritage Month, from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, with a series of all-inclusive special events for students, faculty and staff to enjoy. Some of those events included Noche de Juegos (Game Night) and Si Se Puede ​(Overcoming Barriers). Hispanic Heritage Month celebratory activities were put together by Las Vias, STEM Pathways and Adelante Juntos. RCSJ, a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), receives grant funding from the National Science Foundation to support these programs. ​​ Sophomore Karina Bravo and freshman Adnily Pereira, two students in RCSJ’s Las Vias program, volunteered to express their thoughts regarding the relevance of Hispanic Heritage Month. 

“I am proud to say that I am Hispanic,” said Bravo, 19, a Social Services major at the College. “It’s amazing that we have a month to discover and honor those who went through life struggles and did everything [they could do to prosper]. That just because of their skin color doesn’t mean they weren’t able to accomplish their goals in life.”

“I feel like it’s a chance for us to show our roots and let people know what we’re about,” added Pereira, 18, who is also majoring in Social Services. “Being Hispanic can sometimes be hard in certain communities. I feel Hispanic Heritage Month is important because Hispanic students here should know that they’re welcome in this society.”

Pereira, a Vineland High School graduate, is of Puerto Rican descent and Bravo, an alumna of Bridgeton High School, is Mexican American. Although they come from different ethnic backgrounds, they candidly shared some of the same struggles Hispanics go through in their attempts to become successful and accepted members of the community. 

            “A lot of Hispanics – we get talked down to a lot,” Bravo, who loves grooving to Hispanic-inspired dances such as bachata, cumbia, and merengue, revealed. “Being Mexican is not easy the way society is.” She noted that part of the reason some Americans speak disparagingly towards Hispanics is because of language barriers.  

Additionally, said Bravo, “There are others who say because you’re a Mexican and a woman, you can’t do much. You’re just supposed to be home taking care of kids or taking care of your husband. And it’s like ‘No,’ just because we’re women doesn’t mean we can’t do what men do, too. So, that’s why a lot of Mexican women try to be independent.” 

“Back in Puerto Rico there are opportunities, but not many. That’s why a lot of people come to America,” Pereira affirmed. “They’re able to make something of [themselves]. They’re able to provide for their families. We come here for the opportunity to show America what [we can do].”

Instead of believing in false stereotypes, Pereira wanted to let people know the essence of what being Puerto Rican truly represents. “We don’t like to quit. We’re strong-willed. We like to keep going until we get to that certain point we want to be at,” she explained. 

“We’re about that food. That amazing, delicious food. We’re about the culture, the music. We’re not selfish and we like to share. That’s why you see so many Hispanic restaurants,” Pereira, who loves to sing, said with a laugh. 

“A lot of Mexicans like to talk,” said Bravo, who is also a makeup artist, as she shared some characteristics of her culture. “We love to dance and love to interact with anybody.”

“We don’t like seeing somebody sad or upset or just being in the corner,” she continued. “We would try to take them out, we would try to encourage them and give them confidence. We’re all here if you ever need something. We’re caring and we’re really understanding.”

Pereira and Bravo were eager to give shout-outs to several prominent Puerto Ricans and Mexicans who empower them to reach for the stars.

“A few famous or historical Puerto Ricans that inspire me are Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jennifer Lopez, Rita Moreno, and Gina Rodriguez,” Pereira disclosed. “The reason they inspire me is because to get where they are now, they had to fight against all odds. They kept hold of our culture and always represent the Island of Puerto Rico and its people well. They took a stand and proved that even though we are a minority we [can] still make a difference. These people inspire me to never give up, chase my dreams and to never settle for anything less than what I know I can have.”

Bravo mentioned several distinguished Mexicans like Dolores Huertas, Frida Kahlo, and Leona Vicario as people she looks up to. “Huertas fought for unemployment and healthcare benefits for agricultural workers and inspires me to be resilient, passionate and committed,” she explained.

“Kahlo was a Mexican artist whose memorable paintings have earned her worldwide acclaim. Kahlo inspires me [because] she persevered and had an unapologetic spirit that she displayed throughout her difficult life. Vicario was one of the most prominent figures of the Mexican War of Independence. [As] the first female journalist, she inspires me to be strong and faithful to help those in need.”

The two first-generation students have enjoyed their time at RCSJ and responded thoughtfully about how the College has resonated with them. 

“I get to meet new people and I get to learn,” said Bravo, who started her first-ever job this year as a Las Vias Peer Mentor through RCSJ’s work study program. 

“It’s been easy to make friends,” said Pereira, who hopes to one day create a school that would be a safe space for children living in foster care. “There’s actually a lot of people that are in my major and in my classes, so it’s been easy to make friends and create study groups – which has been very helpful.”

Bravo, who wants to work in either the clinical or educational aspects of social services, and Pereira, were both grateful that RCSJ took some time to shine a light on the positive aspects of their cultures. Pereira was delighted to share one final thought about what being Hispanic means to her.

“I would say that to be Hispanic is to never give up,” she asserted. “We have a lot of opposition just coming here. So, to be Hispanic is to be resilient and to encourage others to accept us.”

            For more information about Las Vias, please visit RCSJ.edu/LasVias.

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