National Hispanic Heritage Month is a period from September 15 to October 15 in the United States for recognizing the contributions and influence of Hispanic Americans to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States. This year’s theme is Be Proud of Your Past and Embrace the Future. The SEBS and NJAES Newsroom sat down (virtually) with Maria to talk about what this month means to her and her plans for the future.
In your opinion how does the 2020 theme of Hispanic Heritage Month, “Hispanics: Be Proud of Your Past and Embrace the Future” apply to you and other Hispanic Students at SEBS?
In considering this question, I was reminded of the people who came before me. I arrived in the U.S. six years ago, but my aunt came 20 years ago. She faced many struggles. There were also others who came before me and fought for civil rights and equality. It is their efforts that have paved the way for people like me. I sometimes have taken this for granted, being part of these roots. But remembering the sacrifice and embracing what is coming will help me pave the way for the next generation.
What country does your family originate from, and please share one special aspect of your culture that’s important to you.
Peru. The food! Peruvians have an intimate relationship with food; we appreciate it and it unites people, bringing the Peruvian culture with it. The social aspect of food and extended family (a support system) is also important. I like tamales but my favorite Peruvian dish is Locro. Locro is type of pumpkin stew that combines pumpkin, butternut squash, potatoes, corn kernels, peas, broad beans, onion, garlic and ají amarillo (a hot yellow pepper paste), with some cheese cubes thrown in, all accompanied by a portion of white rice.
Did being Hispanic figure in to your choice of major or not and if so, how?
Not initially, but the way I was raised certainly influenced it. Extended family is important and a great support system. Helping people is part of our culture and the profession I’ve chosen is one of helping people
What are your plans after graduation?
I am applying to graduate school and want to study social work. My experience at Rutgers motivated me to make this choice. It forced me to look into my past and I realized that many people in my community – including me – didn’t talk about their problems or issues. In college we were encouraged to do that and I would love to bring these conversations to my community to help people.
If there is anything else you would like to tell us?
I have really enjoyed my time at Helyar House. I grew exponentially through this undergraduate experience. I was exposed to different people and backgrounds. We were thrown together and had to learn how to work together. It expanded my horizons.
I’ve also been part of the Bonner Leaders program which links undergraduates with the community in a work-study partnership. When you are at Rutgers it’s almost like being in a bubble. But there is a community beyond and surrounding the University. And this program has taught me a different way to serve. We worked with the community. In particular I participated with the New Brunswick Community Farmers Market and the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Community Health Promotions Program.
One particular class and teacher really inspired me. Professor Jane Miller’s Research Methods class at the Bloustein School—as part of my public health major—was phenomenol. The way she approaches research—setting up the research, asking the right questions—taught me a lot.
I am part of the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program which supports low-income communities, helping with graduate and post-doc support and advice. And the program has been really helpful in my graduate school application process.
Is there anything else you would like to say with regards to Hispanic Heritage Month?
I think it is important to be proud of your roots, to love and embrace your culture. It anchors your identity. When I first came to this country I was initially embarrassed. I thought I would be judged negatively because of the language barrier. But others taught me to be proud.
Explorations Magazine did a story about Maria in its Fall 2018 edition. You can read about her experiences at Helyar House here.