by Jeremie Serrano, Latino Memphis / La Comida De Jeremie
Each year, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15, by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on September 15 and ending on October 15. It was enacted into law on August 17, 1988, on the approval of Public Law 100- 402. The day of September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September18, respectively. Also, Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, which is October 12, falls within this 30 day period.
Latino Memphis offers services that focus on Advocacy, Education, Access, & Justice. Our amazing team also collaborates with brilliant partners who happen to be Latinx Memphians. From Jessie Claudio at OUTMemphis assisting us with the LGBTQ+ community to Maria Haley at A Step Ahead Foundation who educates women and teens on contraceptives and health planning, we work with Memphis’ best.
As Hispanic Heritage month is upon us, we want to highlight two of those community partners, Cristobal Valdebenito and Liliana Vanessa Santos Vera. Both work together at Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi. Both also work alongside Latino Memphis to ensure that the Memphis Latinx community stays healthy and receives the services they rightfully deserve. Let’s continue to highlight Latinx individuals like Cristobal and Liliana, not just during Hispanic Heritage month but also throughout the year because every single day Latinos are working hard to make sure that Latinos just like themselves can have a better future.
“Every time someone asks me where I am from, my mind struggles to find a clear answer. I guess it all depends on what does “where” mean to you. My paternal grandmother can undoubtedly tell you stories about growing up in Chile after fleeing war-torn Germany, and my grandfather could narrate the settling stories of the first Italian immigrants in Talcahuano.
Surely, Grandpa and Grandma on mom’s side could narrate stories about the Mapuches and their way of living in the valleys of the Andes.
Mom and Dad will tell you their own immigrant journey, first as graduate students at Ohio State University (OSU), and later as islanders in the Galapagos archipelago.
Finally, I can tell you about my adventures as a young child in this tropical paradise and my happy teenage years in Ecuador. In my 20s I went back to Ohio, graduated from OSU and moved to what is today my home, Memphis. Thanks to this pilgrimage I got to enjoy Neruda’s poems, the wholesome fanesca, my beloved Buckeyes, and the outstanding BBQ and music only the Volunteer State can offer.
Since 2017 I have been working as the Latinx Education Coordinator for Planned Parenthood (PPTNM). My work as an educator has enabled me to use my cultural and educational background to find better ways to serve the needs of the local Hispanic community.” -CV
Liliana Vanessa Santos Vera
Lili, as she’s known among the organizers and the Latino community, is from Venezuela and is a political asylum refugee. She, like many Latinx, came to the United States in search of opportunities. She continued her fight and defense for human rights and equality for all by volunteering for Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi. Before volunteering, she was a patient of the organization because when she arrived in this country, she needed access to reproductive health and contraceptive methods and Planned Parenthood was there to help. She would eventually become part of the staff as the Raiz Program Coordinator for Tennessee and North Mississippi.
Lili has developed her academic training by obtaining a Bachelor of Business Administration and Cum Laudem Lawyer from the Dr. Rafael Belloso Chacín University in her city Maracaibo, Venezuela; Management Specialist at the Latin University of Panama; Marketing and Public Policy Studies at University of La Rioja, Spain; and Masters in Business Administration. Although it seems that she has spent a lifetime studying she always says that life is a matter of choices and decisions and that we should never stop learning, from everything and everyone.
Lili is thankful for so many opportunities. She says she misses terribly her family, her brothers, her mother, and her grandmother (who she has not hugged for more than 5 years), but says that thanks to the help, support and love she has found with her husband it’s more fun and easier to continue while looking forward to seeing them soon.
No one has had to tell her about the barriers and needs that migrants live. She has lived them herself. She’s found success through her efforts and perseverance and recommends that migrants always resist doing any less.