When I reflect upon what Hispanic Heritage Month means to me, two things come to mind: my ancestry and the stories of those who came before me. My grandparents’ bravery, their perseverance as Cuban immigrants, as well as the love they poured out on my parents and their grandkids shaped my childhood and ultimately who I am today as an adult.
And now that I think of it, there is one more thing that comes to mind when I think of my Hispanic heritage: a Chrysler Town & Country station wagon.
Driving Down Memory Lane
Every other weekend when I was a child, we’d drive from North Lauderdale to Miami to visit both sets of grandparents: Abuelo Pepe and Graciela Dominguez, and Jose and Mary (Pili) Zamora. Those car rides each were filled with my father’s singing as we drove into Dade County on I-95. Soon, I’d see the Flagler Dog Track and hear dad’s many songs: Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera; En Mi Viejo San Juan; Camino Para Ponce; and Cielito Lindo. My sister and I so enjoyed hearing dad’s strong voice filled with emotion, and we knew that soon, we would be enjoying delicious food (ropa vieja, pescado en salsa verde, arroz con pollo) and sweet homemade delicacies like arroz con leche and flan, which were our favorite.
We also looked forward to seeing the domino experts in action. If I close my eyes, I can see Abuelo Pepe with his buddies as they moved “las fichas” across the table to shuffle them well before each player selected their 10 to begin play. The clicking of the domino tiles across the table and the whistle of the cafetera on the stove are sounds I can still hear in my mind to this day.
Their perseverance for a better life for their children is a powerful example of love, and I know this is the story of so many other immigrant families.
Although they lived a joyful life, my grandparents faced their fair share of challenges when they had to begin life again in the United States after Fidel Castro took control of the beautiful island of Cuba. Both of these families left all they knew and eventually became U.S. citizens. Their perseverance for a better life for their children is a powerful example of love, and I know this is the story of so many other immigrant families.
A Story of Struggle and Strength
On my dad’s side, Abuela Graciela worked at Cruise Casuals (a suit factory). She ironed all day with those massive stream presses that required some serious shoulder strength (she was paid by the piece), and my Grandfather Pepe learned to be a carpenter at King Arthur Chair in Hialeah where he made chairs and upholstered them as well. In Cuba, both Abuela and Abuelo owned their own tapestry shop but lost it all when Castro took over private businesses. However, when it came to sacrificing for the country that welcomed them with freedom, opportunity, and open arms, they were honored to do so. And that’s what they did when they allowed their son, my father Raul Dominguez, to voluntarily enlist in the U.S. military during wartime. He tells me today, “If American mothers had to send their sons to war in Vietnam, so would they.”
Pili and Jose, my grandparents on my mother’s side, had to begin again too. Pili, my grandmother, had been a homemaker in Cuba while my grandfather worked at the Colgate Palmolive Company in Cuba. Once my grandfather saw and heard the speech of January 8, 1959 by Castro (when the doves landed on his shoulder), my grandfather knew what was coming: communism. Soon Abuelo Jose planned to “go on vacation” in Miami — a vacation that never ended. Abuelo Zamora became a manager in Refugee Resettlement and worked at The Freedom Tower in Miami. Pili went to college at Miami Dade and graduated with an AA in Fashion Design. She made her living by sewing and tailoring.
Being a first-generation American has not only given me a window into the beauty of my own culture, but also passion to learn about other cultures and people.
Being a first-generation American has not only given me a window into the beauty of my own culture, but also passion to learn about other cultures and people. As the International Student Program Director at Calvary Christian Academy, I get the privilege of sharing our school’s international program experience to Christian parents from all over the globe. Having the opportunity to travel to meet these individuals and experience their respective cultures reminds me of how amazing God truly is to create a world filled with differences — differences that should be acknowledged and celebrated!
There is a beauty in eating at a table with chopsticks where dishes are shared on a lazy Susan and the host chooses the dishes. There is an amazing sweetness when a Brazilian family kisses both of your cheeks (prior to COVID-19). There is an understood warmth when in Colombia a family treats you to their most delicious potato soup (Ajiaco). The gentle and faithful way of the Haitian families I’ve met, so touches the heart; their love is deep and wide for their children.
When we open ourselves up to understand other people who have norms and perspectives that are different from our own, we are exercising the love of the Bible, without partiality.
When you immerse yourself in the immense beauty of culture and the people, one can’t help but recognize that God planned all this diversity for our growth. The Lord desires our sanctification, and what better way to hone us than to place us on this planet with different people. When we open ourselves up to understand other people who have norms and perspectives that are different from our own, we are exercising the love of the Bible, without partiality.
My Hispanic heritage shaped my childhood; the Spanish language, the food, the love… all of it to this day is very special. As proud as I may be to be a Hispanic woman and an American, my identity is not rooted in my race, ethnicity, or citizenship; my identity is in Christ and Christ alone. Although we have physical differences here on this earth that have shaped us into beautifully unique people, each culture, each person, each life, like a tapestry, is ultimately a reflection of the Imago Dei — the image of God.
May this divine commonality draw us closer in unity, which brings joy to our Heavenly Father. As His children, we must remember that this earth and whatever country we live in or represent is not our home; we are citizens of heaven (Phillipians 3:20) who have been adopted into God’s richly diverse family.
“God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.” –Ephesians 1:5
Naomi Peyton is the International Student Program Director at Calvary Christian Academy. She has served at CCA since 2000 as a teacher and administrator. Now she recruits Christian students worldwide to study abroad at CCA and runs our Homestay program, which hosts our international students. She and her husband have two sons.