BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — It is a time to celebrate not just food, music and culture, but giving importance to ethnicity, background, and heritage.
"We were celebrating the accomplishments of so many that came before us and build what we can enjoy today," Hispanic Heritage Council president, Esmeralda Sierra explained.
She is one of four key Hispanic and Latinx leaders, in western New York who agreed to sit at a round-table to discuss the importance of Hispanic Heritage Month.
"I'm able to project that history to people in the community, including to my family and at work. You never understand how important culture is until you see the absence," Hispanic Heritage Council vice president, Maritza Vega added.
To them, it is a sense of "Welcome to the City of Buffalo": a city that colorfully embraces each individual's bloodline.
However, these tenacious leaders are not crediting themselves for how far they have come in WNY. They are crediting the pioneers and ancestors who planted roots in this region, in the 1940's and 1950s, who allowed them crew to harvest them in real time.
Hispanic Heritage Council founder, Casimiro Rodriguez said, "They came, first of all, with very limited English, limited education. One thing that they came with was a spirit of perseverance and accomplishments; not only for themselves but for their families."
Deacon Miguel Santos, founder of The Puerto Rican and Hispanic Day Parade of WNY, recalls facing setbacks when leaving his diverse hometown of The Bronx for Buffalo, in 1980. It lit a fire under him to continue to inform.
"I also dealt with a community that did not know us and I learned quickly from families like yours[points to Cas] the first generation that came, families like my wife's family who suffered miserably, in Western New York. Many because of skin complexion. So, at 19 years old, we started at the UVO, the Latino/Hispanic Association right at the UVO College because no one knew who we were and I saw the face of discrimination. That kicked me off and I've been on that road ever since," Deacon Santos said.
He also turn that fire to inform towards his own community. This time, informing people about the detriments of COVID-19.
"Any ethnic or sub group community is very difficult to penetrate to, with any, including ours," Deacon Santos said.Rodriguez added. "For our Latino community, you know our culture is one of a superstition. Many in our community, I would say we have to put it in a balance of those that are vaccinated and not vaccinated but I think that the balance pretty much goes to more vaccinated than not vaccinated."
Add to that, the language barriers for members within the Latino community, Regardless, these four leaders and many others were called, and responded.
Sierra said, "We've been able to collaborate with the FDA and they've been providing information in Spanish for us to help educate the community about the importance of protecting yourself about using the adequate measures, sanitize and PPE and also the importance of the vaccine."
As these leaders continue to respond to the need within their community, they hope one project will eliminate any kind of barrier with the Hispanic Heritage Cultural Institute.
Vega explained, "It's vital because it's going to have a resource that the Latino community does not have at this time; radio and TV access so that they can start a music group for the students, for the youth, they can start by practicing becoming an anchor person or maybe even create a TV station that talks about the health and wellness, the arts and cultural. These are important things that we need in this community."
We are talking a 3,300 square feet facility, with green energy and an activities hall to name a few. While it is still in the works, this $10 million project is the epitome of who Hispanics and Latinos are, in the Buffalo community.
"We're not just talking about brick and mortar. We're talking about an institution that where folks can visit and leave with a good impression. A life-changing impression. We want to be able to change lives in this institute, not only through sharing through the general population, who we are as Hispanic Americans, the contributions that Hispanic Americans have had in WNY but also what does it mean for our community and where it's going to be built at for the economic development of the area," Rodriguez said.
Additionally, it is something to leave behind for generations to come.
Rodriguez said, "I think it's very important for our children and our future leaders. Sometimes I wonder once we finish our trajectory as far as our community service because we're not going to be around forever. We need to think about the future. Who are going to be our future leaders, that are going to be able to carry this baton to the next level?"
The Hispanic Heritage Cultural Institute's progress has been delayed due to the pandemic.
However, just this Tuesday, the State Assembly increased its contribution to $3.8 million, which put the project at a halfway point with $5 million.
For more information on the cultural center, its groundbreaking and what it plans of use are, click here.