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Alicia Tells What Hispanic Heritage Means to Her

Tell us about yourself, and what Hispanic Heritage Month means to you.

Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity to celebrate, honor, and learn about the many beautiful and diverse cultures and people of Latin and Spanish-speaking heritage. I grew up in Miami, Florida the daughter of a Cuban immigrant. My father and his brother came to the United States in 1961 as part of Operation Pedro Pan. Many of my childhood friends came from various Hispanic backgrounds too. Before moving to the Nashville area with my husband and son, we lived in the Tampa Bay area of Florida which has its unique Hispanic heritage and flavors.

How long have you worked for Second Harvest, what is your role, and describe a typical day?

I joined the Second Harvest team in July 2022 as the Senior Director of Philanthropy. In this role, I provide strategic oversight to our individual giving programs and lead a team that interacts with our individual donors from across our service area. There is no typical day and that is what I love about it. Some days I am reaching out to donors to learn what they care about and how they want to make an impact through their gifts. On another day I may be educating individuals on what Second Harvest does and how we collaborate with Partner Agencies across 46 counties through a tour, volunteer opportunity, or conversation over a meal. My favorite days are when I can help facilitate connecting a person to meaningful action through their giving and be a part of the solution to fighting hunger.

What do you enjoy most about working for a local hunger-relief organization?

Growing up, there were times when my family and I faced food insecurity. Through my work at Second Harvest, I can help ensure more individuals and families can get the food and resources they need to nourish their bodies and a brighter future.

How does food insecurity uniquely impact people in the Hispanic community? What hurdles do they face that others seeking food may not?

When serving the Hispanic community, it’s important to understand that the foods we eat and how meals are prepared can vary greatly within different Hispanic cultures. Something as simple as beans and rice can vary greatly between our cultures. Many times, there is also a language barrier that can result in frustration when trying to seek out services especially when information is not always readily available in a language other than English. For those individuals and families that recently emigrated to the United States, there is the additional challenge of learning to adapt to a new place with laws, customs, and traditions that may be very different from what you are familiar with.

What does fighting food insecurity mean to you?

Fighting food insecurity is more than providing a meal. It’s about getting to the root causes of hunger and addressing them to break the cycle. To have food security you also need to have housing security, financial or employment security, and security in your health. When you are hungry, it’s really difficult to focus on any other part of your life whether it is learning in school, raising a family, or showing up to work. Access to healthy food is also key to living a healthier life physically and mentally.

What role does food play in Hispanic culture and heritage?

Growing up in a Cuban culture, food and family was a big part of everyday life. Even something as simple as enjoying a café is an event to be savored. There was no such thing as a “small” family gathering. Some of my fondest memories growing up were from our Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) celebration as we would gather and feast for hours around a table surrounded by laughter and music. For my quinceañera (15th birthday celebration), my grandmother made all the food herself. The week leading up to the party was full of food preparation of all my favorite dishes from the selection of the pig for the roast to the hours of cooking congri (black beans and rice mixture), arroz con pollo (chicken and rice dish), maduros (fried sweet plantains), and yuca.

What is an action that someone interested in celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month can do while also giving back to the Hispanic community in Middle and West Tennessee?

Donate culturally relevant foods, give financially to support organizations that serve the Hispanic community and immigrant families, and bring together family and friends to volunteer. You can even help at a partner agency such as Conexión Americas or The Branch that are dedicated to serving our Hispanic communities and immigrant families. Learn some simple greetings in Spanish. I love serving at a food distribution and greeting Spanish-speaking neighbors in their native language.

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