September 27, 2022
Hello, I am Wanda Poton. My pronouns are she/her/ella and I am the Director of Youth Engagement and Future Pathways at FriendsPDX. I am excited to be celebrating Hispanic and Latinx Heritage Month although I didn’t truly understand its significance until this year. Our culture is incredibly diverse — from where we are from and from where our ancestors are from to where we are now, how we got here, what language we speak, and how we live our lives. It’s complex, and it's beautiful, and it's something that I feel proud of today.
Growing up, I always hated being asked where I was from or how I identified, not because I didn’t feel pride but because my answer wasn’t so simple. I’d have to tell you about my parents' journey to tell you about mine. My father immigrated from Guatemala in search of a better life like many people before him and after him. He had a mother who worked hard selling tamales to raise seven boys on her own and did her best to give my dad what she could. He traveled to the U.S. to meet up with his brothers and has many 'crossing the rivers and jumping the fence stories' that he would love to share about but are not mine to tell. Once in the U.S., he learned that English was going to be a barrier unless he picked up the language fast, and he did. This allowed him to work most of his life as a cashier in different gas stations as opposed to the fields like many others. He always stressed the importance of an education because he was unable to continue school past the sixth grade and he didn’t want us, his children, to have to work as hard.
My mother was born in the U.S. to Puerto Rican parents and was raised from a baby on the island. She also has many stories of her own to tell about how she came to be raised by her grandma and aunties. Once school ended for her at eighteen, she came to the U.S. to make herself the home she always wanted. My parents met in California and that’s where I came in, I was born in Los Angeles. I have lived in the U.S. most of my life however I have lived in Puerto Rico and Guatemala and, of course, there are stories connected to those adventures too.
My mother spoke Spanish to me, with a heavy Puerto Rican accent, and my father spoke English. I, like many other Latinx kids in the U.S., was embarrassed to make mistakes by speaking Spanish so I mostly spoke English growing up. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I started practicing my Spanish more and now this has allowed me to further learn about different Latinx peoples and cultures including my own. I am very proud to be a Puerto Rican-Guatemalan-American who speaks both Spanish and English! There are different food, traditions, words, and beliefs that are very much a part of my culture made up of different cultures. I married in 2005 and my husband is from Jalisco, Mexico.
If you know anything about Mexico, there are many distinct stories, cultures, and identities depending on what state you are from. He motivated me to speak more Spanish and he learned English in the process. We were blessed with a beautiful son who is four years old now and he is a mix of many journeys and stories. I know I have left out a lot about the reality of how our people are treated in the U.S., we all have those stories to share and those experiences contribute to and change things in our lives. Those struggles and obstacles are part of our journey, we overcome an immense amount and it leads us where we are.
I feel proud of our ancestors and our people and I understand the celebration more than ever. I can’t wait for the day my son can understand it and for the day that he can speak to his identity and his story. For now, “I am Vincent” is what my son can say, proudly with a smile and a giggle bringing me all the joy in the world because, in its simplicity, it brings so much complexity, beauty, hardships, adversity, unity, family, strength, love, peace and so much more that made him possible.
September 15 - October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month. FriendsPDX fully acknowledges that the terms Hispanic and Latinx are not naturally occurring and instead placed upon the communities that they were invented to describe. We have a whole blog dedicated to its historical background here.