• Cynthia Matthews

Celebrating Our Heritage

David Conde5x7

As National Hispanic Heritage Month is upon us, we wanted to learn how our ECMHSP familia feels about this month of celebration and what opportunities our community has to embrace it. Please keep reading to learn about ECMHSP’S Board of Directors President, Dr. David Conde, as he will share how this month-long observance has evolved throughout the years.

What motivated you to join ECMHSP Board of Directors?

During my time as the Associate Vice Chancellor at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina I came into contact with the organization through a member of the ECMHSP Board of Directors. This contact revitalized my interest in Migrant and Seasonal Head Start since much of my early life was spent as a migrant worker and my community service as a professional included a long period as board member and board secretary for Child Opportunity Head Start Program in Denver, Colorado. The passion for service to migrant children and families, in particular, comes from a personal experience that was colored by the difficult conditions of living and working as a migrant and the understanding that because of those conditions, given a chance at a better life, a person from that background can best take advantage of it.

Board

What do you consider your biggest accomplishment as President of ECMHSP’s Board of Directors?

East Coast is known as an organization dedicated to excellence in service from its very beginning. However, I found it useful and necessary to change the point of view of its leadership to one that saw the working conditions, education and services from the view of the migrant worker, the children and the parents. Empowering parents has been the hallmark of our work, including the decision to keep and expand the Washington, D.C. office and create the Foundation for Farmworkers. This process also brings the needs of the total migrant working family into focus.

Growing up in the U.S., do you recall being encouraged to celebrate your heritage?

No. We were Spanish-speaking people with an evangelical background that taught us to work hard and accept our status in life. The heritage we celebrated was religiously oriented and included such things as Christmas plays in church. It was toward the end of my undergraduate studies that I realized I needed to face my second-class status as a Latino. I joined the Chicano Movement out of graduate school and began to make a contribution to our heritage. Among the major accomplishments in this area was to help organize the first Chicano-oriented Cinco de Mayo celebration in Pueblo, Colorado, in 1973. We also founded a Chicano Studies program on our campus. I went on to specialize in pre-Colombian Mesoamerican Studies as a way of understanding our indigenous roots.

What does National Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?

National Hispanic Heritage Month has changed in its meaning for me over the years. In the beginning it was necessary to focus on this month as a way of making sure that Latino identity was celebrated and Latino presence be part of the American calendar. Today, Latinos have reached a genuine partnership with the rest of the country in the social and political environment. This has made the Latino presence a part of the power structure and able to help determine major decisions regarding the future of the country. For this reason, in my mind, Latino Heritage Month is more of a reminder that we are a diverse country and that we have no choice but to use that diversity to continue our greatness.

As they grow up in the U.S., what do you think are the most important values parents should teach their young children regarding their culture?

Parents are already demonstrating to their children the value of hard work. It is also important that the Spanish language and homeland history be maintained to the extent possible. Those two elements are essential to a healthy identity. A clear and positive identity is fundamental to social, political and economic success.

Taking into consideration most of our farmworker families are Hispanic, what do you think are some of their most important contributions to American society?

I would add that the farmworker families are not only mostly Hispanic but also mostly immigrant. As immigrants, farmworker families are modeling the value of hard work that many Americans tend to value and yet forget. That is a fundamental value in the American ethic. As Latino immigrants, farmworker families are bringing back to American-born Latinos a sense of identity that was lost to American historical oppression. This rediscovery of language and history is essential to effective participation in the affairs of the country.

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