Over the past month, we have been engaging with our Metro colleagues from the Latinx Affinity Group to learn about their unique experiences related to heritage, community, and personal identity, as part of Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month. This heritage month is uniquely recognized in the middle of September through the middle of October (Sept. 15 – Oct. 15), as it coincides with national independence celebrations in several Latin American countries.
As we approach the last week of Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month, I am excited to share the stories and experiences from some of our Metro Latinx colleagues below.
Ixta describes herself as Mexican American, born and raised in St. Helena, Calif. Ixta’s parents are from Jalisco, Mexico, where she’s had the opportunity to visit on numerous occasions. When we asked Ixta about a cherished memory that makes her proud of to be part of the Latinx community, she recalled the holidays.
“I would say the Christmas holiday is very special to my family. Christmas isn’t about the presents, it’s about familia. Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) was a very important night in my house. This is when we really celebrated Christmas. Didn’t matter that we didn’t have much, what was important is that we had each other. This night would always be filled with stories, laughter, tears, and lots of love for each other. A night you always looked forward to each year and treasured every moment.”
In addition to the holidays, Ixta describes any time spent at family gatherings to be a special tradition.
“Being Latina, I cherish how my family was at family gatherings. We always want to take care of everyone, even if we just met you. If you are here with us, you are family. Make sure that you get something to eat, and you can never have too much! And you must always have Vicente Fernandez playing in the background.”
In what ways has your cultural background or heritage influenced your personal identity and your experiences as a member of the Metro community? Growing up and being my parents’ translator, I understand the struggles a community faces when they can’t communicate [in English]. First generation Americans are the dedicated translators for their families. It is our responsibility to learn the language (read and write) to help take care of our family. If I see someone struggling or lost, I do my best to help. Now that I work for Metro, I feel I have a certain responsibility to the community. I’m always looking at signage when I’m on the bus or light rail, both locally and in other states, and think of ways we can improve [at Metro].
Are there figures or role models from the Latinx/Hispanic community, either from the past or present, that you admire? Civil rights activist Dolores Huerta—si, se puede (yes, we can). She fought for better working conditions for farmworkers and the rights of the oppressed. Dolores was a firm believer in the power of political organization to effect change. She taught me that if you don’t say something and do something about what you are passionate about, change will never happen.
Jason describes himself as first generation Chilean American; both his parents are immigrants from Chile. Jason completed high school in Santiago, Chile, before returning to the United States for college, where he also interned at the Chilean Embassy in Washington D.C. Jason tells us, “[Interning at the] Chilean Embassy gave me a unique view of the Chilean experience in the US. All [my] experiences helped form my bicultural identity.”
When we asked about something that makes Jason feel proud about being part of the Latinx community, he told it’s the commonalties and dynamics shared across other Latinos he’s met in all the places he’s lived (Santiago, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and Seattle). “[It’s] how quickly we all bond about Latin culture, the idiosyncrasies, linguistic differences we all share, and observations of U.S. culture.” Jason also shared that while there are not many Chileans in the Pacific Northwest, it has created a close-knit community among those who are here.
As far as traditions go, Jason’s family celebrates Diez y Ocho (the 18th of September), also known as Chilean Independence Day, annually and the festivities usually include foods such as asado (BBQ), empanadas, and a humitas (Chilean version of tamales).
In what ways has your cultural background or heritage influenced your personal identity and your experiences as a member of the Metro community? I’d say the “space” that Metro creates to explore my own Latino identity in the workplace, while feeling that my own experience/perspective as a Latino is honored and respected in the work that I do.
Are there figures or role models from the Latinx/Hispanic community, either from the past or present, that you admire? Isabel Allende, one of my favorite authors with a great personal story to understand and follow. I really enjoy her books, reflections on the immigrant experience, and how to “restart” in new cultures and countries. Pedro Pascal, just a cool and approachable guy, similar bicultural background and experience being both an “American” and “Chilean” at the same time.
Penny shared that it’s the support and tradition cultivated with her family that makes her feel both proud and connected to the Latinx community.
“My proudest moment is at home, where my family and support network, my tribe, worked together to raise my children in a bi-cultural, bilingual way. When I hear my adult daughters effortlessly switch between English and Spanish, I realize the magnitude of our achievement. They’ve embraced their dual identity as American-raised Mexicans, blending the best of both worlds. These moments connect me deeply my Latino community, showing our strength in bridging continents, languages, and traditions. It’s a celebration of cultures without borders. My proudest memory in the community is passing down our culture to the next generation, leaving a legacy of pride and connection.”
Janine identifies as a queer woman and describes herself as someone with “a culture of blending of influences” speaking to her Afro-Indigenous heritage. Janine’s parents are from Puerto Rico—a U.S territory previously colonized by Spain—which she describes as a “vibrant culture with Spanish influences that celebrates both Indigenous Taíno roots and African heritage.”
When we asked about a cherished memory that makes her proud of being a part of the Latinx community, Janine shared the influence and history of Vejigante masks in both her and Puerto Rican households throughout the island.
“I keep a drawing of a full Vejigante carnival costume in my home and my mother keeps a mask in her home. The masks have different meanings depending on where you are from. After the Spanish invaded Puerto Rico, these masks were influenced by Taino culture to create the bright and colorful masks you see today. The Vejigante is a colorful character that is a blend of Puerto Rico’s Spanish, Indigenous, and African influences, and a key figure in several of the island’s annual celebrations, particularly in Ponce and Loiza.”
In what ways has your cultural background or heritage influenced your personal identity and your experiences as a member of the Metro community? The Hispanic/Latinx category is very broad with 30 some odd countries represented and includes Spanish, Portuguese, and Indigenous languages. Many of us do not identity as Hispanic and find the term offensive because it denotes Spanish from Spain heritage. I choose to identify as Latinx for political reasons. Although the Census does not consider Hispanic/Latinx a racial category, I have always treated it as my race and Puerto Rican as my ethnicity.
Are there figures or role models from the Latinx/Hispanic community, either from the past or present, that you admire? Sylvia Rivera, a trans rights activist associated with the Stonewall riots (Puerto Rican) and led advocacy work for trans people of color. And currently, Sonia Sotomayor, the only Latina Supreme Court Justice who is also Puerto Rican.
Anything else you’d like to share? I really enjoy working for Metro. I believe in our mission and goals. The work we do is so important and vast beyond buses, trains, and the water taxi (our most visible services). We support creating a healthy culture, growing employees into our future leaders, and looking at how we can continuously improve not just how we serve the community, but our employees as well.
Leah describes herself as a first generation Cuban American. Leah grew up in San Antiono, Texas, surrounded by both her Cuban family and adopted Mexican family. Leah’s family immigrated to the U.S. after being granted political asylum for religious persecution. Leah shared, “My dad and uncle arrived first through Operation Pedro Pan, alongside 14,000 other Cuban youths. It was the largest recorded exodus of unaccompanied minors in the Western Hemisphere.” Leah’s dad and uncle lived with foster parents in Sarasota, Florida, for two years before their foster parents were able to help pave the way for her grandparents and aunts to arrive in the U.S.
When reflecting on the Hispanic/Latinx Heritage month, Leah shared that her celebrations are heavily influenced by both Cuba and Mexico.
“One of the most delightful aspects of my heritage is the fusion of Cuban and Mexican cuisines. We enjoy dishes like ‘Ropa Vieja’ a Cuban shredded beef stew and add a Mexican twist, incorporating spices and flavors unique to both cultures. Tacos filled with Ropa Vieja or picadillo are a mouthwatering example of this fusion.”
Leah also highlights salsa music and dancing as a vibrant and essential part of her cultural experience to connecting with others, expressing joy, and celebrating life. Also, the strong and flavor taste of Cuban coffee, known as “cafecito” or “cortadito” is a tradition that’s been passed through generations. Leah adds, “It’s not just about the caffeine; it’s about gathering with family and friends, sipping this rich brew, and sharing stories.”
In what ways has your cultural background or heritage influenced your personal identity and your experiences as a member of the Metro community? My Latinx/Hispanic heritage has provided me with a rich tapestry of traditions, values, and connections that have shaped my personal identity and enriched my experiences as a member of the Metro community. It has taught me the importance of embracing diversity and celebrating the cultural richness that each individual brings to our community.
Are there figures or role models from the Latinx/Hispanic community, either from the past or present, that you admire? Celia Cruz (Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso de la Santísima Trinidad), the Queen of Salsa. She inspires me because she was so inextricably linked with my Cuban heritage and background—my aunt would hum her songs while cooking and my dad would play her music on his violin. Artist Frida Kahlo, who used art to cope and share the pain of her injuries and disabilities, always inspires me. Writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, reading his works made me feel like I was getting to peek over the shoulders of long dead relatives.
Margarita describes herself as an “X”-generation Mexican American. Margarita, her mom, and maternal grandparents were born in the United States. Her dad is a first generation Mexican American, who immigrated to the United States when he was a teen. Margarita shared, “it was a weird dynamic, navigating [and learning] my mom’s traditions from the U.S. and my dad’s traditions from Mexico. I grew up a proud Chicana, but there’s still so much that was lost through each generation that we’re slowly regaining now that I’m older and much more curious.”
When we asked about a cherished memory that makes her proud of being a part of the Latinx community, Margarita shared her love for karaoke with an accordion.
“All the karaoke sessions that included songs with an accordion—Norteño music will always be my favorite to sing and holds a special place in my heart. And the passion you hear in everyone’s voices as they sing, you really can’t beat those kinds of karaoke sessions. Oh, and singing Selena, the Queen of Tejano music!”
In what ways has your cultural background or heritage influenced your personal identity and your experiences as a member of the Metro community? It’s helped me want to become a better advocate for my community in our work. Often, it can feel like the government doesn’t care how it impacts communities of color. Being in my role, a community engagement planner, I hope to help bring these voices to the table through my work and see positive impacts in the future.
Are there figures or role models from the Latinx/Hispanic community, either from the past or present, that you admire? Selena! A quote in the film that really resonated with me growing up was, “We gotta be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans.” Selena was a Chicana, born raised in the states, and didn’t know much Spanish as a kid but her talent, passion and genuineness touched people across borders—Selena was able to find/be herself in both cultures. That’s something I truly admire and hope to achieve.
As we work towards creating safe, reliable, and equitable public transportation services, understanding the history and experiences of our diverse communities enables us to better serve and improve regional mobility and quality of life for all in King County.