Each year from September 15 to October 15, the U.S. celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month. The celebration spans two months because Sept.15 marks the anniversary of independence for five Latin American nations (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua). Mexico and Chile also celebrate their independence later in the month while Columbus Day—also known as Día de la Raza—comes in early October.
This year, JumpStart celebrated the occasion by hosting a staff workshop with Marcia Moreno, a first-generation Chilean immigrant and the founder of AmMore LLC, a company dedicated to helping employers attract, recruit and retain Latinx professionals
We sat down with Marcia after one of these workshops to learn more about her personal story and get her perspective on Cleveland’s growing Latinx community. Here are some of the highlights from this conversation.
Hispanic Heritage month can be hard to grasp because so much culture and heritage gets condensed down to 30 days. With that in mind, what does this month mean to you as both a Latinx woman and an entrepreneur?
“Well, the Chilean day of independence is September 18, and we take this celebration very seriously! So, I may not have totally grasped the meaning of the month when I first came to the U.S. in 2005, but the fact that it lined up with Chilean Independence immediately made it important to me.
Of course, I many not love the term ‘Hispanic,’ or agree with everything being focused down to a month instead of all year long. And it certainly doesn’t remove the many socioeconomic challenges Latinx people face. But overall, I think taking time to reflect and educate on your culture is very important.”
You mentioned not loving the term “Hispanic.” We’re often asked why we use the term Latinx as opposed to Latino or Hispanic. Can you walk us through the differences between these terms and which one you prefer?
“The first thing to remember is these terms have all been created and used within the U.S., mostly to classify and count a very diverse group of people. They are not used in Latin America, so there is no 100 percent right or wrong term, because none of them are perfect—as is the case with most labels.
In general, the term ‘Hispanic’ is based on a shared connection to Spanish colonialism, and this colonial connection is also part of reason the term has taken on a more negative connection as time goes on—along with the fact it doesn’t really account for countries like Brazil, which are firmly Latin American but have a different (Portuguese) language and colonial past.
For many of us, the term ‘Latino’ more closely aligns with how we actually think about ourselves as Latin Americans. It’s broader than the languages we speak or who colonized us, and it encompasses more of our overall cultural identity.
But of course, Spanish is a gendered language, so every single word is either male or female. The term “Latinx” is an attempt to find a single word to refer to both men and women, as well as people who are non-binary in gender.
For that reason, ‘Latinx’ tends to be more popular with the younger generations and those who are pushing for a more welcoming and inclusive culture. It’s certainly the one I try to use.
One of the things you discussed in our staff workshop is how the Latinx community shows up differently in different places. Can you share a little of this nuance on our local Latinx community as compared to the overall nationwide culture?
“Again, so much of the nuance you’re describing comes from lumping together very different cultures under the same umbrella term. For example, people from Puerto Rico make up nine percent of the nationwide Latinx population, but they make up almost 30 percent of the Ohio Latinx population. Culturally, this is a distinctly different community than one where people from Mexico or Cuba make up the majority.
Also, Ohio has not historically been a ‘hotbed’ of immigration compared to say Chicago or Miami. We’re still a relatively small community locally—though the Latinx population is growing at roughly double the rate of the overall population and averages almost three years younger.
So there are some distinct differences. But our local community does share some common economic struggles with the larger Latinx community when it comes to educational achievement and household income. For example, in Cuyahoga County, the overall average household income is around $46,000 but it drops to around $21,000 in communities like Clark Fulton with the highest Latinx population.”
On a related note, one of your passions is helping organizations recruit and retain Latinx talent from these communities. Can you tell us how you first became an entrepreneur and why you think this work is so important?
“Honestly, a year and a half ago I never would have thought I’d be doing this work. But I wanted more flexibility to spend time with my family. Plus, I’ve always been a very intense person, so working for someone else really never allowed me to bring my full passion. There was just something missing.
So, I left my job to spend the summer with my son. But I also started meeting with people in the community and it quickly became clear how huge the need is in this area. Continually running into the problem started to shape my idea for a business to help solve it. And this is important work to me, because Cleveland welcomed me and gave me a home. My husband is a Clevelander and my son was born here, so I’m very committed to helping the community thrive and creating more opportunities for Latinx professionals here.”
What challenges or misconceptions do you see as you work with employers and organizations trying to build connections in the Latinx community?
“I spend a lot of time trying to help employers understand how our cultural script isn’t always perceived the right way— how it is sometimes judged as a weakness when it could be a strength. For example, Latinx culture often thinks about and prioritizes time differently. That doesn’t mean Latinx people don’t value people’s time. In fact, it’s often a result of a less transactional and more personal approach to meetings and relationships—which can be very powerful.
In general, Latinx culture also encourages deep respect for elders and managers, which can come off as overly passive or non-contradictory. But this doesn’t mean Latinx people don’t have strong opinions or great new ideas to offer. It just takes a different approach to access them when the overall culture views it as deeply disrespectful to openly challenge authority. Those are just a few examples.”
There are still many people in Northeast Ohio who don’t truly realize what a vibrant Latinx community we have. What would you recommend as some good first steps for people and organizations who want to build better connections in this community?
In terms of getting connected, obviously organizations like the Hispanic Business Center and Esperanza are great places to start. I also think Global Cleveland and the Cleveland Council on World Affairs are great starting points to get connected to a more international perspective on this city.
Every day in my work, I’m reminded of just how disconnected and segregated we all are. That’s just a reality of our world right now. So, even though it sounds cliché, stronger connections really start with being intentional and curious about stepping outside our bubbles and learning new things. But that also means we have to remember it’s actually ok to disagree about things along the way without instantly attacking each other—which is something we seem to be struggling with right now as a country.
There are so many different ways to connect with a culture, but it all starts with this attitude of intentionality and curiosity; because the reality of our world means it isn’t just going to happen naturally.
The other important thing I remind people about all the time is how relationship based Latinx culture is. If you want to form a deeper connection in this community, you have to be open to a continual two-way relationship, as opposed to just a series of transactional interactions. Whether its building friendships or business relationship, it takes long-term commitment.”
To learn more about Marcia Moreno and her business, visit www.ammore.us.
For more resources on Hispanic Heritage Month, check the links below.