Today, September 15th, begins the observation of Hispanic Heritage Month. This time period is meant for recognition, education and celebration in hopes of honoring Hispanic Americans and their respective cultures and histories.
Each year we observe this month by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. According to the official government website, the day of September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September18, respectively.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Christina Onstott, our Creative Arts Volunteer Coordinator at Cross Point, to ask her questions and discuss her own personal story, history and experience as a first generation Mexican American. We hope this conversation encourages and inspires you to be open to learning, asking and seeking perspective from others. Read through Christina’s honest and vulnerable responses about her own Hispanic heritage below.
WHERE DID YOU GROW UP AND WHAT WAS IT LIKE? SPEAK TO CULTURE – language, food, music, religion.
Language: Firstly, I am a first generation Mexican American. My dad is from Mexico and my mom is from Texas. So, I was born and raised in Texas. My dad was in his 20s when he came to Texas. My mother is also Hispanic – her parents are Texan, but they come from a long line of Mexicans and identify as Mexican American.
I grew up in a bilingual home and both of my parents were very helpful in our hometown. My mom was very educated and was used a lot as a translator. She helped a lot of Hispanic communities and families in our hometown with whatever they needed. I’m from a small town in Texas – Weatherford, Texas – 20 miles west of Ft. Worth. My hometown was primarily White and African American, but there were Hispanics there too that were growing in number each year.
Growing up, it was constantly English and Spanish both. We were always around the language because all of my family members spoke Spanish, but my dad really wanted us to have English as our first language. So, I never really learned how to speak Spanish, but me and my brother could understand the language. We mostly understand Tex-Mex slang. My grandfather always told us we needed to learn both languages and there were moments growing up where because of how people treated Mexicans, I used to tell people I was Indian because I was embarrassed to be called a Mexican. Now that I’m older it’s different, but when I was a kid I said I didn’t need to learn or know the language because of how ugly people were about it. When people would act this way, I would defend myself by saying “I don’t even know Spanish.” When I got older I learned that I can explain myself, but I don’t need to defend myself.
Food and Music: It’s funny, when I think of food growing up, my mother always cooked, so I didn’t try things like hamburger helper until I was in my 20s. I never had McDonalds until I was a teenager because we didn’t have that growing up. My mom was all about home cooked meals and you could always count on tortillas being ready and available anytime you wanted. That was a big cultural thing within Hispanic culture – the food, the music. My dad sang mariachi music and had a beautiful voice and that’s where my brother and I got that musical ability and trait – from him singing.
Religion: We were baptized Catholic when we were babies and we’d go to the Catholic Church. We’d go to Sunday mass and midnight mass on Christmas. It was a Church with all other Hispanics. I remember a lot of it, I never really understood everything that was happening, but I knew of God. It wasn’t until my brother and I were old enough to decide what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go, that we shifted out of that.
WHAT WAYS DO YOU TRY TO PRESERVE THE CULTURE YOU CAME FROM NOW IN YOUR OWN LIFE AND FAMILY?
Even though my dad only wanted us to have English as our first language, Culture was very important to our family. There was no way to run from that even if we wanted to because it was just constantly there. Things that bring back some of the best memories are doing things as children in the culture that I was raised in.
One of the things that I’ll always remember and it has always stuck with me and I do now with my family – anytime my brother and I did something significant or major, if we were traveling somewhere, if we were leaving the house – just anything, my mom would bless us. She would do the sign of the Cross and bless us and so I do that now. I do it before I drive, before I lead worship, before I go to bed, before anything. Now I do it with my son before he goes to sleep and with my husband before he travels. It’s just something that I’ve carried over. There are so many things that I’ve carried over, but that has been one of the most significant things that I remember that has never gone away, even after my mom was gone.
Another childhood memory I have is making homemade tamales every year for Christmas with my mom. That is also something I would like to carry on. The only problem is, the recipe lived in my mothers brain, as all her recipes did. I’ll just have to give it a try from what I remember!
Nate, my husband, has picked up on some of the Spanish I know and I want to incorporate that as much as possible. There’s a lot of phrases, words, commands and endearing words that I want to continue to give away. The Spanish I do know, I speak to my son, Copeland, and my husband has picked up on it and uses it as well.
So for us, my parents aren’t around and there’s no one else to teach my son about his culture. It’s very very important to me and my husband for Copeland to know about his heritage and for him to know about his family. There will never be a moment that he won’t know who he is and where he came from. That is very important to me and my husband because we’re all he has to be able to teach him about that. What I love most is that there are other people and friends in our community that are helping with that too. So like, one of the things, if my mom were still around, she’d want to make Copeland his first bean and cheese taco and since she’s not – we often go to a place called Tempo, owned by some friends in town, and I told them that story and they offered to step into that gap and make him his first bean and cheese taco. So we went and they did! We go there for that kind of food because it reminds me of home and it tastes like how my mother cooked. It was very special to have people come in and say “hey, I know your moms not here, but let us help you with this or let us carry this with you.” So, we have people around who have continued to carry those certain things that reminded me of my childhood and home. They have helped those things live on, even without my mom.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY THE VALUE OF A MULTICULTURAL EXPERIENCE IS? IN EVERY ASPECT OF LIFE.
I think it’s important to know beyond yourself. It’s important to know beyond how you grew up because it will open your eyes a whole lot more to what’s out there. Specifically for me, in church too. I think the value of it is learning what’s around you and being aware of so many other cultures and not only your own. Yes, culture shock is a thing, but it doesn’t have to be that big of a thing. I think just to be aware and not so clueless – it’s ok if you don’t know, but I never want anyone to assume that they know my culture based off of what has been americanized. Like Cinco De Mayo – it’s not a real holiday, it has been americanized. You never want to assume based off of stereotypes. It is so important to know beyond yourself and know more about other cultures. Even if it’s just reading about it or having other friends – whatever it is, just to learn. Be open to learning because it’s important to know rather than just assume.
VALUE OF MULTICULTURAL EXPERIENCE: SPEAK SPECIFICALLY TO CROSS POINT AND THE CHURCH AS A WHOLE – WHAT DREAMS, HOPES AND VISIONS DO YOU HAVE?
My hope is for there to be a Hispanic community here at Cross Point. I’ve been attending here for eleven years, on staff for nine years and it’s very rare that I’ll see other Hispanics at other locations. The funny thing is, when I am singing at a location, if there is someone who is Hispanic, they come to me afterwards. Representation matters very much and it’s slowly starting to pick up here at Cross Point. One way it’s starting is with Shirley and Pepe Hernandez, another Hispanic couple who actually speak Spanish here at Cross Point. To have them here and actually starting a community is so helpful and Shirley has invited me into that. I wouldn’t have known where to start because I don’t speak Spanish, but she is taking off with it. So, my hope and my vision is to have a Spanish community. Also, my hope is that there would be more representation on our staff and on our stage. I want our church to be like a melting pot of people in Nashville. Even now, more so than ever, I have such a heart for these things to happen because I want my son to be around it. Now that I have a child, I see even more how important it is to me to be even more so in my culture. I’m very proud to be who I am and I’m doing whatever I can for me to continue to learn about my culture because I’m still learning too. There’s still so much to learn and learning more about my family history is very important because I don’t want that to end with me. I want my kids to be able to carry that on after me and to honor where I came from because I never want to forget that.
I’d love to see Cross Point be more diverse. Not just Hispanic or Black, but multiple cultures all together. We can say representation matters all day, but it has to be visible. That diversity is very important to me and my dream for the future of this church. Yes, everyone is welcome, but we also have to make an opportunity to make them feel seen as well. So yeah, my overall dream for Cross Point would be to have a Hispanic community that is thriving!
We have an opportunity coming up in October for us to celebrate Hispanic heritage month together. There are other Hispanics who attend our church that we want to meet, so maybe this dream of having a community group can start coming true now!
HISPANIC HERITAGE CELEBRATION
Bring your whole family to celebrate Hispanic Heritage with food, fun and fellowship. Saturday, October 8th from 6-8 at the Cross Point Nashville campus. Click this link to RSVP for the event and find out more details!
*Interviewed and written by Harley Killgo
Creative Arts Volunteer Coordinator