Contributions by Steven Cortes - Patient Engagement Manager
I am lucky to have been raised in the “Mexico of the Midwest,” better known as “Little Village” in Chicago. The famous Terracotta Arch over 26th Street greets people with “Bienvenidos a Little Village,” welcoming everyone from visitors and residents to new immigrants to our neighborhood. Little Village supports over 500 shops and vendors, where you can get delicious home-made quality food or an authentic quinceañera dress that has been in the same family business for more than two generations. However, Latinxs are more than tacos and colorful celebrations. Little Village is known to bring in $900 million in sales annually, second only to Chicago’s Michigan Avenue (CBS, 2015). Little Village is an important part of Latinx history as it hosts notable murals depicting the plight of the immigrant, such as “Un Milagro” and “Aztec Princess.”
My story starts with my father, Juan Cortes illegally crossing the border in 1986 searching for a brighter future and better opportunities. Growing up in a fluent Mexican American community like Little Village allowed me to explore and be immersed in my heritage. With Spanish being my first language and English my second, I was able to translate important documents for my parents. At an early age, our school field trips consisted of visiting various local museums. One trip that stands out is the National Museum of Mexican Art. There, I learned about famous Mexican artists like Frida Kahlo, and her struggles as a plagued female artist. She was known for painting about her experience of chronic pain and was inspired by Mexican folk culture.
In elementary school, I was introduced to books by Hispanic writers such as Como Agua Para Chocolate. This story depicts how Mexican traditions toward women can be burdensome. The main character is denied marriage as tradition dictates the youngest daughter cannot marry, but instead must take care of her mother until she dies. The book is beautifully structured as every chapter starts off with a Mexican recipe and the writer connects the dish to an event. For example, when she is preparing a wedding cake she is overcome with sadness and cries into the cake batter. This taught me that not every tradition must be followed, especially as we continue to fight toxic masculinity, which Hispanic traditions reinforce. Not only did this make me re-analyze traditions, but it ignited my love for learning to cook traditional dishes, such as mole, tamales and birria.
In high school, a book that changed the course of my life was My Bloody Life: The Making of a Latin King. The author, Reymundo Sanchez, tells the story of his life as a teenage street gang member in Chicago. College is rarely the goal for families who are struggling to make ends meet. Instead, most require their children to work to help stay afloat. As such, many young Hispanics are faced with the decision to join the gangs of Chicago. As a high school drop-out, his story changed my perspective and is the reason I completed my GED.
As a first-generation immigrant, my siblings and I were brought up learning and celebrating our culture in several ways, from breaking pinatas for our birthdays to celebrating quinceañeras. My brother and I have been in more than ten quinceañeras as a chambelan. I am happy to share that we have passed that tradition on, as my oldest nephew has been in two quinceañeras.
As we pass on traditions to our children, we are also breaking the norm and stereotypes. My siblings and I have been fortunate to have achieved our parent’s goals of providing better and brighter futures by graduating college and pursuing higher education. My oldest brother has a master’s degree in Computer Network and Information Security and currently teaches at DePaul University. My sister is a registered nurse and is pursuing her Physician Assistant Degree. While I received my bachelor’s degree in Project Management and am currently pursuing my master’s degree in Data Analytics.
Hispanic Heritage Month allows us to celebrate the differences in our cultures while having the same constitutional rights to fight to change the political environment and creating a better future for everyone. In the 2008 Presidential Election, Hispanics had a 44 percent increase in voter turnout since the 2004 elections. Not only that, but I exercised my right to vote for the first time.
Hispanics continue to change the political outcome by having more prominent voices in the U.S government. Latinx AOC Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a prime example of this. She is an inspiration to all Latinx as she is the youngest women to serve in the U.S Congress. Another prominent Latinx voice is Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia who had a runoff election vs. Rahm Emmanuel, for Chicago Mayor. This experience was unique to me as I helped campaign door to door for Chuy Garcia, experiencing firsthand the democratic process and serving as an election poll worker.
Another passage in my family’s Mexican American life is when we received residency or citizenship of this wonderful country. A proud moment in our life was witnessing my mother, at the age of 59, her receive her American citizenship.
This month gives every Latinx the opportunity to be proud of their roots, see how our culture shapes us and shows the next generations to love their culture. We have an open invitation to everyone to be part of this celebration.