Every March, half a million monarch butterflies leave the hills and mountains of Mexico and begin the long migration North. Some travel only a few hundred miles, into the plains of Southern Texas. Others make it as far as Canada, 3,000 miles away. Their voyage is one of survival: a search for food, shelter and a place to propagate.
By October, just as the leaves in much of the U.S. are beginning to turn, the monarchs take flight again, this time headed south for home, where they rest and gather strength for their next great journey.
As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month (HHM), I’ve been thinking a lot about these beautiful creatures: their strength and grace; their courage and resolve. For me, the symbolisms of the monarch are powerful ones. They speak to the journey that so many Hispanics have made, against impossible odds, over treacherous terrain (physical as well as socio-political), never losing sight of the promise and possibilities ahead.
Like the monarchs, for Hispanics, this time of year is about reconnecting to where we came from, to the places that made us who we are. Even if you’ve never actually been to Mexico, or Honduras, or Peru, or Argentina, HHM is an invitation to get to know your own story, your own family’s migration. It’s also a time to reflect on how far we Hispanics have come, on the incredible contributions we’ve made in the U.S. and beyond, and the ones we’ll make in the years ahead.
Like the monarchs, for Hispanics, this time of year is about reconnecting to where we came from, to the places that made us who we are
The truth is, the monarch’s journey home is only half the story, in the same way that revisiting our own heritage can’t account for what we’ve endured these past seven months. Back in March, just as the monarchs were beginning to head north, the COVID pandemic forced everyone—including Hispanics—on a different kind of journey.
Across the country, the economic impacts were immediately felt: lost jobs, reduced wages, families evicted from their homes. According to Pew Research, between February and June, Hispanic unemployment rose from 4.8% to 19%, nearly five points higher than the overall average. Even more disheartening, 70% of Hispanics polled in June said that the worst was yet to come with COVID—11 points higher than the average.
For far too many Hispanics, those first few months were like a monarch trying to fly north in lashing winds. No matter how hard we endeavored, forces beyond our control kept blowing us backwards. As a result, this pandemic and the resulting economic fallout have greatly impacted our community.
Why have Hispanics been hit so hard? Because we’re the ones on the front lines, working in restaurants and meatpacking plants and on construction sites. We’re the ones in the fields doing the backbreaking work that others denigrate, refuse to take on, or are to meek to handle. But we’re also engineers and scientists, lawyers and doctors, and even these seemingly “safe” industries—and the many Hispanics who work in them—are feeling the brunt of this impact.
And while SHPE has lent a hand where it can—raising nearly $1M in scholarships and financial assistance through our ALL-IN Relief Fund; pivoting to virtual programming—the crisis is far too deep for any one organization to address. The truth is, SHPE has been impacted too. For the first time in our history, we’re having to host our National Convention—our single biggest event—virtually. Believe me when I say, we’d love to offer our Convention for free. But keep in mind that the funds we raise will be re-invested in our members by supporting the development and deployment of SHPE programs, many of which are free and available year-round (like our latinXfactor™ webinar series). We’ve also supported hundreds of SHPE members directly through scholarships and Convention registration stipends.
We understand these are difficult times—for our members, and for the Hispanic community as a whole. But here’s the thing: No matter the obstacles they face, the 500,000 monarchs dotting the skies right now are determined to complete their journey—even if it takes them a little longer to get there. We Hispanics are no different. Indeed, if our history and heritage have taught us anything, it’s that we are resilient. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, we’ve been forged by the fires around us. Economic hardships; political turmoil; social upheaval: We’ve survived them all, always emerging stronger—and flying higher—than we had before. And we will again. And again.
But don’t take my word for it. Instead, heed the words and wisdom of our heritage. We come from a long line of warriors and creators. The story of the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayans is one of ingenuity and innovation. Of exploration and discovery. Of transition, transformation, and transcendence. A heritage of daring to dream big—for ourselves, for our families, and for generations of Hispanics to come. A heritage that’s continued through the works of people like Cesar Chavez, the legendary Chicano labor activist; and Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman in space; and Luis Walter Alvarez, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist. And so many more. And so many yet to come.
But our heritage is also about honoring those who came before. In addition to the great monarch migration, October also marks the three-day holiday knowns as Día de los Muertos, a time when Hispanics come together to honor and pray for family members and friends who have died—to help guide them in their spiritual journeys.
As in many cultures, Hispanics view death not as something to fear, but as part of the human cycle. Think of La Catrina, the female skeleton who always has a smile on her face. She is *the* icon of Día de los Muertos, an affirmation that life is sweet and that we should rejoice and revel in it—and a constant reminder that the birth-life-death transformation befalls each of us, no matter our station in life.
In the same way, it’s important that we see our current travails not just as obstacles to overcome, but as opportunities to lead our collective Hispanic Community confidently into the future. That’s been our mission at SHPE. Even if things are back to normal next year, even if things get better, we’ll know that the transformations we embraced made us stronger, smarter and more resilient—that they made us better.
Years from now, when we look back at 2020, we’re bound to remember the bad times. We can’t simply wish those away. But like the half-a-million monarchs that defy overwhelming odds to get where they need go to—indeed, where they’re destined to go—what we’ll remember most isn’t how hard the journey was, but what we accomplished by pressing on. That we showed everyone the incredible feats the Hispanic Community is capable of. That we honor those who came before—and believe in those to come.
Raquel Tamez, SHPE CEO