4 Birminghamians on Their Hispanic Heritage in the City

Photo of Latina dancers in traditional dresses
Bright dresses, bright smiles. Photo via Candice J Parnell Photography

Sept 15th through Oct 15th is Hispanic Heritage month! Hispanic Heritage month is split between these two months to celebrate many Latin American countries gaining independence. Although some events have changed because of Covid-19, nothing will stop Birmingham’s Hispanics and Latinos from celebrating their heritage! I spoke with four Birmingham based Hispanics on what their heritage means to them. Here’s what they had to say:

Manu Gabaldon

Picture of Manu Gabaldon - Hispanic Heritage Month
Big Communications’ Multicultural Strategist—Manu Gabaldon. Photo via Manu Gabaldon’s LinkedIn

Big Communications is a communications company serving their clients Big’s expertise in digital media, marketing, public relations, and more in the Birmingham area. Manu Gabaldon is a part of Big’s Team as a multicultural strategist. Working all the way from Miami, Manu brings her diverse perspective to Big Communications, reaching Birmingham’s Hispanic community.

She knew she filled a need for a multicultural strategist. The company’s culture surprised her. Big Communications valued real connections with more than just a general audience. Manu feels Big is on the right side of business, thinking of how they can reach everyone. And she is a part of that difference. She finds ways that companies can reach different audiences. The goal is to “[talk] to them, not at them.”

Most recently, Manu worked on several different campaigns aimed at the Hispanic audience. Working with Valvoline, a “marketer and supplier” for car maintenance, Manu reflected on growing up Venezuelan. Cultural differences and access change the relationship Latino populations have with their cars. Instead of buying new ones, people usually own used cars or pass them down in their family.

Manu created a bilingual campaign promoting Valvoline’s brand of car products. They run a commercial starring a U.S. Hispanic actor in Spanish and English and are using Spanish on social media to promote their products. And the responses reflected their efforts. Hispanic viewers love the brand speaking their language!

Manu also worked with ¡HICA! to encourage filling out the census. Years of miscommunication and distrust result in a low turnout of Hispanics filling out the census. With Manu on board, they created a new, direct marketing campaign.

She focused on getting to the point of concerns: what the census does and how to make Hispanics feel comfortable taking it. They created promotional graphics educating on what the census does and that it is done anonymously. For Manu, this successful campaign is the most impactful experience. Helping a community get the resources and understanding they need is what she loves about her job. Read more on the importance of inclusivity in Manu’s post.

On her heritage

Hispanic Heritage Month does not hold a big presence in her life. But she does believe that it provides essential visibility. It engages people with Hispanic communities beyond only immigration issues. Her favorite part about her heritage is how she can enjoy all of her cultures.

The more I learn, the more I get to enjoy.

Manu Gabaldon

Music, food, shows, and humor from Venezuela, Colombia, and the U.S.A. are readily available to her. She enjoys experiencing other cultures and urges everyone to do the same. “Embrace any culture…We have great things to share,” said Manu. Embracing other cultures is an opportunity to grow.

For Hispanic Heritage month, Manu made a playlist of Spotify for Big Communications. Her playlist draws on some of her favorites. She doesn’t have a favorite song, but J. Balvin is on repeat right now! She made the mix from her favorite hits trending in the states and the ones her in-laws in Colombia share with her. Listen to her playlist to expand your music tastes!

Isabel Rubio

Picture of Isabel Rubio smiling
Our leading executive director of HICA! Photo via Emily Hays

Isabel Rubio is the Executive Director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (or ¡HICA!). As a social worker, Isabel worried how the new boom of Latino families would adjust to the Birmingham Metro. ¡HICA! formed in 1999 to advocate for the well being and success for those families and more to come.

Her passion for equality comes from growing up Mexican-American in Mississippi in the 1960s. When the civil rights movement was at its peak, that summer before 1964 impacted her the most. Many communities in her hometown banded together for the better in the aftermath.

The influx of Latino families in Birmingham reminded her of that time. Isabel said, “I saw a lot of injustices in the policies that created the conditions of the 60s and didn’t want to see that happen to a new community of people. I felt like Birmingham would be a great testing ground for that.”

And ¡HICA! achieved so much more for our city. Twenty-one years later and ¡HICA! still serves our community. They have national recognition and earned many difficult federal grants. They were awarded one of those grants three times! ¡HICA! also has an accreditation from the Department of Justice to practice immigration law without being attorneys.

We have to create systems…and also policies that help people become successful.

Isabel Rubio

¡HICA! joined the frontlines of resources and assistance to combat Covid-19’s impact on Hispanic communities. They provided close to $200,000 in assistance to pay for utilities, food, and other essentials. One thing that Isabel wants Birmingham to know about the Hispanic community is how fundamental Latinos are. Demographics show how Latinos play a part in the change of our country. Inclusive policies ensure the present and future of our city and country.

On her heritage

Isabel grew up visiting her family in Mexico. This developed her deep love and appreciation for Mexico’s culture. Mexico is more than incredible food and art. Her favorite part about her heritage is the different flow of life. U.S.A. has a different pace. Day to day life moves at a faster pace. However, siestas are a daily occurrence in Mexico. Even if you’re working till 8 p.m., people take a full lunch break and rest.

She finds that connection to Mexico in the restaurants around Birmingham. Isabel said, “Here in the South…you get this dual feeling of home…Being able to enjoy the food from a place that feels like home in Mexico in a place that is also home in the South.” Which I think is everyone’s favorite part about Birmingham too!

Lizbeth Cerón-Gómez

Photo of Lizbeth smiling wearing Cross Cultural Committee shirt for Hispanic Heritage Month
BSC’s Director of Hispanic Heritage Cultural Events. Photo via Lizbeth Cerón-Gómez

Lizbeth is a Homewood native and student at Birmingham-Southern College (BSC). In her third year at BSC, she holds many leadership roles. One of those positions is the Director of Hispanic Heritage Cultural Events Committee.

Hispanic Heritage Cultural Events Committee is a subset of the Cross Cultural Committee (C3). C3 promotes awareness of and appreciation for different cultures on BSC’s campus. Six different committees and affiliated groups host cultural celebrations throughout the year. But things are different now.

Usually Hispanic Heritage Committee hosts a huge food festival this time of the year. There is fun music echoing throughout the Norton building. Local restaurants representing different countries let students sample their food. Now food events like that are on pause until spring semester.

Despite canceling their big hit event, Lizbeth is not deterred. She envisions the Hispanic community on campus getting the representation they need. Lizbeth is passionate about sharing her culture and encouraging others to explore the world. She wants to see students reaching out to C3 and curious to know more. For this year’s festivities, they are hoping to have movie nights showing iconic movies, like Selena. They are also posting information on social media to celebrate and inform on each countries’ independence day.

On her heritage

Hispanic Heritage Month didn’t mean much to her until the end of high school. She struggled with fully embracing her Mexican-American identity. She often wondered how much of herself she could share, saying, “How much of my Mexican side do I share with people at school and how much do I leave at home?”

Visiting her family’s ranch in Mexico every summer evolved her perspective. Her duality of different cultures opened her mind. She enjoys the traditional food, music, and dances of Mexico, and she loves all that Homewood offers too. Traveling to see her family ignited a love for exploring and learning about others. Lizbeth understands that people may not share her experiences “…but this is who I am, and people need to be more open to it.”

Having people know the importance of Mexico’s independence day…is so cool and being celebrated instead of frowned upon or being labeled things I’m not. People are seeing the impact that the Hispanic community has in this country.

Lizbeth Cerón-Gómez

She loves her heritage and would speak Spanish 24/7 if she could! The part of Birmingham that reminds her of Mexico is Pepper Place Market. That might sound odd, but it’s similar to Mexico’s markets. Grocery stores are not as big in Mexico as they are in the states. While more Walmarts and Sam’s Clubs are popping, markets are still the go-to in her grandparent’s city.

What Lizbeth wants others to know about the Hispanic community is a simple clarification. Hispanic means being able to speak Spanish. Latino refers to Latin American descent. This is why Brazil is Latino but not Hispanic because their official language is Portuguese. She also wants to encourage people to explore other cultures. Lizbeth said, “I go the same ranch every other year…and I come back with new perspectives and new ideas and new stories.” Traveling might be complicated at the moment, but Birmingham offers many windows into the world.

Roberto Hernandez

Photo of Roberto H smiling
The founder and president of AMOR. Photo via Roberto Hernandez

Roberto Hernandez is the president and founder of the Alabama Multicultural Organization, or AMOR. After the death of his parents in 2017, he wanted something dedicated in memory of them. The best way to honor his parents was to share the lessons they taught him. AMOR stands for love and for diversity. He founded an organization to promote diversity through arts, music, dance, film, theatre, food, and sports.

Many people associate AMOR with promoting Hispanic events. AMOR does host a free Dia de los Muertos event, but their mission is to embrace and include all cultures. Aside from Dia de los Muertos, AMOR also hosts Alabama Coffee Fest, Diwali, Holi, Multicultural Street Fair, and Nights Out at Pizitz Food Hall. I got to see them at the Cherry Blossom Festival, and I hope it happens again soon!

Covid-19 changed everything for them this year. AMOR engages the community through public events, which are cancelled or postponed until further notice. Keeping people safe outweighs hosting events during this pandemic. Right now they are trying to figure out what will be the new norm.

Investing in equipment for online events poses a risk, especially since they canceled their main fundraiser. However, they are open for donations and offering gifts for different donation levels. For a $50 donation, you will receive an AMOR t-shirt, sticker, and added to their website as a community partner.

On his heritage

Roberto likes to say he was born and raised in Texas but grew up in Alabama. He grew up on the boarder, learning about many different cultures. If you want a glimpse into what that is like, he recommends watching Selena. His favorite part about his heritage is the diversity within Latino countries. No one person or culture is the same. Within the same culture, people can serve unique foods, speak other languages, and offer different variations of beauty.

The Hispanic community in Birmingham is very much united. They are always willing to help and promote their culture.

Roberto Hernandez

There is also a huge emphasis on family in many Latino cultures that he appreciates and sees reflected in the Hispanic community here in Birmingham. The family, friendship, and kindness of Birmingham’s Hispanic community keeps him connected with his Mexican-American identity.

Birmingham offers many Hispanic events usually and restaurants to enjoy. These moments offer tiny celebrations throughout year that highlight the servant leadership of the community. Birmingham’s Hispanic community may be small, but it is well connected.

What’s your favorite cultural celebration in Birmingham? Let us know @bhamnow!

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