Growing up Hispanic was confusing from time to time. I’m not white, I’m not black, well then what the heck am I — beige? Why can’t people pronounce the letter “J” in my name like an “H”?
Both my parents were born in different parts of Mexico and moved to San Antonio, Texas at a young age. At the time they were only able to say a couple words of English. The careers of their parents fit into what many would consider the typical Hispanic stereotype. My grandfather on my father’s side was a janitor for a Catholic church and for the school my father attended. My widowed grandmother on my mother’s side became a seamstress in a factory. Determined to overcome the difficulties of poverty, my father completed his degree as an engineer, joined the military and married my mother. San Antonio is where my two older brothers and I were born.
As an engineer my father lived the American Dream, rising through the ranks at AT&T. He had to relocate his family first to Kansas City and then, in the summer of 1989, to Greensboro where there was a minimal Hispanic population. In this new position there was only one other Hispanic professional he worked with, a man who was from Peru. This was the summer before I attended the fifth grade in a school where there were maybe five other Hispanic students.
Throughout my time at Guilford Middle School and Western Guilford High I do not remember there being more than 20 other students in the entire school from a Spanish-speaking country. Some of those students were from Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Mexico, from what I remember. I began Appalachian State University in 1997, where the minority population was a mere 2 percent; out of that, there were 98 Hispanics. I still remember the exact number. [pullquote]Today I order in Spanish for the $1 tacos at El Torito Taqueria food truck located next to Rice Toyota[/pullquote]
But our numbers in North Carolina keep increasing. Restaurants, food trucks and dance clubs display our culture. Spanish is in demand for some careers in the Triad. Organizations have grown.
Today I order in Spanish for the $1 tacos at El Torito Taqueria food truck located next to Rice Toyota and for fresh chorizo from El Mercadito 2 on Gate City Boulevard near the Habitat ReStore. In my college years I would go to Rumba Latina and Artistika; since then many other Hispanic clubs have popped up, simply for the enjoyment of my culture, dancing salsa, cha-cha, merengue and bachata with a variety of friends and family. Winston-Salem is the home of a salsa band called West End Mambo, which my wife and I follow with gusto. These forms of music originate from the Caribbean countries but touch lives throughout Latin America.
In every single position I’ve worked, Spanish has been extremely useful in one way or another. In 2010 I joined the Verizon Wireless Spanish team as an art director. Located at Pace Communications in Greensboro, this position was solely for Spanish-speaking business professionals. The team was extremely diverse with people from Colombia, Mexico, Puerto Rico and South Africa, as well as African Americans and white people.
Over the years I’ve belonged to the Latino Community Coalition and the North Carolina Society of Hispanic Professionals. In the fall of 2014 I joined the YMCA Latino Achievers of Forsyth County. The YLA program addresses the growing group of Hispanic/Latino students, and reaches out to high school and middle school students. By partnering with the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School System and Hispanic and/or bilingual community professionals, whom we call Adult Achievers, a career-based curriculum is used to show students the value and importance of a high school diploma. Program goals are to help each teen develop a positive sense of self, raise academic standards, expose students to diverse career options and provide role models whose success and knowledge will inspire youth to set and reach their goals.
Through the YLA in November 2014 I agreed to speak to East Forsyth High School thinking I would be speaking to about 20 students. It turned out be 120! That many Hispanic students in one school blew my mind. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to speak at four more schools and brought my father on to be a speaker as well. Currently, my father lives in Greensboro as a retired engineer and retired Army colonel.
When I first moved to the area I didn’t see that many Hispanics in the Triad, and it was difficult. I was challenged by trying to balance my rich heritage while being immersed in American culture. It was hard growing up and not having friends from the same background to relate to. It took time to find my sense of self and to discover the advantages of being uniquely different. Today I’m given the opportunity to enter the school system once more with a greater understanding and purpose: to share my knowledge and experiences and continuing to encourage others to be proud of where they come from.
Jorge Maturino is Triad City Beat’s art director and runs his own design business with Deo Duce Design.