September is Hispanic-American Heritage Month
Javier Carrillo Cortez is an Intake Specialist the Office of Student Access and Wellness at Ashford University. While I have the pleasure of working with Javier, we first met during our graduate degree program. He has been a fellow student, a coworker, and a friend, and I was proud to have the opportunity to speak to Javier for Hispanic American Heritage Month.
Bridging the Cultural Divide: Words, Attitudes, and Actions Matter
While Hispanic American Heritage Month is meant to celebrate culture, even the name of this observance underscores a long tradition of cultural misunderstanding.
Javier pointed out that there is no catchall term to describe the many peoples recognized during this observance, held annually from mid-September to mid-October. While the terms “Hispanic” or “Latino” are frequently used in the United States, Javier notes that every person’s experience, personal preference, and cultural identity is unique. He explains, “Even within Latin America, there are different people, different tribes . . . different naming conventions, and people don't appreciate when they’re called something they’re not.”
Unfortunately, the misconceptions that Javier has experienced regarding his cultural background run deeper than the difference between ethonyms.
With the current quagmire of debate regarding immigration policy, Javier has experienced plenty of false assumptions about his culture. “The worst assumption is that we are here to steal jobs, change the language, and commit crimes. Latinos are hard-working people who want to contribute to the community and maintain pride in our heritage.”
Education: The Path to Understanding
While Javier has faced his share of adversity, his personal experiences have fostered an unshakable sense of pride. One source of strength he was eager to share was his education. “I graduated from a counseling program that focused on personal growth and encouraged me to be proud of where I came from. Education gave me the tools and historical context to understand my heritage, so that I could embrace it.”
It’s clear that culture and education go hand in hand in Javier’s life.
In the Office of Student Access and Wellness, Javier supports students in reaching their educational goals by coordinating disability support services and helping the University community understand issues related to the impact of disability in higher education.
When discussing how preconceived notions have impacted his life, Javier describes having “felt like an outsider,” and has parlayed his experience to be more effective in his current role. “People who have disabilities can also feel like outsiders. Being a part of this department helps me foster a community of inclusion with appreciation of individual differences, abilities, and contributions.”
Living, Learning, and Giving Back
While assisting students with disabilities is rewarding, Javier also finds time to give back to his community. “I actually volunteer a lot, working with high school students, getting information to younger Latino American, Hispanic American, and Mexican American students about how to apply for financial aid . . . and supporting their interest in going to college.”
Javier’s personal journey is one from which we can all learn. His ability to translate his own experiences and use them to relate to others has proved an invaluable contribution to the Office of Student Access and Wellness. I could not be more proud to be on the same team as someone who has so seamlessly applied what he’s learned to what he does every day.
Find out more about Hispanic American Heritage Month.
Written by: Samuel Harvey
Sam is the Content Specialist for the Office of Student Access and Wellness at Ashford University.