Latinx Heritage Month or Hispanic Heritage month (official government designation), recognizes and honors the enduring contributions and importance of Latinx Americans to the U.S. and celebrates the many heritages and cultures of Americans from or with ancestors from Mexico, the Caribbean, Spain, and Central and South America.
To celebrate Latinx Heritage Month we asked our colleague, District Partnerships Manager Roxana Amaral, to tell us a bit about her heritage, work in the community, and her role working in education.
What is your heritage?
I was born in Mexico and identify as Mexican and Latino. I am from the Tepic, Nayarit area, which has a very large indigenous population. I’m very connected and proud of our indigenous heritage. Ever since we were little kids, we were taught in my family to honor our ancestors and honor the people of the land. Kora and Huichol people are the indigenous ones of the land there.
Tell us a story from your family history
We immigrated to Seattle in 1989 when I was 5 or 6 years old. My father immigrated first with his brothers in search of the American Dream, as many immigrant peoples do. Myself and my mom and the other kids stayed back in Mexico for about a year until he collected enough money to bring us. We immigrated with just one suitcase. Our first home was a room in an immigrant workhouse in Ballard. There were many immigrant people who were basically being taken advantage of by owners of restaurants, and other businesses, due to the way it was easy to exploit their labor. The home was right next to the restaurant where many people worked – and it’s still there. All five of the family members stayed there in one room.
My mom and dad worked hard and were able to get a one-bedroom apartment. El Centro De La Raza helped our family navigate the school systems, supported us with funding, and provided Christmas presents and summer programming.
My kindergarten and 2nd grade teacher’s husband was a carpenter for Habitat for Humanity. They helped our family to apply and navigate the volunteer opportunity. We ended up qualifying to have a home built. So, in 3rd grade I moved to the Rainier Valley neighborhood and my family has been there ever since. It was life changing when we got the home, because the way Habitat works is that they help you build your home and you only pay for land and materials. So we were a low-income family who had a 3-bedroom home and a $300/month mortgage in Seattle. If it wasn’t for that and for the support we received from El Centro, there’s no way my family would’ve been able to lay the foundation they did.
Where/how do you fit into your family legacy?
My family – even in Mexico – and here, we have always been contributors to the community. Our family members all have different gifts. My mom passed away about 10 years ago. She has had such a deep impact on all the work the family does. My father is a musician. He left his home at 13 years old to go live in the city, where he met my mother. He worked in factories at a very young age and went to night school, and he became a self-taught musician along with his cousins. Music has always been such a deep part of our lives. We have become a big part of the Latino community and music world in Seattle.
Does your family have any local legacy/ties to local Latino culture/legacy here?
When we first immigrated in 1989 or so, it was a very small Latino community. There might be one Latino store and you would have to drive really far to get there. South Park was where there were more Latino people, but we had to travel as far as Lynwood to go to church. But, we were really connected to the community because my father was always involved as a musician. So, while he served as an emcee for events, I was always helping out, and volunteering at the festivals.
We kids are all musical as well. I did not continue it after high school, but my two brothers did. They have a band called Banda Vagos. With their band, we traveled all over the PNW and played at festivals, weddings, and Quinceneras. My brothers are very well-known musicians in the area now. The music is something we’ve been able to use to be connected to and serve the community, and that’s my family legacy. We emcee cultural events, and plan community service work in the area. We’ve been able to do work with El Centro, like hosting day of the dead events, etc. Whenever there’s a community event, we’ve been really lucky to be a part of it.
For me, I’ve always felt like being an educator was the most fulfilling. Being around young people and serving primarily the West Seattle area has been my way to serve the community.
I’ve also served on the El Centro Board in every capacity and have held the President position for the past three years. I am the first female president in the organization’s fifty year history.
Who is a Latinx/Hispanic hero who has influenced your journey working in education?
Two people come to mind. Estela Ortega (now the Executive Director) and Roberto Maestas, two of the co-founders of El Centro.
I graduated with an American Ethnic Studies degree with a Chicana studies specialization. I worked at the Red Apple on Beacon Hill and saw the workers from El Centro getting lunch, so I would ask them what kinds of jobs were coming up. Eventually, a role became open working in parent engagement. I didn’t have the right certifications and credentials they were looking for, but I applied anyway. I was so nervous and excited when I was interviewed by Estela Ortega and another department director. They let me know that they were not going to be interviewing me for the role I had applied for, but that they needed an administrative assistant for the executive director’s office, so I became the assistant to Estela and Roberto.
Estela was all about systems and building capacity, and Roberto was the one that was connected with all the people. They were a power team together and so inspiring to be around. Roberto was always helping someone – he would take the shirt right off his back to help people. In that role, I learned so much about what kinds of systems need to be in place to uplift and help marginalized communities.
Later on, there was an opportunity to work with young people and Estela knew I wanted to do that, so she asked if I was interested. I had the opportunity to start doing case management with Denny International Middle School.
Through that position, it was clear to me that education was the path that I wanted to pursue. I applied to get a Master’s in Teaching degree because I realized I wanted to be in the lives of students every day. I still remember the day I went into Estela’s office and I was crying when I told her I was accepted into a masters program and that I had to resign. She said “That’s what it’s about, mijita. We help you, grow you and build your capacity, and then you take it forward into community.”
It was later on after I got my teacher certificate that I had a position doing various different roles in Seattle Schools, including being the Proyecto Saber (a cultural affirmation leadership class for Latino students) teacher. I still got to work directly with El Centro and other youth organizations like Hope for Youth, Y-WE, etc. and it was so much fun.
Then there came an opportunity to serve on the board of El Centro and it all came full circle! So, Estela has been such an influential person in my life, a mentor and a supporter. She is an influential and empowering Latina who is all about uplifting other people!
The Amaral Family is celebrated
Earlier in October, it was the 50th anniversary of El Centro. Our entire family was publicly recognized for their contributions to the community. It was so cool because it was the first time my son Ruperto could really see what the family’s work is about.
He got up on stage with my brother with his trumpet and helped them play happy birthday to El Centro.
As Ruperto was talking to one of my mentors, he sat up tall and said, “I’m Latino too.” Roberto always said the work we’re doing is for the future generation, and it felt like I saw that happening in that moment.
Here is a video created for the El Centro de la Raza 50th anniversary event, Building the Beloved Community Gala, on October 8th, 2022.