Conner Knuckols | The Communicator
Hispanic Heratige Month: overcoming diversity
Clayton Kraft | The Communicator
The topic was overcoming adversity, and each of the speakers for SFCC’s Hispanic Heritage event had a story to tell.
The event included SFCC student and President of the Alliance Club Hector Barrios, Yakima Executive Director of teaching and learning and founder of district wide education program HAAP (Hispanic Academic Achievers Program) Irene Gonzales, and local business owner Sergio DeLeon.
Barrios traveled to America through it’s southern border twice. He can’t remember the first time, but the second has stayed with him.
“I remember coming over when I young, even my parents can’t remember exactly how old I was,” Barrios said. “We got to a place where it was dark, with a big fence and a muddy tunnel...All I could see was my parents covered in mud, I was covered in mud.
“I said to my mother I wanted to go home.”
School was difficult because of discrimination both obvious and discrete.
“It was 80/20 hispanic to anglo in my school, but we were still the one’s being pick on for the color of our skin,” Barrios said. “I on myself to get rid of my accent because I did not want to be picked on.”
Barrios wasn’t the only one to have had difficulty because of their skin color in school.
“Every time we spoke Spanish we’d get our hands slapped by a ruler in school,” Yakima Principle Irene Gonzales said. “We didn’t understand what they were yelling at us for, but we knew what we were doing must be bad.”
Gonzales stayed in school while working as a dishwasher at a local restaurant, and when she neared the end of high school she went to see a counselor to get some help applying for college.
“My counselor said: ‘Irene, you have such a great job washing dishes, why would you throw that away,’” Gonzales said, though she persisted that she wanted to go to college until he pulled her records. “He said: ‘Irene you are 2% college bound material, let’s not waste my time and yours,’ and he left.”
Despite these adversities and the occasionally outright discrimination, the speakers felt the key to success is persistence in the face of that difficulty. Sergio DeLeon spent his early life moving and working jobs, sometimes two or three at a time.
“Growing up everyone in my family were residents of the United States except my sister and I,” said DeLeon, owner of Northwest Freight Handlers. “I worked a lot of jobs, and I faced trouble like the other speakers sometimes, but when I had my baby I decided I didn’t want to continue this life of moving around so much.”
DeLeon founded his business in the same field he’d been working in for years, freight. Though starting small, now he has over a hundred employees and his business makes about five million dollars a year.
“I got tired of working for other people so I got my business license, I wanted to open my own warehousing business,” said DeLeon. “I started Northwest Freight Handlers in the 90’s and right now, we have about 100 employees with total sales a little over 5 million a year.
“We love Spokane, and while there’s negatives about race, I think we’re all born to succeed in life, you just follow your dreams and do what you are meant to do.”