Hispanic culture focus of event

Published 10:46 am Thursday, January 8, 2009

More than 60 people packed a section of St. Edward Catholic Church in Austin Wednesday night for the Hispanic Cultural Awareness Evening. The event featured prayer, guest speaker Dan Hernandez and closed with authentic Hispanic cuisine.

Pastor Joe Fogal, who serves with both the St. Edward and St. Augustine parishes, said the night was hosted by the joint-parish council of his churches and was formed as a way to be more welcoming to the Hispanic community.

Hernandez, who is a member of St. Edward and the son of immigrants, spent his presentation touching on his background, giving an overview of the Hispanic culture and describing how that pertains to Austin.

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He also stressed the importance of one question.

When it comes to a cultural change in our community, will we choose to make it an asset or will we choose to make it a liability?

“I see it as a profound asset that can develop into a lot of rich experiences,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez works in marketing for Hormel Foods and has lived in Austin the past nine years. He was raised in San Francisco in a neighborhood where 99 percent of the families were immigrants, from Irish to German to Mexican to Cuban.

“I grew up with diversity so that’s my standard,” he said. “It’s so important when you expose your children, you expose them to rich experiences. I feel blessed growing up in so many diverse cultures. The only fights we had revolved around sports.”

Hernandez said there are 40 million Hispanics living in the United States, including two-thirds Mexicans, and added that all Hispanics share several cultural similarities, including language, the importance of family and a strong background in faith. One huge difference, however, is food, with each region having its own specialties.

Hernandez went on to say that a lot of Hispanics think only in the short term and that areas such as education and health, which require long-term commitments, aren’t usually a priority. He contributed some of that to pure economics.

“Hispanic kids have the highest drop-out rates by far,” he said, when it comes to education.

But Hernandez still stressed the importance of education and the importance of Hispanic parents embracing it for their children.

Hernandez then shifted his presentation to Austin.

“Not everyone welcomes the changes happening in Austin,” he said. “I see it at the post office. You can see people’s faces when a Mexican family comes in and struggles to do their business and the looks they get. It’s unfortunate.”

Once again, Hernandez focused on his main point.

“How do you take this change and turn it into an asset?” he said.

Hernandez also pointed out that some of the most important aspects in the Hispanic culture, faith, family and a strong work ethic, are also important in American culture as well.

Hernandez said he gave the presentation Wednesday night because he simply wants to give back after having been blessed in life. His mother spent her days as a fruit picker in Texas and California and now his son is a freshman at Harvard.

“I feel very blessed, and I have this profound need to give back,” he said. “Tell me in what other country can you go from immigrant to Harvard? So for me it would be very selfish not to give back.”

When it comes to different cultures, Hernandez said, the importance lies with setting a good example for our children.

“For your children’s sake, if they don’t think globally, they’re not going to succeed, and that’s reality,” he said.

Mayor Tom Stiehm was one of the dozens of audience members Wednesday night.

“Any time you get more information on a subject it’s a good,” he said. “It pretty much gives you a side of the issue and that’s good. There’s a negative side of this issue that city government has to deal with that the federal government doesn’t deal with.”

But Stiehm, like Hernandez, also stressed the importance of turning the cultural change in Austin into a positive.

“In the next five or six years, we’ll have 5,000 or 6,000 Hispanics, and they will all be legal, either citizens or on their way to being citizens,” he said. “And what are you going to look back on, a legacy of hate and fighting or a legacy of working together?”

Fogal said he was pleased with Wednesday night’s turnout.

“I thought it was quite positive,” he said. “People have come up to me and thanked me for doing it.”