Hispanic Heritage Month
The celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month is officially underway. We are excited at The I See You Company to recognize AND celebrate the contributions of Latino and Hispanic Americans this month.
For me, celebrating this month is VERY important. It’s a chance to recognize all that has been contributed by Hispanic and Latino Americans, but it’s also a time to celebrate my own family heritage.
My name is Ashley Nicole Beckham (Johnson)………Yup……..Let me call it what it is.
I have the whitest of white girl names ---- if I don’t say so myself!
But I am the proud granddaughter of Tomasa Escobar and great niece to Filomena Maria Escobar.
When you look at me, you don’t see Tomasa……or Filomena.
But when you listen to me speak, you may hear my Grandmother’s passion coming through. You may feel Aunt Mena’s compassion for others through in my actions.
Growing up, when it came to checking the ethnicity box, I would always check Hispanic because we weren’t allowed to check more than one (SMH)!
Checking WHITE w/out Hispanic was NOT an option because at an early age I knew that it erased and disregarded my Mother’s side of the family.
Thank God there is now an “OTHER” or Two or More Ethnicities category!
See its something so simple, but yet so very important to me.
I’m that girl who got the eye rolls at the doctor’s office when I would say my ethnicity of WHITE was incorrect; I’m not just White. I’m also Hispanic!
Growing up, my Mom often shared that she always felt her name, Lynelle Sharlene Smith, did not who reflect who she was or where she came from.
She was proud of her heritage and wanted her name to echo this.
See, I never experienced the racism my Mother did for being Hispanic.
Do I look like the all-American white girl? Absolutely.
Does my name reflect it? Even more so.
Do I receive the benefits of white privilege? More times than I had realized.
But every time I have the opportunity to celebrate my family and our Hispanic heritage, I’m proud to be able to do so.
But there was an interesting dynamic growing up with a foot in almost two worlds.
I witnessed on a weekly basis my Grandmother and Aunt speaking Spanish at a firey pace while my Grandpa was out of the room and then instantly stop speaking Spanish when he came back.
In our family, however proud our Grandfather was to have married a beautiful El Salvadorian woman, he made it very clear now that she was in America and needed to “speak American.”
And though my Grandmother and her sister would speak Spanish together, my Mom didn’t learn Spanish.
Grandma wasn’t allowed to teach her because they needed to be an “American family” AND at a certain age she didn’t want to be any more different than she already was made to feel.
But a gift from my childhood came from weekdays after school spent with Grandma, watching our soap operas or “telenovelas” and sharing stories.
Grandma was a devout Catholic and told us many bible stories with her strong accent. To the point I argued with my Mom that it’s not pronounced Paradise…………..it’s Paradice because that’s how Grandma said it!
Sundays were always a day for family meals.
Beans and hamhock. Homemade tortillas made by Aunt Mena on the cast iron skillet that was well past their prime, but she’d never throw out because they cooked the tortillas perfectly.
November and December were spent gathering with Aunt Mena’s friends who would make tamales for the holidays.
Our childhood was filled with stories from grandma of what growing up in El Salvadaor was like.
How little they had. That they slept on the dirt floor or hammocks. How hard grandma and Aunt Mena had to work at such a young age. But again, the conversations ceased when grandpa was around.
I always wanted to speak Spanish with my Grandma and Aunt Mena, but I could only count to 10 and Grandma was never willing to teach us.
But our Mother always said, “You need to learn to speak Spanish. You need to know this part of your culture. It’s very important.”
At 16 years old, I finally had the opportunity to fulfil this dream.
A dream of being able to speak with my Grandma and Aunt Mena, in their mother tongue and be able to understand every single word.
I moved to General Pinto, Buenos Aires, Argentina where I would live for 11 months as a Rotary International Exchange Student.
I’ll never forget when it clicked. They tell you when you dream in the language you are learning, that’s when it clicks……That’s when you will become fluent.
On Christmas Eve no less, I dreamed in Spanish or in my case, Castellano (Argentine Spanish), for the first time. And on Christmas Day, I called my family and had a hard time speaking English!
But I could speak with Aunt Mena and Grandma in Spanish for the first time EVER.
They were all on the phone listening to me raddle off whatever felt important at the time.
But I remember thinking my Grandma and Aunt Mena’s voices were different and they spoke so fast. I could feel their firey spirits in their mother tongue.
I came home from my exchange to be able to have a completely different experience with my Grandmother and Great Aunt.
I saw them as different women than I was raised with. There was so much more to them that I understood prior to learning Spanish.
They were opinionated. They were loud. They showed excitement in conversation. They even said a bad word or two!
But you see, as life often goes………..you live and you learn.
After being home for 6-months and only speaking Spanish when I was with my Grandmother, my Grandpa joined us at the table and said, “I’m so glad you still speak Spanish with your Grandma.” I told him, “Of course I will, always.” He said, “I really regret not letting you all speak Spanish years ago because I see how happy it makes her and how important it is.”
WOW! That’s life for you right there!
I always knew my Grandfather was a stubborn, hard-headed man. The truth is he was a racist man. He almost lost his grandkids over his racism because it was so bad.
However, on his death bed, my senior year in high school he asked me a question I’ll never forget. He said, “When you’re applying to college and for scholarships, do you check White or Hispanic?” I told him if I can only check one box, I check Hispanic, because white erases everything about Grandma.
He said, “You always check Hispanic, because your Grandma isn’t the only one who’s Hispanic!”
Say WHAT????? My mouth dropped to the floor!
But he went on to tell me, “My Mother was Spanish…From Spain and my father was German. So, you always check that Hispanic box and be proud of where you come from.”
The truth is there was a lot we didn’t know about Grandpa, but we knew he had lived a hard life.
The gift of his honesty and this conversation has never left me.
After his passing, I accompanied my Grandma to El Salvador in 2003 for her first time back to her mother country since 1947……
Let me do some quick math for you…..that’s 55 years later.
Grandma Tommie came to the states a nurse with plans to return a year later and become a nun. But before she was set to return to El Salvador, my grandpa proposed and they started a new life in Eureka, CA.
She did not return to her homeland until she was 80 years old!
Grandma and I walked into the terminal in San Salvador, El Salvador, to view a sea of Escobars waiting for her! They all rushed past me to embraced her with balloons, tears, hugs and many kisses.
They were all asking where her Granddaughter, Ashley, was.
They were looking for another little Latina named Ashley. Not the blonde-haired white girl who stood beside them understanding every bit of what they were saying and enjoying watching this amazing moment.
As time went on and Grandma came into her 90s our Spanish conversations were less and less frequent because she couldn’t hear me on the phone.
But ironically she transitioned back to speaking Spanish more so in her final year.
I now get to be the one that busts out Spanish when you least expect it.
I may have an accent and get the verbs and/or tenses wrong, but I will always try.
I will never take for granted the gift of learning Spanish and how it was able to bridge that gap in my family.
In the spirit of Hispanic Heritage Month, I hope you enjoy learning a little bit about where I came from. Learning about these amazingly inspiring Hispanic women have shaped much of who I am.
And it is with no surprise how so much of The I See You Company was inspired by the interaction between our Father and another beautiful Hispanic woman.
Our Grandmother is even featured on our website, social media and I See You® Candle packaging because she loved blowing out candles to make a wish and was one of our biggest supporters from day one!
We all have a story. And you CANNOT tell someone’s story by just looking at them or what the headline wants to tell us.
But these stories do unite us. They build bridges when we take the time to realize we are more similar than we are different.
My name is Ashley Nicole Beckham. My ethnicity is Hispanic and White. I may not look like the boxes I check, but the blood that runs through my veins esta celebrando esta mes que reconoce nuestra cultura y la contribucion de todos los hispanicos y latinos en Los Estados Unidos!