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Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight

“I am proud of everything in my culture, especially the traits that enable me to be a hard worker and a compassionate individual. Understanding different cultures and being accepting of them has granted me a unique insight into my relationships with others. I bring those values into the workplace, and they allow me to support others, give me the ability to be friendly and approachable, and help me become more successful. Success is all about hard work and determination, and it is due to my personal goal and desire to contribute and give back to the community that I am able to multitask so efficiently. I grew up in a big family in Panamá with 10 brothers and sisters, and family celebrations included all family members, and I cherish all my memories of them. From my family I learned to make sure that I am always available to others. For example, when I meet with parents in the community, especially at events such as Coffee and Conversation with the Superintendent and Community Forums, it is a great advantage to be able to communicate with them in Spanish. I always provide opportunities for parents and staff to meet with me, such as during my Open Office Hours. My approachability is due to my cultural values of humility, kindness, and compassion.” 

Dr. Patricia Garcia, Superintendent of Schools

“I am very proud of my heritage – I was born in Puerto Rico, but moved to Connecticut when I was five. Assimilating into American culture was a challenge, since peer pressure and a desire to be accepted and have friends drives so many of your decisions at that age. It wasn’t until college, for me, that I learned to appreciate my culture. I rediscovered my heritage through dance in particular, and thanks to the support system of cultural clubs and activities in college, one day it clicked: ‘This is so cool.’ I learned facets of my culture that I began to be proud of: salsa, merengue, bachata, you name it! Dancing became an outlet, and initially, when I first learned to dance, it was all about the steps. But later, I learned that dance is more about the music, the passion. Dance is like the field of education in that way – there’s a process of learning that starts with the basics, but without the passion, it’s just a job, not a career. When someone has a passion for something, you can express yourself better, and it shines through everything you do and have: your character, your integrity, your ability to communicate, and most importantly, your capacity to empathize and connect to others.”

Miguel Pabón, Director of Pupil Services


“I like to drink my cafecito at 5 in the morning, every morning, and then again at noon. The coffee has to be black and strong, without sugar or milk. And just as important as the coffee, of course, is the food. I like to cook a lot, and my food is very tasty. I learned to cook from my mom, and every time I cook I am reminded of her in the kitchen. But if you cook, you have to share it with the people you care about! We are very humble, and so building relationships with other human beings reflects that – people have become closer to me because of my manner of being, because others can be relaxed and their true selves around me. And also, I am always happy! Always singing! At work I am always humming and whistling and singing a lot of typical Puerto Rican music and salsa, dancing while I do my duties, always with good humor.”

– Felix Ayala, Head Custodian for Kramer Building 


 “I’m Mexican, so as everyone knows, we’re really hard workers. That shows in my work – I always go above and beyond, and make sure that everything is done to the best of my ability. It’s particularly important when I’m cleaning the Early Childhood Center, since I need to make sure that everything is clean so the little kids don’t get sick. I take that responsibility seriously, and I take pride in my work. I also take pride in my family, especially my children. Everyone also knows that Mexicans are very family orientated, so I always try to go to my daughter’s events. And, even though I came here when I was five, I still keep the culture of eating dinner together, as a family, whenever possible, which I think is something that a lot of people unfortunately don’t do.”

- Pablo Hernandez-Reyes, Kramer Building Custodian


 “Although I was born in the Iowa farmlands, I identify as Hispanic at heart. I lived 23 years in Honduras, and 3 in Guatemala. A lot of my most memorable memories took place there – my oldest son was born in Honduras, and I also met my wife there. I learned Spanish there, and fell in love with the Latino culture there, but more than that, I learned the Honduran way of life. I’m in Willimantic because I wanted a job in a community that had a large Hispanic population not only because that’s where I’m the most comfortable, but because as a bilingual professional, I felt I could help make a difference. I love to travel and have been to all Central American countries. This is my last year before retirement, and the next stage for my wife and I will be traveling throughout South America.”
- Bill Stover, Director of Family and Community Partnerships Department


 “My cultures have taught me many things, but one that always stands out is perseverance. No matter what, we always persevere, and I try to bring that power into my life. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, in the mountains. Because of my childhood, I have a strong connection to nature, and a passion for plants and animals. My mother is Chilean, and from her side I gained a devotion for art in all forms. Everything I am today, I owe to my parents, and the sacrifices that previous generations had to make. I love deeply – I cherish my family (including my pets!) and my friends – and I care for everyone. I try to apply all that I inherited from my ancestors to my work, including my love affair with cooking and food, but I especially need our past histories to remind me to always persevere.”

- Laura Pérez-Handler, Secretary for ESOL, Bilingual Education, & World Languages Department + Public Information Office


“I am very proud… of everything! I am proud to be Puerto Rican; of my country, my roots. The experiences I have lived through have helped me in everything I do now – to further understand, comprehend, and empathize with the situations of the environment that surrounds a lot of the people I work to help. If it wasn’t for my past of being in need and without a sure home, I would not be able to help others like I do. My Spanish also helps a lot too, since about 90% of the homeless families and students I work with don’t speak English very well. This is even more important recently, with all the displaced immigrants we are receiving from Hurricane Maria.”

 – Wineida Cruz Diaz, Homeless Family Support/Family Outreach Worker


  “We are hardworking people – we always arise to a challenge. We don’t get intimidated easily. You can’t, because leaving your country, and going to a whole new place, and having to learn a lot of strange stuff – well, that can be scary. But you just have to be brave and remember that the sky is the limit. When I came here, I knew my personal priority was to send my kids to college, and I always told them that: ‘the sky is the limit.’ My husband and I, we did that. My son just got his Masters! Now my target is for me to finish school. I have a degree in my country, Panamá, but now I am looking forward to getting a degree in the United States.”  

Omaira Sanchez, Administrative Assistant for Assistant Superintendent of Teaching, Learning, & Leadership 


“Food! Puerto Rican culture is very family orientated, and family joins around food. As a person who loves to eat and loves her friends and family, it is natural to bring that part of me into work. Lunchtimes, when we’re not too busy, are a great time in our department, with delicious food, cheesecake parties, and take-out from all the unique food places Willimantic has to offer. Food is everything!”  

–  Erika Garcia, Administrative Assistant for Human Resources 



  “My favorite aspect of Puerto Rican culture is the music! Food starts the party, but music ends it! Just bring some instruments, and it’s a wrap. One of my most treasured memories from when I was little is my father teaching me how to play congas – I still have the little ones, because my dad still won’t let me use the big ones! Partying is just a celebration, and that’s another aspect of my culture that I cherish – everything in life is a celebration! People should always be celebrated for who they are and recognized for their accomplishments – and I always do so with cheesecake.”

 – Taina Hernandez, Benefits Coordinator/Specialist in Human Resources 


 “Something that I cherish and miss a lot about Puerto Rico is the landscape, especially the beaches. This summer I took a vacation to PR and visited the beach, caves, waterfalls, and forests. It was the first time I got to go in 7 years, and it was very important to me to show my kids where I’m from. I also got to see my family and share with them, a time I will always value. When I came back to work I felt refreshed. It’s really important to visit your roots in order for you to be emotionally healthy and the most efficient at what you do. Now that I’m back, I look forward to continuing the culture of food we have created in our department – our own way of staying true to ourselves.”  

Yesenia Rodriguez, Administrative Assistant for Human Resources