Elon students speak to the richness of their Hispanic heritage

Four Elon students describe what their Hispanic heritage means to them.

Each year on Sept. 15, Hispanic Heritage Month kicks off as a celebration of the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

Often, Hispanic heritage is huddled together as an umbrella concept. But with a multitude of nationalities and cultures, each one unique, the distinctive qualities and experiences can be clouded. Each Hispanic person’s culture, interpretation of that culture and intersectionalities are different.

Several Elon students spoke with Today at Elon about what their Hispanic heritage means to them and how Hispanic Heritage Month, its values and purpose stretch far beyond the annual celebration.

Nicole Castillo ’26

Nicole Castillo ’26

My name is Nicole Castillo Fessenko. I am from Quito, Ecuador. I am 19 years old. And I am an immigrant.

Coming to the United States meant many things. A better future, a better life and a better education. But it also meant leaving my home, my roots, my family and my friends. Oh, and the amazing food, of course. But one of the things that worried me the most was losing a part of myself, losing my ability to embrace my culture. I grew up in a very diverse household. My mother is from Russia and my father is from Ecuador, and to this day, I ponder over the impact that has on my life.

Hispanic Heritage Month holds great significance as a celebration of cultural diversity. It is a time for individuals and communities to celebrate and embrace their rich and diverse culture. It’s an opportunity to recognize the importance of inclusivity and honor our background as Hispanic and Latinx.

Nicole Castillo, second from right, with her family.

As mentioned, I feared the absence of culture when moving to the United States. But within the Elon community, I was able to reconnect as well as learn from other Latinx cultures and practices. For me, Hispanic Heritage Month means a time when I can share my culture as well as learn from others. It’s a reminder of the value and beauty of embracing and understanding our culture and our identity.

Cristy Mariné ’25

Cristy Mariné ’25

Prior to college, Hispanic Heritage Month was a concept I had hardly heard of. Having been born in Venezuela and raised in the culturally diverse environment of South Florida, it often felt like the celebration of Latinx/Hispanic culture was a continuous part of my life. 

At Elon University, I have been able to deepen my understanding of what Hispanic Heritage Month is and what it means to me.

Working at El Centro, I’ve been able to not only expand my knowledge but also educate and share the richness of Latinx/Hispanic culture with others. While this designated month serves as a focal point for celebration, the appreciation of Latinx/Hispanic culture should be celebrated beyond this timeframe.

Cristy Mariné, second from left, with her family.

Daniela Maldonado ’25

Daniela Maldonado ’25

My Hispanic heritage has played an essential role in shaping my identity and the values I live by daily. The majority of my family are immigrants from El Salvador and Honduras, and their journey to the United States was only the beginning.

Their resilience led to establishing businesses and pursuing higher education, inspiring me to always honor the sacrifices made so that I could achieve my dreams.

In our vibrant culture, we express our love through shared moments of food, music and dance even when faced with adversities. The principles my family has taught me of love, humility and perseverance have rooted my life as a student, daughter and friend, reminding me of the beauty of my Latin heritage.

Daniela Maldonado, fourth from right, with her family.

As we celebrate the month of Hispanic Heritage, I hope others can also enjoy honoring the successes of the Latin community and most importantly valuing the stories of those around us.

Jose Torres-Reyes ’24

Jose Torres-Reyes ’24

Hispanic Heritage Month is about learning and celebrating the cultures, traditions and history of many different nations. I believe it is important to understand not only my heritage but those of similar and different backgrounds as well.

I was not aware of the many different ways people express themselves and show how they are proud of their background until I came to Elon. As I came from a diverse high school, I felt it was something that was just not mentioned enough or talked about as we all had similar experiences and backgrounds. It was like we did not need to teach each other about Hispanic Heritage Month and history because we already knew or believed everyone already knew. However, coming to Elon has changed my views on Hispanic History Month and how one can celebrate it.

My Hispanic heritage is and has always been very important to me and is a big part of me. It has shaped me to become the person I am today, from my food and music taste to the way I interact with others.