Joey is a seventh-grader at AF Summit Middle School. This Hispanic Heritage Month, we sat down with him and his mom, Sunshine Ortiz, to talk about the importance of culture. Why is Hispanic Heritage Month meaningful to you? Sunshine: We came from Puerto Rico, and not many people know the struggles that my family went to just to get here. I am Puerto Rican and proud. This month means a lot to me. Joey: I think of it as a special month, because I’m Hispanic, and the things I hear about Hispanics on the street isn’t always good. It’s nice to have a positive focus. It makes me think about how I see myself in a couple of years, being a Hispanic man and coming back to help out my city or help animals. What does it mean to be from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria? Sunshine: We are really involved with family because family is very important in our culture. We like to gather a lot. So many people in Hartford, it feels like 80% of us, we all have family out there in Puerto Rico. So right now, with the hurricane, everyone is really worried and trying to be OK, but without communication it’s hard. But it helps because a lot of people gathered in front of one of our local clothing stores—they had a big gathering just collecting donations to send out to Puerto Rico. People are also wearing red to show our love. Times like this one show you how much we can come together. Joey: I think about it a lot and want everyone to be OK. Can you tell us more about how you feel about your heritage? Sunshine: I think it’s a little more difficult for us than it is for the average American to move forward in life. People can look at us differently, or in a negative way – because a lot of times being Puerto Rican means coming from struggle. I can find it quite challenging, but also inspiring. There are quite incredible Hispanics who really move forward and help out in the community. Joey: When I think about being Puerto Rican I think about our language, Spanish, and just how nice and welcoming everybody is. We’re really easy to interact with, and we’re always making new friends and meeting people. I also think about how nice it is in Puerto Rico. I like the beaches there. And what about food and music? Sunshine: My favorite thing about the culture is our food. Our food is the best. I can’t pick one favorite food. I could never stop talking about this. As I talk to you right now, I am cooking some white rice, white beans with potatoes, chicken sautéed with onions and peppers, plantains and a salad. In my family, we also like Spanish music—salsa and merengue. We like to dance and have a good time and forget our worries. Joey: I love the food. We eat rice and beans and chuletas, which are like pork chops, and all sorts of different things. What do you see for Joey’s future? How does his heritage influence who he is? Sunshine: I want Joey to always be proud of who he is, and I know he is going to be successful. So far AF Summit has broadened his horizons, and I know he has the motivation and ambition in him to succeed in whatever he wants to do. Joey: I don’t see too many Hispanic heroes and that’s one reason why I want to succeed. In my old school, my teachers thought I wasn’t on the brighter side—I was always under reading level, not having good grades. But I have always put in effort. Now I’m at AF Summit, I’m always on reading level, I’m getting good grades, and I’m on the honor roll, the Principal’s List and the Dean’s List. It’s really opened my eyes that I’m smarter than my teachers at my old school told me. And I know I will always put in effort. I’m going to succeed either by being a veterinarian, or doing what my uncle does, which is helping out people in Hartford and helping people get into good schools.