Hispanic Voices Series: Marcela, El Salvador

September 15th is the start of Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States and to celebrate our Latina sisters, we’ve interviewed a handful of participants for our Hispanic Voices Series to provide a platform to share while we learn a bit more about their background, family life and well… heritage.  

With each interview, we have added stories, recipes, and other resources that relate directly to that woman’s heritage that we hope you enjoy. If you would like to participate, we are accepting more interviewees through October 5th. Contact us at contact@belakharma.com if you would like to participate.

Welcome, Marcela from Fairfax, Virginia.  

What is your heritage/background?
El Salvador

Do you speak your families native language?   
Yes, Spanish. 

When did your family immigrate to the United States?

Do you still have family in El Salvador?  
Yes, my mom’s family 

The first generation that immigrated to the US in your family, are they still living?
Unfortunately no, my aunt passed away a couple of years ago.  She came to the US in the late 70s.

Did that generation openly discuss their reasons for coming here or dreams, aspirations etc?
My parents migrated here seeking refuge from the war conflict in El Salvador.  They hoped to live a peaceful life.

What languages were spoken in your home growing up?
Spanish  all the time

Did you find it difficult growing up here in the US with parents who were not from here?  
It is as if we are living in three worlds. Their world with traditional values that mean everything to them. My world as a child immigrant getting used to a new culture, yet able to remember as much as I could from my birth country. A third world being an expatriate not fully embedded in the Salvadorean community, easily navigating the life and adaptation to my mixed cultures.  Many first-generation dreamers never remember the country where they were born. I arrived in the US when I was 14 and as much as I love my cultural values, I added my adopted country’s traditions. Thanksgiving became my favorite holiday for all the values it represents: family and community. My friends prefer to speak English instead of their native first language because that is what allows them to communicate easier.

Growing up, did you participate in any coming of age rituals?  
Yes, way too many sweet 15 birthday parties. I myself chose to not go through with a party.  It is a wonderful celebration of society’s acceptance of a girl’s journey to womanhood.

As a mom, can you give an example or two of ways you are teaching your daughter to be proud of her heritage?

  1. My first goal was to teach my daughter Spanish and to integrate as much of our foods, and fun holidays for her to learn and enjoy.
  2. I took her to El Salvador to be familiar with her relatives and the land.  She enjoyed the trip so much she keeps asking for another holiday. She is only four, but she enjoys birthday parties with a couple of pinatas and cupcakes.

What is your take on the current administration and the outlook on immigration?
Hatch Act –  I am a contractor with the State Department.

Are there any organizations that you work with or donate money or time to that you would like to mention?
I volunteered for Project HOPE, based in Milwood, VA, 
to migrate their content from a previous host and redesign their new website in coordination with the project manager. I used my Spanish translation skills to update their IDEEL website.

Mentor – Next Generation for Global Health Security Network (NextGen) 

I mentor a graduate student in global health security and biodefense policy and global engagement on the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA).  We meet regularly to discuss career progress, regional events to listen to key stakeholders that advance health policy for the U.S. government.  We are also working on a research paper on health security and surveillance methods.

Do you identify specifically to your heritage only or do you identify as part of a Hispanic community and culture overall? 
I identify mainly as Salvadorean. However, it is difficult to not feel engaged as part of the Hispanic community as a group identity.  There is so much in common with traditional values that we share that it becomes second nature to feel pride in the culture.

Is there anything that worries you about Hispanic culture? 
That it is confused with nationalism. Many times having pride in our cultural heritage is misrepresented as not being American enough or loyal to this great country.  I feel pride in where my roots come from, where I was born, and the culture I share with millions of people. I still love the life I have built here.

What are you most proud of?  
I lead a simple life with big dreams and ambitions. I am most proud of the fact that I built my career on my own, without any special treatments, from a humble family of immigrants who sacrificed every hour of their time to support my goals.  I am so proud and grateful for their support.

What makes you laugh/happy?  
I love my little girl, she is silly and playful!  I can have a long day but as soon as I step home I find my treasure.  

First Hispanic woman that pops into your mind…

  • Author –  Isabel Allende
  • Legislator – Sonia Sotomayor
  • Singer – Gloria Estefan
  • Musician – Shakira
  • Athlete – Laurie Hernandez
  • Actress  – Jessica Alba
  • Activist – Rigoberta Minchu
  • Mother – My mom – Maria Lievano-
  • Dancer – Jennifer Lopez
  • Scientist – Dr Ellen Ochoa – NASA
  • Comedienne- America Ferrera

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