Being Latinx: The Bigger Picture.
My full name is Suyapa Soreyda Benedit Mejía de Begley. Now I go by Soreyda Benedit-Begley, to simplify things. I’m Afro-Latina. My father was black (Garifuna-Honduran) and my mother was an indigenous Honduran descendant of the Mayan people.
Let me explain my name.
Suyapa: “Suyapa” is the patron virgin of Honduras. Roman Catholic. I was born on February 3rd which happens to be the Day of Virgen de Suyapa. So go figure!
Soreyda: a result of bad handwriting. It was supposed to be Soveyda.
Benedit: British origin. My father’s last name. His mother was from the Bay Island of Honduras which is a former British colony.
Mejía: Spanish origin. My paternal grandfather’s last name.
Begley: my American husband’s last name.
If you ever ask a Latinx person about their heritage/name, you are very likely to get an explanation like the one above. Latinx are one of the most diverse ethnic grounds in the world. As a result of colonialism and migration, Latinx people can be Afro-Latinx, Asian-Latinx, Jew-Latinx, etc, etc. The possibilities are endless!
Some Helpful Vocabulary
Latinx: a person of Latin American origin or descent (used as a gender-neutral or nonbinary alternative to Latino or Latina). Pronounced \luh-TEE-neks\
Latin American: a native or inhabitant of the region of Latin America
adjective-relating to Spain or to Spanish-speaking countries, especially those of Latin America.
noun-a Spanish-speaking person living in the US, especially one of Latin American descent.
Afro-Latinx: Afro-Latin American or Black Latin American, refers to Latin Americans of significant or mainly African ancestry
Maya: The Maya have lived in Central America for many centuries. They are one of the many Pre-Columbian native peoples of Mesoamerica. In the past and today, they occupy Guatemala, adjacent portions of Chiapas and Tabasco, the whole of the Yucatan Peninsula, Belize, and the western edges of Honduras and Salvador.
Garífuna: The Garifuna people are a mixed African and indigenous people originally from the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent that live mainly along the Caribbean coast of northern Central America.
As an activist and educator, I’m committed to creating awareness of our diverse heritage and fighting stereotypes that Latinx people in America are usually placed under. Some of the stereotypes associated with Latinx have a big influence on our lives. They impact our emotional, social, and economic well being. Some of the most common misconceptions are:
1. Most Latinx are illegal: No human being is illegal. Over 80% of Latinx living in the United States are US citizens or permanent residents.
2. Latinx only speak Spanish: Latinx speak over 500 different languages. The top 3 spoken languages in Latin America are Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch. Many Latinx are multilingual.
3. Latinx are uneducated or don’t care about education: According to the Pew Research Center, the issue of education is an important one for Hispanics. 83% cited education as very important in their vote in the 2016 election, ranking it alongside the economy, health care, and terrorism as a top issue. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that came to be under President Barack Obama’s to provide a reprieve from deportation to young people who came to the United States as children. According to the Center for American Progress, slightly more than one-third of DACA recipients are enrolled in school, but hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients work in a variety of fields, including office and administrative support, sales, management and business, education and training, and health.
4. Latinx immigrants take our jobs and don’t pay taxes: The Service Employees International Union states: “The largest wave of immigration to the U.S. since the early 1900s coincided with our lowest national unemployment rate and fastest economic growth. Immigrants create new jobs by forming new businesses, buying homes, spending their incomes on American goods and services, paying taxes, and raising the productivity of U.S. businesses.”
American Voices reports that immigrants, including those without documentation, pay billions of dollars in taxes to federal, state, and local governments every year. Immigrants paid $405.4 billion in taxes in 2017, including an estimated $27.2 billion in taxes paid by undocumented immigrants. However, some of these immigrants are unable to benefit from programs such as Social Security and Medicaid, which are only accessible to permanent residents and U.S. citizens.
And my “favorite”…
5. Latina women are hot! This idea comes mainly from the way women have been perpetrated in the media. In a study published in the USC Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism, researchers found that of the 100 top-grossing films of 2016, only 3% of roles were occupied by Latinxs — and of that, one-fourth of the women cast were either nude or in sexy attire. Latinx girls are sexualized at a younger age causing many self steam and body image issues. There are many more misconceptions or stereotypes, unfortunately, but for now, we are going to stop here.
Latinx In Lexington
I have been in Lexington for over 20 years. When I first came here, the Latinx/Hispanics were 3.29% of the population. By 2020 it has doubled. There are now several Latinx-focused and lead organizations including Casa de la Cultura Hispana de Kentucky and Foundation for Latinoamerica Arts and Culture. These organizations have provided us with platforms on which to showcase our culture and also gain visibility. The Festival Latino de Lexington, that’s usually held the second weekend of September, is one of the largest festivals in the city. We still lack proportional representation within local and state government but I’m optimistic that this will change within the next 10 years. Many young immigrants and Kentucky born Latinx are getting more involved in the political and civic arena.
The horse industry’s survival depends heavily on Latinx immigrant labor. Farming, healthcare, construction, and food service industries also rely on the work of Latinx workers. We are here to stay. Despite the labels, stereotypes, and cultural and language barriers, we have managed to set a path for the next generation of Latinx. We value family and heritage. We love and laugh and dance and enjoy delicious food, sometimes all at once. We invite you to explore our world and understand and respect our spaces and existence. We don’t deserve to be sterilized against our will, to be placed in a box or cages.
And in the words of Nobel price winner, Rigoberta Menchu:
“We are not myths of the past, ruins in the jungle, or zoos. We are people and we want to be respected, not to be victims of intolerance and racism.”
About the Author: Soreyda Benedit-Begley is a fashion designer, radio host, community organizer, and activist. Originally from Honduras, she is now based in Lexington, Kentucky.