Creating A Home Away From Home by Monica Calleja

Living far from your country, family, traditions, and culture is a feeling that only an immigrant can experience. We have our hearts divided by the love of the land where we were born and this new land where our children are growing up.

Very early on, living in the USA, I recognized that feeling. Your children are learning other languages and customs and they are eager to belong and to be accepted. They start talking among themselves in English and you are worried that they are losing something really important, a big part of their identity. I have always felt proud of my roots and heritage as Mexican, but the reality was that my children and the children of many immigrant parents in Kentucky do not have many opportunities to experience that pride. Twenty years ago Kentucky had a small population of Latinos living permanently in the state in comparison with other states such as California, Texas, New Mexico, New York, Illinois, Florida, etc. In such states, festivals, museums, cultural programs, and ways of communication dedicated to the Latino community were common an in abundant amount, but here, in Kentucky, for many years we only had two days a year to celebrate our heritage during the Festival Latino.

I believe that it is important that children and youth know about their roots, which helps to create a sense of wholeness that builds self-esteem and nurtures pride in their heritage. This provides the foundation in which the individual can construct his/her identity.

Occasionally, and due to stigma and labels that our society still associates with ethnicity, some young people decide to renounce their cultural heritage in order to be accepted by their community. But that cultural heritage is a part of them and to deny it is to deny a part of what makes them who they are.

This is something I am passionate about – giving everybody the space to celebrate their culture all year round and learn from each other.

It was clear to me that there was a need in our community, so what about it? Should I do something about it, should I get involved, suggest a change in other organizations’ activities, should I even bother that much to take action? The reality is that many people ask themselves this. We all have ideas and suggestions, but do we dare to do something about it? Or is it just like a pebble in the shoe that bothers us, but not enough to stop, remove the shoe, and remove the pebble? It is really difficult to go from having an idea to making it happen. I know because it has been hard for me.

I am not special or different, but that does not mean I don’t have good qualities. I am stubborn but patient, I have low self-confidence but I am very creative.  I thought that if I were to start something, it might not work, and it might consume my time and money. Should I dare to start something? Yes, I dare, and I did. I made flyers inviting people to a piñatas workshop and guess what? People showed up.

The truth is that you have to take the first step and conquer your doubts and fears of failure, and trust me – it is not easy but it is worth it. However, I have to keep going because this need in the community will not be satisfied with only one workshop. The truth is that the next step in making this idea grow is to accept that you can’t do everything. I have been blessed with people with the same passion and with important skills that I don’t have. Accepting that I needed help has made it possible to grow. The first person who walked into the piñata workshop, Miranda Brown, has become one of my best friends and an important backbone for what was to become Casa de la Cultura Kentucky. Following her, an amazing group of people pulled time, resources, and knowledge to make Casa de la Cultura Kentucky grow into what it is now.

It has been a 7-year project to create an organization that could provide spaces, and programs to fulfill the needs of our community. We still have a long way to go but, when I look back to what has been done, I know the sacrifice has been worth it. We work to create a community of multicultural understanding and acceptance, where we can value and respect each other’s differences. Every day, Casa de la Cultura Kentucky unites families through the common ground of cultural heritage, celebrating our traditions and language.

About the Author: Monica Calleja is the Founder and Director at Casa de la Cultura de Kentucky. Casa de la Cultura Kentucky was created to promote Latino culture and encourage the learning and use of the Spanish language through various educational and creative programs and activities. She wants young people to learn about Hispanic culture and heritage, so they know who they are and where they come from.