Every year I get excited about this month, when we take a moment to focus on the great contributions Latinos have made to our country. Hispanic Heritage Month began on September 15, the anniversary of independence for five Latin American countries. As a Latina, I am always humbled learning the stories of so many Americans who have worked hard to make contributions to our country and at the same time are proud of their heritage. Hispanic Heritage Month also reminds me how fortunate I am that together with my colleagues and dedicated volunteers at the Girl Scout Council, we continue to see our Latina membership grow. We have more than 4,500 girls in our Council who identify themselves as Latinas.
Just last week I attended the Latino Leaders Network luncheon where CNN Anchor Soledad O’Brien talked about her upcoming CNN Special: Latinos in America. She talked about her heritage both as a first generation immigrant and the daughter of a Cuban mother. She repeated what her mom told her growing up, “You define yourself, no one defines you!” I believe that is also true for many of our Girl Scouts. I remember when I first came to the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital; we held an event on a Saturday for parents of Latina Girl Scouts to explain in their native language how their daughters would benefit from this opportunity. The experience for those parents to see young bilingual Latina Girl Scouts saying how sleep-away camp had given them more confidence and more courage was exactly what Girl Scouting is all about.
When we started Encuentro de Chicas Latinas five years ago, I never thought that it would become such a well respected program on a national level. This annual conference brings together, in a college setting, 300 Latinas from the Greater Washington Region. It also involves an illustrious list of Latina leaders who act as mentors and are catalysts for discussions about culture and experience. Many of the girls who come to Encuentro learn about Girl Scouting for the first time through this experience and return to their communities to start troops and to do important community service.
We welcome all Girl Scouts to learn about Hispanic/Latina history by participating in the Chicas: Discovering Hispanic Heritage program. Girls can learn basic Spanish words, visit an Embassy of a Latin American country, learn about great Latinos in history and develop friendships as pen pals with Latina Girl Guides. We are proud that our sister Council, the Girl Guides of Ecuador in South America, allow us to celebrate Girl Scouting with the world.
Growing up, my father used to say to me: “Para atrás ni para coger impulso!” Loosely translated: don’t look backward not even to gain strength…move forward! I think this is true of all of us. In Girl Scouts, we move forward with strength and passion to help all girls thrive and learn to be leaders.