Mighty Blog

Hispanic Heritage Month: Meet Estibaliz

Every year, Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. During this month, we celebrate the histories, cultures and contributions of those who came to whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.

As we wrap up our celebrations, we are excited to introduce Estibaliz Quintero Varela, a resource navigator with Children’s Minnesota Community Connect. We sat down with Estibaliz to learn more about her heritage and to celebrate her amazing contributions to our Children’s Minnesota community.

Estibaliz Estibaliz Quintero Varela

While our priority is the kiddos, my position in Community connect gives me the opportunity to work with moms, dads, and young adults with primary social needs by addressing lack in food, home supplies, education in general, child activities or child care possibilities, ways to get around, or something clean and new to wear the next day. We improve how life is for the entire family!

I was born in the great Tenochtitlan, the centuries old citadel that is now called Mexico City in honor of the Mexicas, first founders of the Venice of the Americas. Unfortunately, over the centuries the lake has been drained and the aquifer located beneath the city is drying up. Today the city that once was connected by water channels and trajineras (flat-bottomed boats) is challenged by shortages of water and excessive sinking.

At the age of 7, my family moved to a very peaceful fishing port in the state of Veracruz called Tuxpan or Tochpan as the Nahuatl people used to call it. Tuxpan was the perfect little city to grow up in–total freedom riding my bike as far away from home as my legs could take me and getting back with the last ray of sun. The river was fifty feet from my bedroom window and the beaches of the Gulf just five miles away from home and literally in the back yard of my high school.

I arrived to live in Minnesota from Mexico on June 3, 2009. I have lived in two other states for short periods during this time and have visited thirteen.

I am a walking, talking billboard for Mexico! But in all seriousness, my people are a colorful people. Just like in the movie Coco, we are proud of our ancestral indigenous roots. We are warm and welcoming. I try to represent myself in all of my interactions with both co-workers and my families with all the best that my heritage has instilled in me.

There is much to say about this question. I have an accent. I look different. Yet I am a citizen. People often feel the need to comment or even make fun of my awesome accent or my colorful metaphorical way of speaking, some even questioning me about how I came to be who I am. People seem to think it is okay to say these things. I am warm and friendly and open, but it doesn’t mean the comments and questions are always welcome.

After taking the opportunity to express a personal emotion about the everyday cultural shock, what I really want to discuss is this: In my experience, when an immigrant arrives in the US, the first years are all about absorbing everything we can and it is a constant learning that is exhausting. If you hear someone talking in their native language, please be respectful. In Europe, it is common for people to speak a minimum of two or more languages. How cool is that? In the US, it is common to hear the expectation that immigrants need to learn English. Yet, it is estimated that only twenty percent of Americans speak a second language. Demanding that an immigrant not speak in their native language only makes people lose confidence in learning English.

We can’t forget that there is no country like our country, the great melting pot, with as many different kinds of people as there are different kinds of beans that exist. Our strength is within our diversity but our weaknesses come with it too. Each and every individual whose feet are standing up on this soil is necessary for this wonderful country to overcome the events of 2020. My community is the largest minority in the country. This force of people who are such a positive addition to the US is mistreated and alienated. We are not taking the jobs of anybody, we are doing the jobs that no one wants to do. Necessary jobs that keep the economy strong.

Look, people from the country of my birth are not perfect but every individual gives proof of his own faith. We have our identity in this land of the north but we do not always have support equal to others, even other minorities. It is often assumed that because a person is Latino that they are undocumented – or illegal as some may insist. Undocumented or not, we still contribute much to this country. We pay taxes, create businesses, I could go on and on. All too many live in a survival mode, fighting to keep their family together day after day.

My community is deeply integrated into the culture of this country. We Latinos have strong feelings for this land—knowledge of how this godly untouched land became domesticated to the life of comfort. We love baseball. We salute to the flag, and we get this feeling in the chest when we hear the national anthem. When I see the emotions, I ask people a question. The answer is: I will. The question is: If the time comes, will you fight for the country? Almost 100 percent of the undocumented people say yes! And then I ask why will you fight for this country if you are unrecognized as a valuable, functional contributor to the country? And the answers will be because my kids were born here, because I have been here for so long that this is all that I know, because I have been growing roots here, because my home is here, because my friend, my wife, my school or college, my business, I owe too much to this country. All of these reasons come from years of experiences that nurture the multiple reasons and give meaning to the feeling that this land is their own. Being an immigrant means you have your heart in two places. The place of birth is the one you never stop loving, as a mother’s unconditional love. But the second country is the one that costs you, the one that does not come so easy, but once you breathe its air and it gets into your lungs, a little bit stays inside. It is like the love of your life—no one can mistreat it and it hurts to see when it’s been put down. It makes you proud, it is the one that you do not leave for nothing. If people could just try to understand this about my community instead of feeling disdain or indifference or even hatred. To recognize value in the people that are already part of the tapestry of this country is so important. What happens if you pull a string of the tapestry? It falls apart, becoming a broken fabric and that is what is happening in this country. We are allowing this tearing of children from mothers, husbands from wives, and brothers from brothers. Families are being torn apart and it needs to stop.

Patriotism is the feeling that human beings have for the native or adoptive land to which they feel bound by certain values, affections, culture and history. It is the collective equivalent of the pride that a person feels for belonging to a family or also to a nation. Are we taking away a great opportunity to learn from each other and celebrate what makes us unique? Or will we do what is right?

Let me answer that with a personal story. A few years ago, I was walking along the sidewalk near Franklin and La Salle and what did I find? A strong, tall, and proud epazote—a native herb from Mexico. That is really weird I think to myself. Epazote is something really difficult to find here in the Mexican grocery stores and definitely not a native plant in Minnesota. I wondered if someone was missing, just like me, a little home cooking with this particular scent, planting some in a nearby garden but maybe dropping some seeds here on the sidewalk. I was so tempted to steal some of the leaves for some quesadillas later that day but then suddenly I see myself in that foreign plant, with such resiliency to grow strong and thick in a crack in the sidewalk with almost no soil or water. It was as if she was saying to me “my roots are from the south, but I’m here in the north growing strong.” I took one more look at it, smiled, and I left. It has been three years since I have regularly walked the sidewalks of LaSalle and Franklin, but once in a while, I drive through there and if it is the right time of year, between the blooming of the lavender in the spring and the middle of summer, I will see on the corner of these two streets near the old building a small garden area with not only beautiful, full bushes of lavender but also, if I look more closely, growing wild between the bushes the resilient epazote.

The list is long… I come from a line of women that were creative and expressive as no chef I have ever met. I’m not talking about complicated, fancy delicacies, three bites and it is over. I’m talking about a filling, spicy, shrimp and veggies soup made by my mom Saturday morning after a big birthday party the night before. The chile atole for the quermesses of my time as a student in Orizaba, Veracruz. The Zacahuil! This massive, one-piece tamale will feed a party of 40 people. The papatzules, the pozoles, the panuchos, the traditional pan de muerto, and her paella—part of our heritage from Spain. This is the short list of the P’s. Going with the T’s we have the tacos, the tlayuda, the tamales, the tlacoyos and the tostadas. But something that really makes me go crazy is a good Birria that I find here in the Cities that reminds me of when my dad would come back home from a long business trip, my mom and I would go to wait for him at 10 pm at the station for the bus coming from Mexico City, about an 8 hour trip. Even though we were all very sleepy and tired we would go to the Birrieria that was just outside of the bus station between the market and the flower stand. I would crave these moments for me to enjoy the company of my parents without my annoying older brothers. Soon that warm, thick stew would fill me up with energy and we would have a great time enjoying each other’s company.

Kaitlyn Kamleiter