“Let’s continue celebrating who we are,” Cal State Fullerton President Mildred García welcomed a packed house of students, faculty and staff to this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration Reception at the Fullerton Arboretum. The University, shared García, is No. 1 in the state of California and second in the nation in graduating Latinos; 38 percent of its more than 40,000 students are Latinos.
After a performance from CSUF Ballet Folklorico and a spoken-word piece from human services major Destiny Caro, keynote speaker Denice Frohman took the stage. The award-winning poet, educator and lyricist spoke of her own experience navigating language, race, gender and sexuality. In sharing her poem “Accents,” Frohman spoke of helping her Spanish-speaking mother navigate New York City when she was growing up.
“There were people in positions of power who would talk down to my mom because of the way she spoke,” said Frohman. “It was the belief that having an accent meant you weren’t smart, that you didn’t know what you were talking about, and that you could be taken advantage of.
“What I realized after I wrote the poem was that I was there not just to translate the words but also to translate the shame … a shame that she carried quietly at times and made her question her own voice.” She wanted, said Frohman, to write her mother out of the shame.
“I wanted to subvert the idea that having an accent was ugly or undesirable or worse, un-American — that a country built in so many ways by folks who were either forced to come here, or immigrated here, or who were already here — was hypocritical to ask anyone to assimilate; to become something other than ourselves, to treat our cultures as something to hide or something to water down, rather than the centerpiece of all of our lives.”
During the event, CSUF’s Chicano/Latino Faculty and Staff Association also recognized the Latino Student Business Association for their contributions to the campus. Hispanic Heritage Month campus activities run through Oct. 11.