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How Far We Have Come. How Far We Have Yet To Go.

Nicholas Meza

Nicholas Meza is a Health Law Associate in the Phoenix Office.

September 15 marks the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month, a month when we recognize and celebrate the many contributions made by Americans who share a common ancestral link to Spain, Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. This month presents an opportunity to celebrate the beauty of diversity and how our collective differences make us stronger. On a personal level, it is a chance to reflect on my roots and the sacrifices that my family has made to provide me with endless opportunities.

I am a fifth generation Arizonan of predominantly Mexican and Irish descent. My paternal grandfather's family settled in Arizona long before it was a U.S. territory. His ties to this land bear truth to the saying, "Yo no cruce la frontera, la frontera me cruzo" -- "I did not cross the border, the border crossed me." My paternal grandmother was the daughter of Irish and Mexican immigrants who traveled to Arizona to work in its copper mines. Similarly, my mother's family immigrated from the Mexican states of Sinaloa, Nayarit, and Jalisco, and ultimately settled in Globe and Miami, Arizona. There they sought a better life and an escape from the bloodshed of the Mexican Revolution.

All of them endured unimaginable hardship. In their time, opportunities were limited by forces outside of their control. Segregation and institutional racism were not reserved to the American South. In Arizona, it was not uncommon for restaurant signs to read, "No Mexicans or Dogs Allowed." Corporal punishment was an acceptable means to force children to abandon their native tongue. Yet through all their struggles, they proudly carried on yearning for the American Dream. They were ranchers, miners, masons, secretaries, and teachers. With each generation, they sought to provide a life for their children better than their own. All the while, they never forgot where they came from and the sacrifices it took to get there.

Reflecting upon my family's history, I cannot help but to recognize how their struggles made them stronger. Five generations later, their hardship has transformed into opportunity for those that proceeded them. I know they would be amazed at how far we have come. If they could peer into the future and see their descendants as doctors, attorneys, scientists, architects, and business leaders, they would see a dream achieved. However, diversity, inclusion, and equality, in the workplace and in society, are not goals to be abandoned upon a belief that they have been attained. Today, there remains much to be done.

Minorities remain underrepresented in seats of power and professional-level positions. Women continue to struggle for equal pay. Our LGBT colleagues continue to fight for equal rights in society and the workplace. This is why, as each new generation seeks to climb the social ladder, it is incumbent upon those with a foothold to reach out and assist . . . because struggles borne today will undoubtedly yield opportunity tomorrow.

In a sense, National Hispanic Heritage Month is a microcosm and celebration of American culture. As there is no single American culture, there is no single Hispanic culture. Rather, we are the representation of that often-overlooked Latin phrase on the Seal of the United States, “e pluribus unum” – out of many, one. While the phrase was originally placed on the Seal to illustrate thirteen colonies uniting as a single nation, in present day, the phrase holds much more meaning. Today, e pluribus unum illustrates the many peoples, cultures, races, religions, orientations, and beliefs that make up the Great American Melting Pot. Indeed, this is our greatest strength. Each of us has a story to tell, a page to contribute. The struggles that we have endured and the perspectives that we hold make us stronger individually and collectively. This is the essence and value of diversity. So, as we celebrate another National Hispanic Heritage Month, we should all reflect upon how far we've come, and how far we have yet to go.