Campus Community / People of SU

Celebrating SU’s Diversity and Vibrancy

Written by Office of Diversity and Inclusion

September 15, 2022

Graphic reads National Hispanic Heritage Month

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, campus leaders share their experiences and perspectives on what their heritage means to them. 

In a joint message, President Eduardo Peñalver and Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Natasha Martin, JD, honor National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15) and celebrate the voices of university leaders who share their lived experiences and unique perspectives with the campus community:

As we mark the beginning of Hispanic and Latin American Heritage Month, Seattle University affirms this diverse and vibrant community. Officially designated National Hispanic Heritage Month, this month celebrates the vast diaspora of cultures, identities and experiences with ancestral connections to Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America and the many Indigenous Nations and people that preceded. Notwithstanding geography, we acknowledge that no one word, phrase or month can encompass the people and experiences that make up this dimension of the American story. To our students, faculty, staff and administrators, we appreciate all you bring to our university and the larger community.

In support of our commitment to pursuing inclusive excellence, we recognize and celebrate that fostering inclusion means amplifying voices from a variety of perspectives. Therefore, we have invited two of our colleagues to share their stories and reflections on what Hispanic and Latin American Heritage Month means to them. In line with our LIFT SU principles, we believe that hearing, acknowledging and affirming the diverse experiences among us offers a path toward solidarity and common purpose. We offer deep gratitude to Marissa Robledo, associate director of the Center for Student Involvement, and Anthony Varona, the new leader of our law school, for sharing their stories and perspectives. And we trust that you will receive their words with openness. 

Marissa Robledo

“Mija, you’re a Robledo!”

As we enter Latinx Heritage Month, I think about my family and the power of a name. I am Marissa Robledo (Ma-ree-sah Rro-ble-do) a PROUD Mexican American woman, born and raised in the Imperial Valley. You might be thinking, “Huh where’s the Imperial Valley?” That is a great question—my hometown of El Centro, California, is located two hours southeast of San Diego, 45 minutes from Yuma, Arizona, and 15 minutes from the Mexican-American border. 

When I was born, I was lovingly named after my mom, Mary Louise (María Luisa) Zavala-Robledo. From a young age I remember my parents instilling the strength of our family heritage. Whenever I was nervous about a project, an assignment, a test, I could hear my dad’s voice echoing, “Mija (darling), you’re a Robledo!” Growing up, I was surrounded by the love of my family. I remember morning adventures driving from El Centro to Calexico for school with my tata (grandfather), quinceñeras celebrating my older cousins, bautismos for my sobrinas and sobrinos (my cousins’ children), the Christmas season with Las Posadas (religious festival, commemorates the journey that Joseph and Mary made from Nazareth to Bethlehem) and tamale-making parties. 

It is the love and the strength of my family—those who are alive today and my ancestors who have come before me—that I am here where I am supposed to be. I think about the stories of my grandparents, who worked in the fields to provide a better life for my dad and my Tia/Tio (aunt and uncle). I think about my nana (maternal grandmother) who taught my mom the importance of an education. I think about my Tata Meño (maternal great grandfather) who represented Mexico as a professional fencer and came to the United States to work on the railroads. Or my Great Grandpa Jose who came to the United States during the Mexican Revolution at the age of 14, crossing in what now is Texas with his brother. One made the trip to the west while the other made the trip to the east; they never had the chance to reconnect again. I think about my Nana Lina (maternal great grandmother) who was born in Arizona in 1901 before Arizona was a state. I think about my Nana Victoria (paternal great grandmother) who bottled homemade beer during World War II. The journey for my family has been filled with relocation, hard work, determination and pride. I am Marissa Robledo and I am a PROUD Mexican American. 

Dean Anthony Varona, JD, LLM

I think often about my late parents, Eudelio and Edelmira Varona, during National Hispanic and Latin American Heritage Month. They, like so many immigrant parents, bore enormous hardships as new Americans, principally for the benefit of their children. My mother gave birth to me in Cuba in 1967, at a very perilous time in that country. She and my father sought exile in the United States so that they could raise me and any future siblings (they had my brother Eddie five years later) in the land of opportunity and freedom. We settled in Newark, New Jersey, when I was three years old. The Cuban government allowed us to leave with only the clothes on our backs and almost nothing else. Even though I was only three, I remember the palpable fear and trepidation in the family as we adjusted to a strange new environment, mixed with a great sadness of leaving behind a beloved motherland. 

We initially did not have our own home and lived in an attic of a cousin’s house. When we eventually got our own apartment, we were so poor that we could only afford to heat half of it and the heat that we did get all came from vents at the side of our kitchen stove. The windows were so old and drafty that we would staple plastic sheeting or sometimes garbage bags to them to keep out the cold air. They would inflate and deflate in blustery NYC-area winter winds like the sails on a boat. 

My parents worked extremely hard, kept reaching for the American Dream and persevered. With my uncle, they first rented and then owned a small bodega with a butcher shop in the Ironbound Section of Newark. I would work at the store on weekends and holidays. The bodega was in an immigrant working class/working poor community in Newark and our customers were comprised of mostly Cuban, Puerto Rican, Haitian, Portuguese and Brazilian immigrants. Our melting pot neighborhood was more of an arroz con pollo. 

I learned at the Hermanos Varona Supermarket that these small immigrant family-owned neighborhood businesses become community centers of sorts for newly arrived Americans looking for information and help. Everything from emergency food for a hungry family, to translation of confusing government documents, to information about rent subsidies and the latest vexing immigration rules. At the bodega I saw so much of what makes the immigrant experience for so many Hispanic and Latinx families so frustrating but beautiful, so terrifying but hopeful, so heartbreaking but edifying and so demeaning but motivating. It was there as well that I saw the importance of advocates for these new Americans.

I see in so many of our Seattle University students and their families many of the same experiences that my own family endured. And I am privileged and honored, now, to be able to say to them, “con mucho cariño, bienvenidos”: You belong here. We Need you. You are America.

Resources and Renewal to Inclusion 

Visit the  Office of Diversity and Inclusion to view a range of educational resources regarding Hispanic and Latin American Heritage, as well as Zoom backgrounds to use to support and celebrate throughout this Heritage Month.

As we honor National Hispanic Heritage Month, let us affirm and express our deep gratitude for the many contributions and sacrifices of this rich and diverse community. Let us also reaffirm our commitment to work against ongoing racism, xenophobia and violence against those in the Hispanic and Latin American community and to do our part to offer a welcoming and inclusive experience for all. 

Eduardo Peñalver, President 

Natasha Martin, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion