Party with a Purpose
September 15th – October 15th marks the month-long celebration of the contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans. This month was chosen as it surrounds the anniversary of independence day in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Chile, and Belize.
For 12 years, Birmingham has hosted, Fiesta, Alabama’s largest celebration of Hispanic culture. Over the years, the festival has given away more than $50K in scholarships. The 12th Annual Fiesta Birmingham is happening tomorrow (It’s exactly 12:00am Friday. It’s early so forgive any typos) in Lynn Park. You can buy tickets at the gate for $8 or online for $5. Buy tickets online here.
Teresa Zuniga-Odom, one of the festival’s board members , was kind enough to share her story with me. Odom recently launched her own blog, Southern Señora, to speak about her own experiences and family history. I’m so grateful that I’m going to limit my commentary to let her voice shine through.
Odom is a beautiful blend of Mexican and American. Her father’s family is from the Southwest and her mother was born in Oneonta, Alabama. Her love for culture was developed at an early age as she embraced her families travels. She grew up speaking English and learned Spanish while living in Puerto Rico. She recounts what it was like to be on the other side of the language barrier:
“I had the experience of walking into 1st grade and no one spoke English except the teacher. It is something I always remembered and instilled upon my children when the were in school in Hoover where the Hispanic community was growing – always be the first ones to approach the new person or someone who doesn’t speak English – it’s a scary position to be in and you never know when you might be in that same position. ”
Odom has led her children by example. This is no surprise in light of her families historical heart for service. “As I grew up and learned more about my Mexican family in New Mexico and Colorado, I was so proud to hear about how many educators, nonprofit leaders, and social justice warriors there were in my family. I’ve always loved giving back in my community and was so excited to find a long history of this in my family – and it was so inspiring!”
In fact, her first cousin worked in Alabama during the civil rights movement, taking photographs and registering African-Americans in Selma to vote. “She was a member of SNCC – the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Her story is told in the book “Hands on the Freedom Plow.” – a collection of stories of 52 women who were on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement. Discovering all of this and hearing their stories first-hand, made me want to do more and I was afforded that opportunity as the Hispanic community began to boom in the Birmingham region.”
Fiesta Birmingham has become a staple in our city’s cultural events. “Another great benefit of the festival is to showcase the many different Hispanic cultures in Alabama. There is a great misconception that everyone who speaks Spanish is Mexican. In fact, the Hispanic Business Council was a Latin United Nation if you were to look at our backgrounds. We had Cuban, Colombian, Ecuadorian, Costa Rican, Puerto Rican and Mexican represented at the time. And one of the best aspects – to me – of Fiesta, is the Cultural Village and the way the community comes together to showcase their culture and country each year. Community members bring their own personal belongings and artifacts to showcase the best of their countries and share with visitors of Fiesta.” Southern Señora, Odom’s blog, will tell the diverse stories of others in the city as well as her own.
I asked Odom about her success in the corporate world , but she prefers to be known as a Hispanic Community Volunteer.“It is something that has been close to my heart for over 15 years as the community started growing and being noticed in Birmingham. My dad died in 2001 before so much started happening in Birmingham. I often wonder what he would have thought of Fiesta and all the events that are now occurring in the state. I believe he would have been proud of the way Fiesta has grown and what we’ve accomplished. He was such an example of “doing the right thing, always” to me – I think he would have been proud.”
I’m certainly proud. Honestly, I’ve been feeling a little lost this week. The way if is when you seem to have been out of touch with your purpose. Knowing Odom’s story has reminded me that a life of service doesn’t only bless others, but it blesses you too.
I dare you to step outside of yourself, your circle, your world to embrace another. I dare you to have some fun while doing it. Why not start this weekend at Fiesta?
Fiesta con un proposito!
Party with A Purpose Birmingham!
-A City Girl