As a child who attended a predominantly Hispanic elementary school in Southeast Texas, I always looked forward to Hispanic Heritage Month. Every year from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, my school celebrated the contributions of the Latino and Hispanic communities by plastering their walls with posters that chronicled the lives of icons like civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, baseball player and humanitarian Roberto Clemente, and the late Tejano singer (Texas’ own) Selena Quintanilla. Both my middle school and high school in Texas placed less of an emphasis on Hispanic Heritage Month, giving me the impression that cultural trailblazers were only rooted in the past. This past month, Pop-Up Magazine challenged my belief by harnessing the power of storytelling to showcase contemporary Latino and Hispanic voices.
Based in San Francisco, Pop-Up Magazine is an in-person magazine, which means that the publication performs its multimedia stories live on stage for audiences across the country. For this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month, the magazine collaborated with Latino and Hispanic musicians, filmmakers, and writers, among others, to create “Stories for Hispanic Heritage Month,” a seven-part series chronicling the contributions of Latino and Hispanic individuals.
Due to COVID-19’s effect on live entertainment, Pop-Up Magazine partnered with Google to upload their collection of videos to YouTube, where every video teemed to life with its own set of narrations, interviews, and illustrations.
The series kicked off with “Mimi y Los Comandos.” Colombian American filmmaker Julia Schatz Preston tells the story of Mimi, a teenage volunteer paramedic in El Salvador who works with Los Comandos de Salvamento (the Green Cross), a group that offers medical assistance to victims of gang violence. Mimi grapples with a big decision: she has to choose between staying in El Salvador with her family or braving the dangerous journey of migrating to the United States by herself.
Other highlights in “Stories for Hispanic Heritage Month” include “Buscándole” (“Looking for Him”). “Buscándole” is a collaboration between Google and Maxeme Tuchman, CEO and co-founder of Caribu, a video-calling app for kids that allows them to read books together with their families, no matter the distance.
In “Buscándole,” Tuchman shares how her family came to the United States. Her father’s parents were Eastern European Jews who left Germany for Cuba after surviving the Holocaust and eventually left Cuba for Florida after the rise of Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro.
“You’d leave with little more than a suitcase in each hand and silverware and jewelry sewn into your coat lining,” Tuchman said. “The one thing my abuelas, abuelos, tías, and tíos all took with them no matter how little space they had were their stories and memories.” The importance of those stories is what inspired Tuchman to create Caribu.
The piece which resonated with me the most was “Signed, Papi,” an LGBTQ+ advice video from “¡Hola Papi!” columnist JP Brammer, who describes himself as a “Latino Carrie Bradshaw.”
Growing up in Houston, I struggled with what it meant to be Hispanic because of the pressure my own Mexican family felt to assimilate to “American culture.” In a city that currently boasts a population of 2.6 million Hispanics (those descended from or from Spanish-speaking countries), I felt like an outsider because I could not speak a lick of Spanish. This inability stemmed from my grandparents’ belief that we would not make it in this country if we did not “sound like the white man.” My great-grandparents made the decision to not celebrate culturally significant holidays like Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) because they wanted to assimilate to life in the United States, and I sensed a burgeoning conflict between my family’s deep sense of machismo and my sexuality. As shown in Brammer’s video, plenty of other Hispanics are in the same boat as me.
The first question in Brammer’s video deals with the harm that comes with placing emphasis on where a person of color is from. “You can be Latino and still do harm or insult other Latinos because we don’t all come from one experience,” he said. Brammer also advises Hispanic people not to stress so much about coming off as authentic, because there is no point in pressuring ourselves to fit a certain mold. When feeling like being stuck at home is causing us to put on a mask, Brammer reminds us to lean on our friends and look to our history to see figures who overcame their struggles and adversity.
“Stories for Hispanic Heritage Month” is brimming with stories such as the ones mentioned, a serenade for undocumented immigrants, and tips for public speaking. Being in-character for a Pop-Up Magazine production, the best way to experience these stories is by seeing them for yourself.
For me, every video I watched from the project recaptured the magic and honor I felt at eight years old when I roamed my school’s halls, learning about prominent Hispanic and Latino figures. Pop-Up Magazine brought together a choir of Latino and Hispanic voices and the result was a symphony that reminds Hispanic people like me to take pride in our identity, show self-compassion, and remember that our heritage is constantly being cultivated in stellar ways.