JFS is proud to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, and we are interviewing members of our board and staff to get their perspectives on what this celebration means for them and for our community. We spoke with Cesar Stewart-Morales, Framingham City Councilor, to learn more!
Thank you for speaking with us, Cesar! How are you involved with JFS? What is your favorite thing about the organization?
JFS has always been an important member of the Framingham community. Doing the work that I do, being so involved in Framingham, I’ve seen JFS’s hand in many parts of the community. For instance, at Edwards Church, we had a partnership with JFS during the Syrian refugee crisis. My work involves trying to help the community, and I’ve always known JFS as a reliable resource. That attracted me to the organization, and then I met Lino Covarrubias, who mentioned that I might enjoy being on the board.
Coming to the board has felt like a good fit for me. The reason I’m in politics and that I do the community work that I do is simply to try to help people and give back to Framingham. That aligns well with the JFS mission. Also, the Jewish community is sometimes targeted as a group of people and that experience is something I can relate to. Parallels can be made with the challenges that Hispanic groups, immigrants and LGBTQ+ people also face. Through its work, JFS supports all of these different groups and I am happy to help support that important work.
Could you tell us what Hispanic heritage means for you?
My family immigrated to the United States during the Guatemalan Civil War. We were scared. We had a very close family member who was assassinated, and it hit very close to home. My parents were scared, and that is what motivated them to get out of Guatemala. Our coming to the United States didn’t mean that we didn’t love Guatemala – we came because we had to, we had to get out.
And so my Hispanic heritage means a lot! There is a fear of losing touch with our heritage, being that we are immersed in a whole melting pot of cultures here in the United States. So recognizing, celebrating, and taking time during this month to reflect on this is very important to us.
The other thing that I would mention is that Hispanic heritage is so complex and diverse. People from Guatemala are very different from people from Spain, Mexico, and other Spanish-speaking cultures. I think that during this time, another good reflection to make is acknowledging the complex history of Hispanic people in that it is part European and part indigenous. All of it, combined, is our history, and the fact that the country is moving toward an acceptance of Indigenous Peoples Day, which falls during Hispanic Heritage month, is great progress.
Could you share some traditions that you and your family celebrate that are related to your heritage? Favorite holidays, foods, songs?
Most of this for my family is through our food! My mother lives with us, and she is the cook, so, when I get home, several times a week I have Guatemalan food. For me, it’s soul food! It reminds me of times in Guatemala with my great-grandmother, with whom I was very close growing up. The smell of fresh oregano brings me right back to my great-grandmother’s kitchen!
On holidays, we’ll have tamales. We make an assembly line the whole family can join in on at home, and I’ve done this since I was a little kid. Also, I recall eating sweet bread with our coffee, and going to the panadería with my grandmother in the mornings and getting fresh bread every day – all that quality time spent preparing for our daily meals! Another one of my favorite dishes is carne guisada – a beef stew – my mother frequently makes this dish especially for me.
How can organizations like JFS support and advocate for families and individuals of Hispanic heritage in our community?
JFS already does a great job with supporting our Hispanic community and our immigrant community. I think that in Framingham there is very much a need for additional public education and awareness, not just for the immigrant community members who need help as we welcome them into the city and into American life, but also for the allies and the rest of the community that don’t understand some of the experiences and struggles that this group of people faces on a day-to-day basis.
I go door-to-door a from time to time talking to people – and I’ve had people talk to me about the “illegals,” asking questions such as, “Are we going to continue to give them money?” That is a very negative conversation that happens, and I’ve had the chance to address it head-on by saying, “I’m an immigrant, not because my family wanted to come and live off of welfare in the US. I came because of the Guatemalan Civil War, when just going about your daily life was dangerous.” I think that it helps open up people’s minds, just knowing and learning about other people and why they’re here. And we need more of that mutual understanding! There is very much a need for us to come together, to celebrate and support one another.
JFS of Metrowest would like to thank all its supporters and partners who make our work in the Hispanic, Latinx community and Metrowest community possible.
To donate to JFS of Metrowest, please visit https://jfsmw.org/donate/
For volunteer opportunities with JFS of Metrowest, please visit https://jfsmw.org/volunteer/