Local group celebrates Hispanic heritage while highlighting differences and similarities between cultures

The+%27Hispanic+Women+of+Springfield%27+was+founded+in+August+2013

Luis Andrade

The ‘Hispanic Women of Springfield’ was founded in August 2013

Luis Andrade, Writer

Left. Right. Democrat. Republican. Socialist. Liberal. Trumpist.

The labels and divisions are everywhere today in the United States. However, a small group of women in Springfield is using their differences to build bridges and community in Springfield.

The Hispanic Women of Springfield hopes to highlight the “otherness,” or cultural differences in Hispanic culture will integrate them into American Society. Together. In August 2013, a group of women from different Hispanic backgrounds started the club with a mission to come together and educate the community on the different cultures within the local Hispanic communities.

“We felt it was important that our neighbors knew we were here,” said Ana Manriquez, the vice president and co-founder of the group. She laughed as she added, “And that we aren’t all Mexican.”

Although there are plenty of similarities from culture to culture, the differences in art, music, and cooking are vast. They agreed that the best way to do this was to organize an annual Heritage Hispanic festival correlated with National Hispanic Heritage Month. Like the National Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, which celebrates Americans’ stories, cultures, and contributions with familial and ancestral origins from Central and South America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Spain, holding a festival would allow people to do the same while educating the people of Springfield.

At the September festival, you will find tables representing the different Hispanic communities in Springfield. Vibrant color, music, art, and food capture the senses. At the table representing Mexico, you might see a presentation of how to use a molcajete bowl. The molcajete bowl is a traditional Mexican version of the mortar and pestle made of a single block of vesicular basalt used to crush and grind spices and prepare salsas and guacamole.

Two tables down, at the table representing Puerto Rico, you might see a pilon – the Puerto Rican version of a mortar and pestle – used the same way as the Mexican molcajete. The pilon is made from either a Caoba or Guayacán tree, native hardwoods to the island. Try not to go to the table representing Cuba and ask for a pilon, or someone might break out in song and dance. The Cuban pilón is a form of dance that arose in the 1950s. Bands play live music, fashion shows displaying folklore attire, and quinceñera gowns.

“For us as a Hispanic community to not only share our culture with the non-Hispanic community, it allows us the opportunity to share it with each other,” said Monica Zanetti, a board member of HWS and owner of the Wild Rose Artisans boutique located in downtown Springfield. “This club also allowed us to erase some of the negative narratives we hear in certain media channels. Celebrating Hispanic culture isn’t all about immigration. A lot of us are Americans. We were born here, and we still practice traditions particular to our familial heritage. Together, we want to share those traditions with you.”

In October 2019, recognizing indigence in the Hispanic community, Hispanic Women of Springfield became an official non-profit organization providing food, rent, and utility assistance to Hispanic people in need. With the Covid-19 pandemic just around the corner, this transformation could not have come at a better time.

“Most of the Hispanic people here work in the restaurant and/or hotel industry. Already making less than livable wages, the pandemic, like for most people, was devastating. Restaurants were closing; hotels were letting people go. People didn’t know what to do or where to turn.” Manriquez said. “Thank God we were now in a good place where we could provide some assistance.”

Since the pandemic began, through the receipt of local donations and grants, the Hispanic Women of Springfield have been able to keep more than 40 local families from becoming homeless, freezing during the winter, and going hungry.

The efforts to provide education and assistance to those in need barely scratch the surface of what the group has accomplished and is planning to do as they continue to grow. On March 21, the group worked with other community groups to vaccinate more than 230 people at Knights Action Park. It held an event for people from all walks of life, race, and cultural backgrounds.

The level of diversity was just as important as the number of vaccinations, in Monica Zanetti’s opinion.

“We all need to find common ground, and that common ground is humanity,” Zanetti said, “We all want to lead happy lives and have happy homes. The Covid-19 vaccination event was unique because here we were, helping while representing the Hispanic Women of Springfield, but not as Hispanics, as neighbors. As a group, we are very connected, but a lot of us are very different. Some of us are liberal, some of us are republican, and though political ideology separates us, it does not divide us. We all have this mission of wanting to help and connecting through that is what fuels us.”

For more information about Hispanic Women of Springfield, you can visit their Facebook page Hispanic Women of Springfield.