Celebrating our Culture: The Day “We” Were Diagnosed
Guest Blogger: Elvia Espino
From September 15 to October 15, we recognize the many contributions of Hispanics to the United States and celebrate our culture and heritage. During this time, 8 Hispanic countries celebrate their independence. I am proud of many things in my life, but my culture and being Mexican is something I love. I wear my culture on my sleeve and to me my culture embodies every ounce of who I am and try to be. For Hispanics, our culture is one of family and unity. When my son was recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) this past June, it was like our independence day. A day we were finally set free. Autism did not change anything or effect who we are; if anything it made us stronger. I did cry. I cried a lot and released all of the emotional baggage I had been carrying for so many years lost in the confusion and uncertainty of what life would be like for all of us. That day I let go all of the dreams and hopes I had for my son prior to his birth and realized new dreams and hopes were about to be born from this day forward.
I had to learn it was ok to grieve and be sad and confused. Our culture is one of immense strength and outward pride. I had to put that persona of Hispanic "orgullo" (pride) aside and realize I was being strong by admitting that I was hurt and that I was proud to know that my son has autism. As a mother, and a human being, I am allowed to feel how I do, there is no one who can dictate how I'm supposed to feel but me.
To my family I am superwoman and that mainly means being a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, professional, special needs advocate, and doctoral candidate. Juggling between the busy demands of what looks like having it all and doing it all with ease can be extremely demanding. I try not to complain and often remind myself things can always be worse. The key word is TRY.
As I do my advocacy work for children and people with special needs I come across many parents within the Hispanic culture that express their feelings of shame, embarrassment and guilt associated with their child's autism. Sadly, many of our loved ones consider our children to be spoiled kids who are not in need of anything other than a 'good traditional' spanking, as was done to our parents. This is a huge and painful misconception, and we can combat this through spreading awareness throughout our community.
Naturally, as parents and mothers we assume that our only duty in life is to protect and safe guard our children but while that is true we cannot protect them from the world of autism. We can, however, be our children's voices, their advocates, and work tirelessly to educate the world and inspire others to learn about autism on their behalf.
For this Hispanic Heritage month I encourage everyone to take pride in who they are, who their children are, and embrace the life full of the labels you have been given. For me and my family, we are choosing to embrace autism. Why? Because there is a talented world of professionals out there who can help my son be greater than he already is. I'm the expert of my son and they are experts of autism. I am realizing that the label is going to fuel us to go further than we could have ever dreamed of even before he was born. Now that is orgullo!