Those Who Inspire Us—Honoring Loved Ones for Latinx Heritage Month
By Jorge Vasquez, Power & Democracy Director
As we celebrate Latinx Heritage Month, I reflect on my Abuelita Cookie, her strength, her wisdom, her resilience and the lessons she instilled in family, my community and me. There is no question in my mind that, if Abuelita Cookie were alive today, she would be marching with Black Lives Matter protesters, organizing around the lack of police accountability, and encouraging everyone to take it to the polls this November.
Esperanza “Doña Esperanza” Moreno or “Abuelita Cookie,” as her grandchildren referred to her, was 111 years-old when she passed away in 2004. She was only 5-years-old when the United States invaded Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War and subsequently colonized La Isla de Encanto (“La Isla”). Abuelita Cookie was 24 when she and all Puerto Ricans became U.S. citizens, however it wasn’t until 30 years later, in 1947, that the United States granted Puerto Rico the right to elect its own governor. Seventy-two years later, the people on La Isla mobilized their political power to force Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares to resign from office.
In the 1950s, Abuelita Cookie and my grandmother Abuela Beba were part of a wave of Puerto Ricans who migrated to New York City’s Lower East Side in search of opportunity. But Abuelita never let us forget our roots, and she never ever let us leave her house hungry. When I visited Abuelita Cookie's home, I would greet her by saying "bendicion," and then I would sit at the kitchen table, and she'd feed me crackers and café con leche while Frankie Ruiz or Hector Lavoe or the noticia played in the background.
Often Abuelita Cookie would share stories of Puerto Rico and Afro-Rican activists like Arturo Schomburg and Jesús Colón. I learned early on what protesting and organizing in Puerto Rico was like, and how it continued when Puerto Ricans mitigated to the mainland. Although she never had an opportunity to be formally educated, she was a master educator, political expert and prime voter. She would often take her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren with her to the polls. No matter how young you were, Abuelita Cookie made sure you were politically active. In the early 90’s, she organized the family and the community to support the campaign of Nydia Velazquez, the first Puerto Rican woman elected to Congress; and a few decades later Abuelita Cookie received a Congressional Citation from Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez for her contributions to the community.
She is why I am where I am today - serving as Power & Democracy Director of Advancement Project National Office. She is why I dedicate my life to ensuring Black and Brown people can organize, protest and vote.
Jorge L. Vasquez, Jr. is the Program Director for our Power and Democracy program. In this role, Jorge leads Advancement Project National Office’s voter protection, redistricting, rights restoration, and democracy initiatives throughout the United States. He has been recognized for his work as a national civil rights lawyer, policy influencer, and democracy expert.