Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) asked Alma Figueroa, who recently began as the Title IX Case Manager for the district’s Stronger Tomorrow Program (working with the IPS Legal Counsel), on what National Hispanic Heritage Month means to her.
National Hispanic Heritage Month is annually celebrated from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, recognizing the contributions and influence of Hispanic Americans to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States.
Figueroa is a proud IPS graduate, earning a diploma from Manual High School in 2008, and holds a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University-Bloomington. Today, she is a bilingual professional supporting pregnant/parent students in the district to make sure they get the resources they need. Previously, she was the ESL College & Career Readiness Coordinator for the district.
And the mother of four youngsters, she, and her husband (Christian Ramirez, who also graduated from Manual) regularly participate in Hispanic-themed festivals around Indianapolis to showcase the family’s heritage. Figueroa’s favorite festival since childhood is El Grito. This refers to El Grito de Dolores, “the cry” that Father Miguel Hidalgo delivered to his parish on Sept. 16, 1810, in the small town of Dolores, located in central Mexico. The cry was a call to the Mexican people to revolt against the Spaniards after dealing with three centuries of Spanish Rule in Mexico.
Q – Why are you proud of your Hispanic heritage as a Mexican American?
A –Though I was born and raised in the United States, my parents instilled in my sisters and me the importance of embracing our Mexican heritage. At 10 years old, my family and I visited my parent’s small hometown in Mexico for the first time. I remember expecting to find dessert and cactuses, just like the movies, but I found so much more. It was colorful vibrant and very welcoming. I enjoyed eating authentic food bursting with flavor and dancing in the town square as the banda played behind us. I learned that tradition is important to our family. My abuelita (grandmother) shared the best stories while cooking with my mom. I fell in love with Mexico and being Mexican.
Q – How did being a daughter of immigrants inspire you to take your education and career a certain way?
A – Being a child of immigrant parents, I always wanted to make my mom and dad proud because they sacrificed so much for my sisters. When I was in second grade, our teacher asked for parents to volunteer to read to the class. My mother volunteered my reluctant father to do it. My father had an accent and was nervous to participate. But, I was excited when he came and read a few chapters at the front of the class. He was the first Hispanic person I heard read to me in a classroom and it took years for me to encounter a Hispanic teacher. Representation is important to me and that’s why I decided to pursue a career working in education.
Q – What was it like to go through IPS as a bilingual student?
A – I had the unique opportunity of being an IPS student in a period when the growth of the Hispanic population was slowly rising. In fact, many recently arrived families consistently drove to Chicago to stock up on essential spices, tortillas, and Mexican bread because there weren’t any Mexican stores in the area. Though I eventually had a great elementary experience, being the only Mexican-American student in my classes was difficult. Transitioning to middle school, however, was a turning point for finding my identity. I was pleasantly surprised to see other students who looked like me and understood my native language! I met my best friends in middle school (and we continue to be besties to this day) and participated in activities like the Spanish Club. These spaces allowed us to embrace our culture.
Q – How did IPS prepare you for success at the college level?
A – I did well in school and knew I wanted to go to college. I also knew there were benefits to being bilingual because not only was it considered a skill on my resume, but it provided me with the ability to reach a larger population in any job setting. In my senior year of high school, I was accepted into the IU Groups program and went on to graduate from Indiana University-Bloomington. I had incredible English teachers in high school who helped prepare me for college-level reading and writing. I also had a drama teacher that inspired me to get into theater. I loved it so much that I joined a theater group in college called VIDA. My favorite was a play called Las Nuevas Tamaleras.
Q – What do you tell students about college?
A – I encourage students to visit the Future Center at their high schools and take advantage of opportunities to visit college campuses. College can feel scary but there are different student groups and cultural centers that can help turn it into a home away from home. I tell students that they can pursue higher education if they want to because we need them in every profession.