By Amira Van Leeuwen
KYLE — The city hosted its sixth Dialogue for Peace & Progress on Friday evening at City Hall where community members and leaders gathered to have open and honest conversations about Hispanic Heritage Month.
The city recruited a group of panelists with a variety of perspectives and backgrounds to speak during the discussion, including the mother of council member Michael Tobias, Angelita Tobias, Hays Latinos United Founder and Executive Director Dr. Michelle Cohen, Ariana Cobos, Domingo Castilleja and Vannesa Rodríguez. The panel was moderated by Kyle City Council members Daniela Parsley and Yvonne Flores-Cale.
What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?
Rodríguez said she feels proud of Hispanic Heritage Month.
Cobos, who was born and raised in Venezuela, said she thinks about the integration of different cultures in the United States.
“To me, it’s a really good way to learn — become diverse in terms of learning of all the cultures that come into this melting pot,” Cobos said. “Also, as a person that [was not]necessarily born here, like I just came here nine years ago, I don’t know much about other cultures that are present within the community, and this month I think it makes me feel like even though I wasn’t born here I still can be loved here.”
Castilleja thought Hispanic Heritage Month represents all the roadblocks and barriers that Hispanic individuals overcame to get to where they are today. He referred to his father and other members of the community who, back in the 1950s, was instrumental in the fight to desegregate schools in Kyle. He recalled attending a “Mexican school” for about two months because Mexicans were not allowed to go to the Anglo school.
Angelita Tobias also recounted her days in school – she was the first member of her family to go to an integrated school.
“It was a very lonely experience for me,” Tobias said. “We were not allowed to speak Spanish in the playground or anywhere else.”
Cobos noted that a lack of dialogue and empathy can make it challenging to recognize the hardships immigrants go through to make it to the United States.
“Sometimes when I speak to a person that doesn’t understand the hardships of even getting a residency, even being a legal alien of the U.S. — they speak very like ‘two plus two is four,’ like ‘just do this,’ and that just shows me if it was that easy, trust me, we wouldn’t have so many out there not receiving and doing thing by the law,” Cobos said.
“You are reborn; you’re not just learning a new language, but you’re learning a new way to drive, a new way to go and eat in a restaurant, a new way to even not honk when you’re driving or that you can cross with a red light,” Cobos continued. “It’s things that may seem insignificant, but it’s very much like a cultural shock.”
Although Castilleja is not an advocate for open borders, he believes in effective immigration policies.
“We have all the technology we can employ to keep track of everybody that comes across but to open the borders and let everybody come in that’s not the way to do it. We don’t know who’s crossing, we have a lot of people that are coming across with ill intentions to harm our country, and that’s the way I feel,” Castilleja said.
Angelita Tobias agreed with Castilleja about closed borders, but she does not embrace the fear tactics. “We cannot classify immigrants as — I don’t even want to say, but the president that we used to have that we were all Mexicans and we were all rapists. I will not embrace that because we have beautiful people,” Angelita Tobias said.
Castilleja also spoke about when he went to get his COVID-19 vaccine, noting that only about six Hispanics showed up within two hours.
“I really don’t understand why with something that’s available to them and why they don’t show up,” Castilleja said.
Cobos said she spoke to some Venezuelans who were skeptical about the vaccine.
“It wasn’t a lack of wanting to take advantage of the resources provided regardless of your insurance or not; it’s the historic events in the past with particular minorities,” Cobos said.
Dr. Cohen said that they’ve been battling the misinformation that has been happening over the past two years.
“A lot of times they are afraid of the vaccine more than they are the virus and that is because of the misinformation that’s being spread in this area. There are over 94,000 Latinos in Hays County and only maybe 44% are fully vaccinated,” Dr. Cohen said.
Cohen also noted the disparities that impacted the Hispanic community like not having a community center and no library east of I-35.
For more information about the Dialogues for Peace & Progress including previous/future events and how to watch them, please visit https://www.cityofkyle.com/dialogue.