Gio González, Anthony Rendon and Latino identity

Hispanic Heritage Month officially runs from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 and celebrates Latinos and their contributions here in the United States.

While many of us have mixed feelings about HHM, I do appreciate that it gives people a chance to learn about the Latino culture, including food, trailblazers and history, just to name a few categories.

I am a second-generation Mexican-American on my dad’s side and third-generation on my mom’s side. To sum up my identity, I was born in the United States and have strong ties to my Mexican identity.

One of the many reasons why I have strong ties to my Mexican identity even to this day, is because of my family, specifically my grandparents. My grandparents always made sure my cousins and I remembered where we come from, whether it was through speaking Spanish to communicate with them or learning how to make tamales at Christmas time.

The Mexican culture was something I was always taught to embrace. Because I was born here in the United States, Spanish was not my first language. It’s still a language I struggle speaking.

This past season, I got a chance to talk with two MLB players, who were born in the United States, and still have strong ties to their Latino culture. The Washington Nationals’ Anthony Rendon is Mexican-American. The Milwaukee Brewers’ Gio González is Cuban-American.

For Rendon, embracing being Mexican-American is centered on his family. Family get-togethers during birthdays, religious holidays or to celebrate milestones at his grandparents’ home are a huge part of his Mexican identity.

“The Mexican culture was definitely instilled in us, especially when my grandparents were alive,” Rendon said. “The Mexican culture is family oriented, and if you think of a Mexican family you just think of a lot of people.

“We would always have Christmas and get-togethers, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, at my grandparents’ house. And all my aunts and uncles and cousins would be there. We were packed in this small two-bedroom house. There’s nothing better than family.”

González talked to me about his Cuban roots and growing up in Florida. It’s important for him, his wife and now his sons to embrace that culture through family and food.

“The food is the heart and soul of the culture and family you represent,” he said. “Coming from a Cuban family is always family time. You always had dinner on the table. If your grandma makes it, it’s passed down from generation to generation. My dad makes yellow rice. My mom makes brown beef and arroz con picadillo, which is what I love.”

Gio also talked about having a Latino last name and how learning how to speak Spanish was important to him, especially while playing baseball.

“When I came up through the minor leagues, it was frowned upon if you couldn’t speak Spanish,” he said. “Having the last name like González was always a tough one for me because if I didn’t know Spanish, it was like, ‘Hold on, you can’t have González as a last name and not speak Spanish. I had a lot of players work and talk with me to learn the language, so now I have Puerto Rican, Venezuelan, Dominican Spanish lingo in Spanish.”

The Latino baseball community embraced him and said, “hey you’re going to learn Spanish because we want you to represent the culture.”

Family, food and language are without a doubt three of the biggest influences in cultural identity. They are what bring us together and give us common ground. Rendon and González are proud of being both American with Mexican and Cuban roots, respectively.

Hearing them share their stories of family gatherings, packing the house, cookouts, playing games, learning to speak Spanish gave us that common bond as being both American and embracing our Latino roots.

We really do have the best of both worlds. It’s a bond a lot of Latinos who are second-, third- and now fourth-generation Latinos are experiencing together.

All I’ve ever wanted to do in my career is elevate the voice of Latinos here in the United States. Through this opportunity, talking to players and getting a chance to hear and now share their stories, I’m living my dream just like these players are living their dreams by playing in the major leagues.

While we have different professions, it’s the common bond of being Latino that allows us to represent our culture on and off the field.

I hope that throughout the next 30 days, we as a nation will continue to share stories of Latino culture, family, food and language. Let’s embrace these stories in a positive light. Through these stories we will only continue to learn about each other: our struggles, successes and a common sense of pride for who we are and where we came from.

Featured Image: Dylan Buell / Getty Images Sport