National Hispanic Heritage Month: STAFF SPOTLIGHT

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Jailene Avila

Problem Solving Specialist

Family Housing, The Whole Child


Q: Tell us a bit about your and your family’s Hispanic heritage!

A: I am first-generation and Mexican-American. My father was born in Zacatecas, Mexico and immigrated to the U.S. in hopes of a better future. My mother was born in Los Angeles, California to my grandparents who were born in Mexicali, Mexico and Michoacan, Mexico.


Q: What from your Hispanic heritage motivates you to do the work you do with The Whole Child?

A: I grew up in a Spanish-speaking household, so my first language was Spanish up until I started kindergarten. As I grew older, I still continued to speak both languages because my father and grandparents only knew Spanish. This allowed me to learn and connect with them in another language. My cultural background has influenced and inspired the work I do now. I remember growing up, my grandmother would be in and out of hospitals and medical offices, and she would tell us how they would mistreat her because she could not understand English. After her passing in 2013, I entered into high school with the determination to take Spanish courses to better and master my Spanish. I did this for her and for all the other people in this world who have been mistreated due to a language barrier. In taking Spanish courses in high school, I was able to reconnect with my cultural background and ask my parents and grandpa about the traditions they grew up with and their experiences. This paved the way for me to get a degree in Spanish. With the influences from personal experiences and relatives, this encouraged me to work with underserved communities that have a Spanish-speaking population. Each interaction with a Spanish-speaking client reminds me of the mistreatment that my grandma had to go through and how I determined from such a young age to advocate for my Hispanic community.


Q: What’s a meaningful tradition from your Hispanic heritage that you cherish?

A: My favorite tradition is Dia de los Muertos. It involves building an altar for loved ones who passed away. You place a picture of them and on that altar have items that relate to the four elements (water, fire, air, and earth), salt (for cleansing spirits), decorations, and items or foods that the dearly departed loved. The process of setting up this altar occurs over a span of days. It is considered a group effort, so family members come together to decorate the altar. It is a beautiful celebration that acknowledges life and death and how even after death, our loved ones are still with us in spirit. On November 2, our family comes together to eat and tell stories about our loved ones. On that day, it is said that our loved ones come visit us and join us for the dinner. Although I really do enjoy this holiday, one can’t help but get sad when you have to add members to the altar. This coming year, I am going to add a photo of a friend who passed away a few months ago. Although it is sad, I am going to make sure to celebrate his life by telling stories about him and what such a kind soul he was. Dia de los Muertos is such a beautiful celebration of life and death, it teaches us to cherish those memories and honor the loved ones who have passed.