You don’t have to be Hispanic or speak Spanish to attend the Hispanic Heritage Celebration scheduled for Sept. 20 from 7 to 10 p.m. at Conshohocken’s Coyote Crossing. In fact, organizers are hoping for a crowd that reflects the same broad demographic mix the popular Mexican restaurant attracts on a regular basis.

“This is something that’s open to everyone,” says spokesman Jacqueline Rocco, the Conshohocken woman who established the Hispanic Heritage Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania last year. “From the beginning, we’ve tried to make the association inclusive -- and welcoming -- regardless of personal background. We love sharing our culture … love to see people dancing and eating foods made within the various Hispanic communities.

“This event is important because it helps to bring awareness of the many beautiful Hispanic countries that are represented throughout our nation but specifically in and around Montgomery County. We welcome everyone because at the end of the day, we are all one. We all represent the human race, and we all bring something to the table.”

Rocco, whose family immigrated to Philadelphia from Puerto Rico when she was a toddler, explains the upcoming event will kick off this year’s National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15) and include the introduction of proclamations by the Borough of Conshohocken and the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs, remarks by various community leaders and refreshments.

At their best, she says, get-togethers like the one on Sept. 20 help create awareness and dispel fear rooted in ignorance about the unknown, particularly during this era when discussions related to immigrants in general have become near-daily hot button topics in media and political circles. In past decades, “pre-conditioned mindsets” bedeviled and sidelined groups like Irish and Italian immigrants. These days, it’s no secret that Americans with Hispanic roots have become prime targets for negative rhetoric.

“Educational and cultural awareness is so important, because ignorance creates fear and stereotypes,” Rocco says. “All we’re asking for are the same rights that any other American has. We’re already here – and have been here – paying our taxes and contributing to society. But we’re more visible now because, naturally, our numbers have increased. We – in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania – represent one million Hispanics, and 500,000 of those being represented are Puerto Ricans.”

In reality, she continues, “educated, hard-working, tax-paying” (Hispanics) have been part of this country for decades and newcomers, like anyone else – Italians, Africans, Greeks, the French, Swiss, Irish, Spanish, Dominicans, Bahamians – come to America for what is believed to be the land of opportunities and freedom.”

Rocco and husband Domenic have lived in Conshohocken for 17 years. She founded and heads non-profit EduGroup of PA, which, she explains, focuses on “decreasing high school dropout rates by providing mentorship opportunities for students…in Philadelphia and Montgomery Counties.” In addition, she is a certified workshop facilitator-presenter for the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.

As a member of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latin Affairs, Rocco “(serves) as an ambassador for the Latino community of Pennsylvania, advocating for policies, programs and resources that support their local and greater-community needs.” The difference between Latinos and Hispanics? The former have Latin American roots, she notes. The latter are descendants of Spanish-speaking cultures in general.

“The borough and the community have been very supportive as we pursue these goals, but we hope that the surrounding boroughs will also be a part of this awareness and recognition,” says Rocco, who also belongs to the Conshohocken Planning Commission and Conshohocken Plymouth Whitemarsh Rotary Club. “All they have to do is contact us, and we (will) share our vision and goals and work in partnership with our borough council members, mayor and elected officials.”

She points to the benefit for Puerto Rico’s Teatro Por Amor at Jillian’s Café in Conshohocken United Methodist Church on Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. The island-based non-profit group was established “to spread a message of hope and resilience to at-risk youth through theater” after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017. The upcoming event will feature a documentary about Teatro Por Amor. Admission is a “requested $20 donation.” More details are available at www.conshyunited.com.

“HHASEPA is providing music and helping out with food for (the event),” Rocco says.

Additional information about the organization’s Sept. 20 Hispanic Heritage Celebration at Coyote Crossing, 800 Spring Mill Ave., is posted on its Facebook page or via hhasepa@gmail.com and 484-510-6517.

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