CONSHOHOCKEN -- Last December, Hispanic Heritage Association of Southeastern PA’s colorful Parrandera parade added joy to Conshohocken’s Christmas season. Six months before, HHA sponsored the appearance of Los Bomberos de La Calle drummers and dancers and Pedro Villasenor-Mariachi Group at the borough’s annual Arts Festival and Car Show.

As author S.E. Hinton observed in her eponymous coming-of-age novel, “That Was Then, This Is Now.” Then, of course, was pre-COVID-19. Now, as we all know, is a period of quarantines and social distancing. As some put it: The before and after times.

Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month, and – given the self-isolating protocols sparked by the current pandemic – it’s more important than ever to maintain HHA’s visibility, says Jacqueline Rocco, the Conshohocken woman who founded the regional organization two years ago.

Rocco’s family immigrated to Philadelphia from Puerto Rico when she was a toddler, and she has lived in Conshohocken with her husband and son for nearly two decades. The local woman has a long history of volunteerism with area civic groups and was appointed to the Pennsylvania Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs three years ago.

The latter describes its mission as “(advising) the governor on policies and legislation that impact Latino communities and (ensuring) that Pennsylvania’s Latinos are given the opportunity to thrive in community development, education, equal rights and equal opportunities, workforce, health and social services in Pennsylvania.”

Although the ongoing pandemic has made community outreach more problematic than usual, this area’s HHA members are doing their best to publicly mark Hispanic Heritage Month.

“COVID-19 has put a damper on everything and anything social in the community, (and) it is important that we continue to carry out the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) rules in keeping one another safe to help lower the number of cases of infections in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and across the nation,” Rocco observes. “Because of this, Hispanic Heritage Association has had to also take our community social events online…like every organization and business in order to keep afloat and guarantee our continued existence in our communities.”

Among those events…one-minute videos focused on conversation-starters like “As a Latina/Hispanic, how has COVID-19 affected my life and community?”; Dicho Fridays “where we’ll be advertising different sayings from various countries and asking the social community if you have a similar saying, or do you know what it means?”; as well as a number of formal proclamations, including one by Conshohocken Borough Council.

“Conshohocken Borough’s diversity makes us a stronger and richer community, and we are thrilled to recognize our neighbors of Hispanic descent,” noted Mayor Yaniv Aronson after he’d signed and Council had unanimously ratified the declaration on Sept. 16.

HHA’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month includes an online series of Women’s and Men’s “Empowerment” talks.

Rocco kicked off the series with her thoughts “on the purpose of HHA, the future of HHA and why HHA is needed in our communities,” to be followed by:

“Our second guest…Pastor Elizabeth Martinez, on ministry, helping the community and her work as a chaplain; our third guest…Luz B. Colon, speaking as executive director of GACLA (Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs), a single mom and empowering her community with passion in the things she does; our fourth guest…Raquel Sapeg on domestic abuse and surviving, setting goals and having more than one plan…therapy resources and support.”

At press time, HHA’s Men’s Empowerment Series was still being finalized but according to Rocco, will feature insights from community leaders who “range from real estate agents, CEOs to organizations, business owners, directors of Latino organizations and much more.”

Their common denominator?

“They all bring something spectacular to the table,” she says. “And, in the past, these men haven’t been highlighted as much as they should be given what they’re doing for their communities.”

Looking ahead, Rocco hopes Conshohocken Restaurant Week (Sept. 21 through Oct. 4) will help spotlight the contributions eateries Tierra Caliente and El Limon have made to the community.

“Each (of them) is planning to feature a special dish and drink for Hispanic Heritage Month and have live performers for an evening,” she says.

Ironically, HHA’s need to go virtual for most of its outreach hasn’t been all bad.

“We’ve been doing just about everything online, which does limit us, but it’s been interesting because with our postings on Facebook and (our other) social media, it’s actually allowed us the opportunity to expand our reach, even to other countries,” Rocco says.

Additional information is available via HHA’s Facebook page.

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