When Nicole (Negron) Aponte was a student at Menchville High School, she painted a portion of a mural in the cafeteria that celebrated Hispanic culture. A number of years later, when Aponte was an adult, a young girl in one of the youth groups at her church approached her after learning of her contribution to the mural.
“She was excited to tell me that the Latino population of the school, whenever they would go to lunch, they would sit beneath my mural,” Aponte said. “That was awesome. It was really cool to find out that just a little seed that I had sown had made a difference years later.”
Unfortunately, that mural was a casualty of a makeover in the past few years. However, Aponte is contributing a pair of videos to Thomas Nelson’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage month (Sept. 15-Oct.15), and she’s hoping to plant another seed for another generation.
“I was very privileged to have this opportunity, and I hope people who hear about it or read statements or watch my presentations will find something relevant to them, and it will be encouraging to them,” she said of her two 20-minute videos.
Aponte is a media specialist assistant for Suffolk Public Schools who lives in Suffolk with her husband of 23 years. They have three sons. She’s also a teacher, actor, singer and model. Her parents are Puerto Rican, but were raised in New York. They were attending college in their early 20s when they both decided to join the military, which took them all over the world. Nicole was born in Germany, and her parents eventually settled in Newport News after her father was stationed at Fort Eustis. She’s been in Hampton Roads for more than 30 years, graduating from Menchville.
She was asked to discuss her Hispanic culture in her videos.
“I spoke about asking the audience to consider our presence, our contributions, our citizenship, our progress and current problems,” she said.
She noted in today’s political climate, Americans think mostly about Black and white when it comes to racial issues, often overlooking the country’s second largest racial or ethnic group. According to the Pew Research Center, Hispanics make up 18% of the population with 60.6 million residents.
“Hispanics are currently the highest minority in the U.S. I think a lot of people don’t know that,” she said. “With such a high presence, it’s really important for people to recognize our contributions, our concerns, how to best support Hispanics, how to celebrate their contributions beyond just having great music or having great restaurants.”
Showing the group’s contributions in technology, education, and other areas also benefit the Hispanic community in addition to informing others.
“I think it will also help those who are in this country who are Hispanic, some that are not citizens that are working toward it, and some that are still disenfranchised,” she said, noting it’s great for Hispanics to see their heritage in the spotlight for a month.
“They can be encouraged that they can do it to; that they are important here in this country,” she said.
While she’s privileged to participate in Hispanic Heritage month, she knows she can’t speak for everyone since a variety of experiences, backgrounds and stories makes up Hispanic culture.
“Especially amongst Latinos and Hispanics, we come from so many different backgrounds,” she said. “Our language, of course, ties us together, but Mexican culture is vastly different from Puerto Rican culture vs. Nicaraguan culture.”
Aponte has no ties to Thomas Nelson, but is herself a student. After high school, she worked for a year before attending Christopher Newport University for two semesters. She got married, “then life got really busy.”
However, education has always been important to her so she would take classes when time allowed. She eventually earned an associate degree from Liberty University, and is working on a bachelor’s in elementary education, also from Liberty. She’s on track to graduate in August 2021. She’d like to earn a master’s in education as well. Eventually, she’d like to create educational online programs.
Hispanic Heritage month begins Sept. 15 because the Hispanic countries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua declared their independence on that day in 1821. In addition, Mexico celebrates its independence Sept, 16, Chile on Sept. 18 and Belize on Sept. 21.
In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced the first Hispanic Heritage Week, and it was expanded to a month in 1989 under President George H.W. Bush.
To check out Aponte’s videos, go to tncc.edu.