By Sergio Legorreta
Baylor students gathered Wednesday evening to celebrate Hispanic culture at the 27th annual Hispanic Heritage Month Banquet. The banquet featured Emmy Award-winning ABC News co-anchor John Quiñones as the keynote speaker.
Waco senior Steven Rodriguez, vice president of the Hispanic Student Association, said it is important to get rid of the prejudice Hispanics face and recognize the accomplishments of Hispanic leaders.
One such leader, Cesar Chavez, was posthumously presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work in improving migrant farmers’ working conditions.
Quiñones recalled his struggle to become a journalist, having grown up in a poor family that became migrant farm workers after his father was laid off from his job as a janitor. Quiñones and his family rode 1,600 miles in the back of a truck to reach Michigan and started working the fields. His family picked tomatoes for 35 cents a bushel.
“I remember being on my knees on the cold, hard ground,” Quiñones said. “My father said, ‘Juanito, do you want to do this for the rest of your life, or do you want to get a college education?’”
After deciding to pursue an education, Quiñones asked his school counselors about going to college, but they discouraged him.
“They said, ‘We think you ought to try woodshop,’” Quiñones said. “They judged me by the color of my skin and the accent in my voice.”
Despite the opposition he faced, Quiñones was set on obtaining an education and becoming a journalist. He became the first person in his family to get a college degree, which he said was largely possible because of the government program Upward Bound, which helps prepare high school students from low-income families for higher education.
Since becoming a journalist, Quiñones said he has tried to follow the advice of one of his former bosses, Peter Jennings, by giving a voice not to “the movers and the shakers, but the moved and the shaken.”
Early in his career, Quiñones went undercover to see what conditions faced those illegally entering the United States from Mexico.
He went across the Rio Grande and was hired at a Greek restaurant that employed workers without documentation.
The owner had not paid the workers in 14 weeks and only allowed them to eat and sleep in the basement, among the restaurant supplies.
Quiñones confronted the owner after interviewing the workers, and the story led to the U.S. government shutting down the restaurant, compensating the workers and granting them temporary visas.
The banquet also included a performance from the Latin Dance Society, featuring Waco senior Christopher Blewett and Pasadena sophomore Paola Garza.
Waco senior Bryan Tehrani, president of the Hispanic Student Association, said that the goal of the banquet was to celebrate and teach others about Hispanic culture, which can be challenging because Hispanics are a minority at Baylor.
“Learning is not a one-sided thing,” Tehrani said. “Once we know part of somebody, it’s easier to get to know them and create friendships.”