At our Friday Assembly last week, I learned about Bachata dancing from two student presenters. The students shared that Bachata is a dance style that developed in the Dominican Republic in the 1960’s. They talked about Bachata’s distinct rhythm and the love stories contained in traditional Bachata music. During National Hispanic Heritage Month, between mid-September and mid-October, we highlight the cultures and contributions of many of our students and families to our larger community. Celebrating the cultural heritage and diversity of our students enables us to value each individual while building a dynamic school community. In addition, students recognize the importance of those who’ve paved the way for them to have opportunities they enjoy today.
Earlier this month, members of our community gathered to dedicate the Prayer Plaza in front of our school with the Villarreal family, who generously funded its construction. Fr. Bill Johnson, SJ offered prayers, reflection, and a blessing as we formally celebrated the creation of this sacred space. This project has tremendous personal significance to the Villareal family. El Rey, the Villarreal family business grocery store chain, traces its first store’s origins to the southside of Milwaukee 45 years ago close to our current school location. At the dedication we had an opportunity to discuss the positive impact of El Rey on the community. The grocery store has a particular emphasis on providing food to the community that one would find in traditional dishes from a variety of Latin cultures.
At one point, Olivia Villarreal, the matriarch of the family asked to speak directly to her children who were all present among the crowd who gathered for the dedication. She talked about how when she grew up, she had parents who modeled love, a deep faith, and encouragement while they worked hard to provide for her family. She acknowledged, however, that her parents could not help her pay for higher education when the time came and that was something she vowed to do differently for her children and others in need. She concluded with a direct message to her family, “May you never act selfish but learn to give of yourselves whenever your kindness and generosity are needed!”
As I consider Hispanic Heritage Month and the legacy of those who’ve gone before us to offer us the opportunities we have today, I think of El Rey’s commitment to the southside of Milwaukee and Olivia’s words to her family. By helping our students know and celebrate their cultural heritage and by encouraging them to generously share their gifts, Cristo Rey Jesuit empowers our students to uniquely contribute to our community and open the door to opportunity for others when they are called to do so. When the Villarreal family started El Rey, I am not sure if they ever imagined the resounding business success it would be today. I do know that their contribution to our community through their desire to celebrate their cultural heritage through the food sold in their stores has made our Milwaukee community stronger and paved the way for families and future generations of young people.