This month, we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month and the many Red Cross volunteers who give their time and talent to our mission. Volunteers like Rodrigo Estrada, who are driven with passion to serve their community.
Rodrigo recently sat down with us to share about his culture, what it means to him and how it has impacted his volunteer work with the Red Cross.
When and how did you get involved with the Red Cross?
“I first joined the Red Cross as a sophomore in high school. I am originally from El Paso, Texas, which is only 5 miles from the US-Mexico border. I grew up in a border community so a lot of the humanitarian crises that the Red Cross was responding to was a local crisis for me. I saw the Red Cross in the front lines helping immigrants and asylum seekers. I was interested in helping out, so I reached out to my local chapter and was taken on as a youth volunteer.”
How has your heritage shaped you into the person you are today?
“My grandparents grew up in a small town in Northern Mexico and immigrated when they were 18 years old to Colorado, where my grandfather was able to find work in the fields as an agricultural worker. Once he saved up enough money for a house, they moved to El Paso, which is where they’ve lived ever since. I grew up really close to my grandparents and I will say that my grandmother is one of my biggest inspirations. She really has a heart of service. Even when she didn’t have much, she would always provide for neighbors in need. When we were on our way to school, if it was raining or there was a dust storm, she would pull over on the side of the road and give them a ride; we were always going to school with someone new in the passenger side next to us.”
“She also always made empanadas, a Mexican dessert, and would give them out to neighbors. If neighbors needed to go to a doctor’s appointment, were elderly, or sick, and without the means of transportation, she would set aside time in her day to take them where they needed to go. I grew up with that example in mind and it really motivated me to follow in her footsteps. What we do at the Red Cross is provide life-saving services and look out for people in our community so for me, being a Red Cross volunteer was a natural extension of my grandmother’s legacy.”
What are three words that describe what your culture means to you?
- Foundation: I grew up in a predominantly Hispanic community, so I was always surrounded by the culture—it really shaped the way I see the world and the importance of family and community for me.
- Expression: I view my culture as a way of expressing myself. I would dance Bachata in college, a Caribbean-style dance, which was a really great way of connecting with my culture in college and expressing myself.
- Unity: The Hispanic community is very diverse and I really learned this in college because growing up here in El Paso, a majority of Hispanic immigrants are from Mexico. But in Chicago, there are established Puerto Rican communities, Dominican communities, Cuban communities… it all just blends in seamlessly and it was really cool to see that intercultural exchange within the Hispanic community.
What are some of your favorite cultural traditions?
“There are so many but I most vividly remember Nochebuena. Traditionally, in the Hispanic community, we celebrate Christmas the night before (Christmas Eve) and it’s when the majority of the family get-togethers and festivities happen. For me, the highlight of Nochebuena was the tamales, traditional Mexican food made of cornflour, wrapped around in corn leaves, and served with different fillings. It’s pretty labor-intensive, but we made them with our grandmother, and I’ll always remember that. Even the tamale itself is supposed to symbolize a gift because you unwrap it, so it has both religious and historical significance for that holiday.”
What advice would you give to anyone who would like to get involved with the Red Cross?
“Don’t be shy! Call up your local Red Cross office or reach out to a current volunteer. We are all super friendly and love welcoming new volunteers to the team. There’s a position for everyone and we love people from different backgrounds, with different talents, and different skills of expertise. It really helps strengthen our work and offers a new perspective to the work that we are doing, especially around conversations of diversity. At the Red Cross, we’ve been having intentional discussions around promoting diversity and inclusion. For example, in El Paso, Texas, we’ve recently established Latino Outreach Committees and resource groups—we really want our volunteer workforce to reflect the communities they serve so we welcome volunteers from all walks of life.”
If you’re looking to join a team of diverse and talented individuals, sign up to become a Red Cross volunteer today. You can help people impacted by disasters and big and small. Learn about our most needed positions at redross.org/VolunteerToday.