by Marisol Hernández
One of our leaders in the Latino community is retiring. And because she has been such a big part of the positive image many people see in this area, we at CNY Latino decide to do a special editorial interview. We hope you enjoy this exchange with our dear friend and colleague Bea González . ———————-
Marisol: We have here, for our audience, our radio listeners, those who are watching this presentation, this recording, a very important person, in our community who is here conversing with your host, Marisol Hernandez. We are talking about Bethaida or Bea as many of us know her, has not only been an example for me as a model but she has been in a way my mentor and in some way has also influenced our community and my personal life when I return and move here to Syracuse. So let’s see Bea, tell us a little about yourself: Who are you, where do you come from, are you married, do you have children, the family?
Bea: Well I was born in Cayey Puerto Rico, and I’m the oldest of six. My parents came here first to work the farm then and they came back, to stay and to make their home. They came back to raise their family, to raise their children here in Syracuse. That was in the 50s, around 52 they came the first time. I was born in ’54, and I came when I was three years old, then by ’57, and they were looking for a way to make their life here in Syracuse NY. Professionally I have been working in education for 44 years, especially at the university level, I have a son with four grandchildren and I have my Mike who is one of the reasons why my retirement is coming at the moment. Because he already has a year of retirement, and he helped me with my career. For about 30 years and the promise was when he retired, then I retired and so we begin the new stage of our life together, so I am in those. I’m on it.
Marisol: Excellent, I love that you are thinking about that. One of the things I wanted to know about you now is why retire now, and you already answered it and what about after a retirement. You have been very active in the community for years and I imagine that in some way you are going to continue being active, but with four grandchildren and now with Mike retired I imagine that life is going to be take a very interesting turn. Tell me a little bit about what those plans are.
Bea: Well, those who know Mike and know that Mike bought a boat, that he bought it and rehabilitated it well, because the boat was made a “junk”, but now with that boat we want to travel and get to know the rivers and lakes of New York State. And if that goes well, then we will go south with the idea of reaching Maryland by boat. Because my son and grandchildren are in Maryland, but I also stay active with Syracuse Stage, that that board fascinates me, I am ending my term as chair of the board, but I’m coming back as a board member, and I’m starting now with the Community Foundation, as a board member of the Central NY Community Foundation. And I’m on the board of the Onondaga Historical Association, because one of my goals is to write a book on the history of Latinos here at Onondaga. I have quite a few projects, exactly.
Marisol: Yes, you are going to be super busy, but doing other things influencing the community on another level. I love the fact that you are not only Puerto Rican, like me, you are in a stage with a partner, just like I am that it is like a second stage, a second chance of happiness in life with a positive partner, which helps you to grow, that makes you better than who you are, and you make him better than who he is and you are going to try and now achieve that all those things that Latino have done in the community that have not been seen, can be preserve here in the records of the Onondaga Historical Association about Latinos in Syracuse. We as Latinos have contributed a lot to the benefit and advancement of the community, not only financially. You have contributed financially with many of the causes of the community, it has benefited us with the Wise Latina project, helping women entrepreneurs to create their businesses, and you have contributed to us. I know that in your heart, there always going to be that little bit of the community and that you will continue to take the name of Latinos to a high, positive level.
Bea: That comes from my culture, right? That comes from the pride of being Boricua from the pride of being Latina, and that is part of the effort to help those who do not understand. To those who have opinions that are not as nice, as we are, helping them is part of all that.
Marisol: Yes, I know that you have, not only with your own education, have you come to understand on a deeper level the racism that we sometimes impose on ourselves, and there are many people in the community who have used the fast racism or being discriminated against as Latinos or minorities in some way for not being successful in the community. How do you see it, is it an excuse or is it really something that prevents the achievement of certain people in the community…?
Bea: It is something that can prevent. But we have the strength and we have the “persistence”, we have the strength to be able to fight against it. I always say that I am the author of my story, right. I’m not going to let anyone take my story away from me. But it is not easy, I do not say that it is easy, but with my education, with my attitude, with my desire, with my goal, I manage to overcome all that feeling, right. I don’t want to throw another person’s racism at me, why would I do that? That will hurt me. And I avoid negative stuff at all times. And I look for the way, and the roads are not straight, the roads are almost never straight. But we have to keep fighting and achieving. We can’t let someone else set limits for us, we can’t. And that’s what I always say when I talk to young people, don’t let other people’s negative thoughts take your dreams away.
Marisol: Yes, you are right, we are very resilient, and we are persevering and we can overcome all our challenges that come our way in life and you are right, we cannot let a person’s attitude limit you. I have this idea and that’s how I lead my life. That I cannot control what happens or what other people do, but I can control how I react to what that other person does and that is an example of how you are doing it and that leads us to the next question.
Marisol: Being a successful Latina, being a Latina, being a woman has been an advantage for you to achieve what you have achieved. In a way, being a minority, being Latina, has it helped you? And if it has helped you, how can we help our community to use being a minority, Latino to advance and move forward?
Bea: Well, I say that it has helped me. And because my career many times because I am the only one. The only one with my experience, the only one with my voice, and I take advantage of that opportunity. I learned from a very young age how to influence without authority. And without the person realizing it, they already give me the authority in a way and that has served me very well. Every occasion is an opportunity, right? And if you enter with fear, if sometimes I have the opportunity and I am a little afraid to take advantage of that opportunity, but I do not let fear hold me, I open myself and with my faith I say “well I will try my best and if it turns out well, great” and “if not, then I learned something from it and in that way I continue achieving and advancing. One of the things that bothers me the most is that they don’t expect much from me sometimes. They “underestimate” me.
Marisol: I think it is said that they underestimate or think that you cannot do what they are thinking you are doing or asking you to do.
Bea: Yes, and they are always surprised. When I achieve what they expect and exceed their expectations.
Marisol: Yes, you, Bea, I have been here for twenty- five years in the city of Syracuse, and from the moment I entered to work at the Spanish Action League I knew about you and saw you and understood the power that you have within you, and the power that you have achieved in the community with that attitude that you have always had. And the example you have given to many of our Latinos and non-Latinos, and how much you have helped doing the work you have done in the past forty-something years. Talking about it and we have heard your story several times and we know that your family were the leaders who started and opened the Spanish Action League. And you have influenced many other organizations, you mentioned the ones that you are now serving, but you have served in many others. What can you tell us so that the young people who are now there can contribute, can appreciate, no.? What we and what our ancestors did to achieve the level that we are now in the city and what can they do to take us to next level?
Bea: They have to start first with love themselves, “selflove”, they have to love, they have to know love who they are, they have to know their history, in terms of the society in which to live, because they are going to need that basis of understanding to be able to fight racism, against things that are negative, let’s say. So, they have to educate themselves, one way or the other, be it formal education, be it informal education about their history, about their culture, number one. Because they have to have that pride of who they are. Second, they have to accept that they have a responsibility and that responsibility is to help their colleague. Keep the doors open, extend their hand, like me that I always bring someone with me at every step. Never alone, never alone. And from that come many blessings. From that behavior come many blessings. And they cannot be afraid. They have to have the faith that they can achieve in the white community, in the black community, in the yellow community, that they have something to build no matter where. And I am being the first at many things. The first to finish high school, the first to finish college, the first to serve on the school board, I am the first of many. But for them, they will no longer be the first, and that path is already open, and they have to take advantage of the fact that those paths are opening up.
Marisol: Yes, you grew up on that. It is part of the culture. We, being in the media have seen as much in how our culture, the culture has been lost, where we come from, some values with which we grew up, and the language, the food, the dance, the music, have been lost. What can you tell these people who are watching this recording, reading or listening to our interview so that they can continue and have the culture in mind and continue to feel proud of their culture.?
Bea: Well, first let’s accept that the assimilation term for the third generation is missing the language, it is missing some things of the culture. And that happens to Italians, well to all who have come, right? But you have to find a way not to lose your history, not lose pride, because the culture is beautiful. One of the problems that young people have is that all they see are the negative stereotypes of our culture and they don’t want to accept that. So, they have to learn. I will tell you a story. When my son grew up, he always said. No, I do not tell anyone that I am Boricua and that I am Hispanic, because Hispanics are all bad. That’s what he saw in the movies in all of that. He already had that negative against Latinos, against Puerto Ricans, and when he was thirteen. Well a little younger, from eleven to twelve we were leaving the San Juan airport and my family lives in Cayey. And we were heading for the mountains on the street and he said, “Oh, mom, I understand, here in Puerto Rico the doctors, the police, all the firefighters are all Boricuas. At that time, he understood that the image he had of his culture was an image reflected by the American culture, not by the Puerto Rican culture, and at that moment his total feeling changed. We have to find that moment for all our young people.
Marisol: It seems to me that La Casita Cultural Center and organizations like that, La Joven Guardia del teatro Latino with Jose Miguel, are trying to continue with that culture. That is one of the ways that we as Latinos can maintain those values, that culture and be able to appreciate where we come from, but you said a very important point. You took your son to our roots and the moment he saw himself where he is equal to the rest of where the he came from then he learned to appreciate who he is. And it is something that we as adults it is our responsibility to try that our children learn that and take them to our countries. I know people who are from Peru from Nicaragua and they take their children and grandchildren to their country for them to see. And they can feel proud of who we are and of our roots. And this assimilation we can accept and learn, let me say it again. We have to accept the rules of the communities where we are living at and the culture of the community without losing ours, but accept that and learn how to survive.
Bea: Well it is good for me, I see the change every day, I can go to Wegmans, to Price Right, to Price Chopper, to Green Hills and find Latino products, that 20 years ago, 30 years ago it was not seen here. Then there is assimilation of each part, true?
Marisol: Sure and you have seen, I have seen several television programs of people who travel to other countries to teach about our food, how to cook it, our culture, our dances and it is something that you are right, it goes both ways but when we face a person who does not see us in a positive way, it is in ourselves to teach them. As a Latina I feel I have to do 200% better than someone else and I feel responsible when I am on a board of directors serving as the voice of the community and I cannot speak for everyone, but I have to stay informed, with the connection with the community to be able to represent them well. And speaking of that, what advice can you give to our Latina women so that they can move forward and be better mothers, better wives, better professionals, of your own experiences that you can share.?
Bea: Well I have been lucky, I invest in myself in terms that if I want to learn something, I find a way to learn it. I do not wait for someone to tell me, go and learn, I am looking for a way to learn. And now it is easy, if one has that desire. Also not to be afraid to try because no one has been born knowing, we all have to learn, not to be afraid to try, and if one tries and succeeds for the first time then see that we learned from that experience and for the other time, we look for another process, another way that would works better for us. Having family for me is very important, I have always had my sisters with me, I have a very intact, very solid family and I know that many do not have that, but family can be created. And one has to find the positive people that are going to help you. Also don’t be afraid to ask or inquire. To ask for help, to ask where help is. For me, thanks God and I’m glad it happens to me. People stop me at the supermarket where they find me to see if I can help them with something and for me that is a blessing, that they see me as a resource that can help them where I find them, they ask me how, if it is to have that value of keep looking for our goals. And it is not easy because sometimes for example; buying houses because one has to understand that it is not easy to buy that house. There are steps, there is a process and accepting that and looking for the way and looking for resources. I do not want anyone to think that things came easy to me. Because I found myself in situations that I really didn’t know how to help, right. I had to wait a little bit. Especially when I got to the school board. I had to learn the school board system especially when I had to learn the organization. So, I try to give them the confidence to come and ask me.
Marisol: If it is something since you have become the voice and you are right, they see you as a resource, the path that you have taken and the challenges that you have been able to overcome, have put you on a level where you can and have the resources, you have the Connections, you have what people call the “know how”, or you know how to do it, how to get certain things, and you’re right, many people know that you are, they know that if you are going to do something you do it and they know that if you are presented with an obstacle, you go around the obstacle to achieve it. So it is something very important and it seems to me that many of us who came to Syracuse who knew about you, who met who have seen you at different events, we have learned how to say you always had someone by the hand so to speak. I benefited from that. When I was on the board of directors, you were the first to start telling me how things were and to help me, to tell me what politics was like in this community. I was very new to that process and is something that comes easy from you. Many of us needed it and you are very dear to the community. You have been a truly Hispanic pride for all of us, and an example that we all want to emulate and follow. You have also spoken in our conversation, you have mentioned your faith, thank God or tell us about your faith. Why has it been such an important influence in your life and your achievements?
Bea: For me all things are connected, right, and I believe, my faith is to believe in humanity and the good of humanity. So that’s what I bring. That is what I bring, my faith gives that to me and then those blessings come. What my life brings me is that true responsibility. As I have been, I have had the pleasure of being the first, because for me it is important to maintain the opportunities that they gave me, I have to maintain that those opportunities exist for others, for other people. That for me is very important.
Bea: In third grade I learned a poem. It is a poem by Robert Frost and it is the way not, well The Road Not Taken. In Spanish it is the chosen path, right. And the poem ends with this Marisol, “I must be saying this with a sigh, from here to eternity, two roads met in a forest and I, I took the least traveled and that made all the difference”. So those words since I was in third grade, those words have been my guide.
Marisol: Wow, it’s giving me goose bumps. Hearing you say that because yes, you are right. Taking that road less traveled, has opened the doors for many of us to have that courage that you spoke about earlier and that determination to take that path and make our own paths as well.
Bea: And if a jibarita (A country girl) from Cayey Puerto Rico can do it, then others can do it too.
Marisol: Of course, with a lot of determination always, and with a lot of faith and hope. Bea, is there something that you want to say or is there something that we have not asked you, something that you want to share before closing this interview.?
Bea: It is important to understand that we are part of a community that represents the true rainbow of color, and at this moment in the United States, it is super important that we support our brothers of color. Because if there is racism for one person, there is racism for everyone. So, for me right now, these days is our support for the community of people of color because in the support we give them we are helping ours.
Marisol: How nice, how important yes because if a person pushes forward, we can all push forward. Especially these days with this coronavirus pandemic it has been seen much more as our disadvantaged communities have been harmed more by all this. That has also changed in the way that we do everything. You are retiring and like many of us young people, the youngest here at home finished her last semester at LeMoyne College online. My niece’s girl has finished high school and graduated by completing her last semester online. Her little boy finished his first grade online. You as a professional and now retiring your last semester of online work, how did that change the way you do your work to continue influencing the community?
Bea: Well I will tell you, in terms of zoom meetings just like one after the other, well since March. The truth and in reality nothing has changed because with the phone, with zoom you can achieve everything and I have several projects that yes it is a little more difficult such as the “Buy Local” project with the university because now in the university, because now with the hiring freeze and with everything that is happening, but the project continues and now with more focus because now it is more important than ever. And for that part I hope that the university. Well I know that, with the university, the projects that I have in process the department continue with that work. For me now it would be not to lose the connections that I have, right? Because opening the doors in the university is one of the most important jobs that I have in the university because education is the most important way to achieve our goals and to be able to overcome the poverty system and the racism system, all this is based on education. And that’s why for me, I’m going to continue in my own way, as I can opening that door, but in reality I continue working (laughs) nothing has changed.
Marisol: You are working just as hard. The only thing is that you have had to prepare a corner in the house just like me…
Bea: Yes, without gasoline, without spending on gasoline, right?
Marisol: Yes, it is one of the things that I miss the most, the travel. Not really this pandemic has changed everyone’s life but at this moment where you are also transitioning to a new stage of your life. I think it is important to emphasize the positive attitude that you always have, the attitude and that character to what they say in English about “Go Getter” and achieve what you want, and achieve what you want and I am sure and I have confidence, that these people who are going to continue with the projects that you have started are going to honor that work that you have done and that is the best legacy you can leave to our community. I wish you the best of luck even if you don’t need it. Success on that trip, I love that idea of that boat. I wish you success, that you continue to love our community as you have always loved it and I am very sure that you will continue to open doors for our young and not so young community.
Bea: Yes, for Everyone, thanks Marisol.
Marisol: Thank you for this interview, this time and thank you personally for everything you have done for me and for our community and for what you will continue to do.
Bea: No, I don’t work too much, hahaha