Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month: Dennis Delgado’s Impact at One Hope United
In the spirit of celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, we are shining a spotlight on Dennis Delgado, the Executive Director of CBFS at One Hope United. Dennis has been a trailblazer his entire life, from becoming the first in his family to graduate college to becoming the first Executive Director at One Hope United of Hispanic descent. This year, Dennis is celebrating his thirteenth year as a Hope Member, and his leadership has led to increased visibility and inclusivity, not only for his fellow Hope Members but also for everyone in our care.
What is your cultural background?
I was born and raised in the U.S. but I am from Puerto Rican descent, and my parents were born and raised there. My siblings and I are first generation in the U.S. I am one of 4 siblings, I am number 3 in line. My father was one of 13 children and wasn’t able to go to school. Because of this, he can’t read and write to this day because he had to help support his family. Coming to the United States, he didn’t have any type of education. My mom, on the other hand, did have a high school education, but the way that I was raised was still very old school. Although, it is a lot different than how a lot of Hispanics are raised now, because I feel like as a lot of generations continue on from first, second, third, and fourth generation, you tend to lose some of that culture. Spanish was my immediate first language, but I did learn both around the same time. My dad, to this day, still speaks broken English, so we always spoke Spanish around the house and English mostly in school.
How do you prioritize serving the Hispanic population in your work?
The unfortunate piece is that Hispanic culture is underserved and underrepresented. We don’t have specific programs designed for the Spanish-speaking population specific to Hispanics or Latinos. Especially in Northern Illinois, the Hispanic culture is the largest minority group, and we don’t have programs designed to address their cultural needs in a way that is in their native tongue. There are other agencies that offer such services, but I am specifically trying to get us back into that area. Some years ago we did offer some programs that were tailored to Spanish speaking clients, but due to the scarcity of Hispanics who are bilingual or bicultural entering this field, that is what helps fuel how we provide services to our clients. Right now, we have brought back the Burgos Foster Care Program, which is specifically for clients who speak Spanish and identify as Spanish and Latino. I’m working on getting this up off the ground again, but the difficulty is being able to identify qualified candidates with vast experience who speak Spanish and are bilingual.
How would you say that your culture helps bring a different perspective to people in our care?
It’s the unique lens in which I was born and how I have always seen the world. Yes, you grow and you develop and learn to utilize other lenses, however, I can’t view this world as a white person. No matter how hard I try, because I will not be treated as a white person. Same thing goes if I was talking about the black culture; minorities sometimes tend to be able to relate to each other, but not perfectly. My path has been a bit more difficult because of my cultural background. However, I will say this proudly, I have been able to tackle any type of adversity this far in my life in order to get to where I’m at. Whether that be through education, I have utilized my culture when it comes to getting various scholarships that were specific to minorities. Not everything has always been equal opportunities. I will say I haven’t had it the roughest, but my starting line was further back than the majority of those in the US. My goal in what I do is fueled by my culture, and I’m trying to make it easier so all cultures have a more equal starting line. When we do that, we set everyone up for the same success.
In your 13 years of working at OHU, can you think of an instance you were grateful for being bilingual?
When I started at OHU I was a case manager for the first 5 years in CCBYS that helps youth aged 11-17. There was a 12-year-old light-skinned Mexican male, and his legal guardian was his grandma. I remember his grandma being so appreciative that I spoke Spanish because the 12-year-old grandson was always having to translate things for her because she didn’t speak English. There were times she didn’t think he was translating things as effectively. For that family, it ended up being a godsend for them that I spoke Spanish. I’ve always been the only Spanish-speaking person on my team. The vast majority of my cases during that time were families from the Hispanic community because I could speak to them better and also relate to them better because I understood some of the adversities they had to overcome.
What is the importance in celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month?
The importance of celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month is equally as important as celebrating the 4th of July, marking our nation’s independence. It reminds us that before living in the United States, we all came from somewhere else. Our origins influence our unique identities, including our physical features, skin tone, music preferences, culinary traditions, and clothing styles. Each of these 21 different Spanish-speaking countries contribute its distinct flavor and spice to our shared heritage, and we take pride in where we came from, who we are, and where we are going.