Irish Cortez, a senior theater major from Goshen, shared part of her story about connecting with her Hispanic heritage at the September 20, 2023 convocation highlighting Hispanic Heritage Month.
These are her prepared remarks:
My name is Irish, or you may have heard me be referred to as Iris. Either is completely fine. But my name seems kind of confusing. People often ask what a Mexican girl is doing with a name like “Irish.” Fair, you would not be the first nor the last. Long story short. I was named after Notre Dame hat. No we are not Notre Dame fans like that. That’s about it. No deeper meaning, it was just a cool hat. I had this inner dialogue in my head about the name Irish and Iris. I felt like a light switch, at school I turned on the light switch and I was Irish and I spoke English, at home I turned off the switch and I’m Iris and I spoke Spanish. I was told that I needed to be careful showing off my Mexican pride for my safety. They saw what my aunt had gone through when she wore a Mexican jersey, being called a “beaner” or “wetback.” They wanted different for me so I had to hush about it.
So I didn’t speak Spanish at school, and I didn’t look stereotypically Latina. So that resulted in people asking me, “you’re Hispanic? You speak Spanish?” It also didn’t help that I was involved in things that, at the time, Hispanic people usually weren’t involved with. My parents were one of two or three Hispanic families that would watch the plays and musicals. I then chose to major in theater which everyone in my family was quite confused about. A couple of semesters ago I was talking to a professor and he asked what my major was and I said theater. And he kind of laughed and said, sorry I don’t mean to laugh but typically Hispanic parents don’t allow their children to study something like the arts. And honestly, that’s a fair reaction. I explained that I did get the speil from my parents. “Estudia algo real, se doctora, abogada. Study something real, be a doctor, or a lawyer.” But I went against it and followed my heart. They then realized that theater really was something my loved and at the end of the day, I was going to be okay if I was studying something I actually liked. They are now the most supportive people in my life but my extended family is not quite on board. Even today at family functions, my extended family asks, “What are you going to do with that degree? How are you going to make money?” Which I guess is fair.
But they don’t see what I see. It’s not silly of me to study theater. Theater is storytelling. Latinos are storytellers at heart. At family functions you hear parents telling their immigration stories, the tíos and tias talking about what things were like back in their days, grandparents explaining why Cortez is something spelled with an S and sometimes with a Z and what happened. We sit around and share stories that we have heard hundreds of times. We are theatrical. I am a theater major for us. Para mi gente, I want to tell our stories so people can understand us, or at least try. Our stories deserve to be heard because God knows we have so many to tell.
I feel empowered by my heritage through theater. My art is a love letter to my heritage.