Hispanic Heritage Month speaking panel

Members of WENOW with the speakers from the speaking panel

Ken Sanabria

Members of WENOW with the speakers from the speaking panel

Ken Sanabria and Jaeyana Sourya

  “…I’m originally from Cuba. I have been here since 1996. I promised I wasn’t going to cry, but here it comes,” Isis Coipel said as she began her compelling speech. 

   West Ottawa Equality Now (WENOW) gathered members from the Holland Community to speak about their life experiences. These speakers included Juan Vasquez Hernandez, Isis Coipel, Ramon Soto, Juanita Bocanegra, and Irianis Hanafin, who voiced their take on life as Hispanic people. The panel helped inspire people of all backgrounds. 

   “If I can do it, all of you can do it. There’s nothing special about me, so all it takes is dedication and hard work and believing in yourself and not giving up; surrounding yourself with the right people. For me it was that one special teacher that made a difference,” said Ottawa County judge Juanita Bocanegra. There won’t always be someone to depend on, so when there is, be grateful for them. Whether it be a parent, teacher, or friend someone will listen.

Audience and speakers during the panel (Jaeyana Sourya)

   Audience member Sr. Sandra Sann said, “I will always be grateful for my middle school Spanish teacher, Mrs. Avink. She helped me way more than she could ever know. When I was experiencing one of the hardest times of my life, she was and still is very supportive of me and gives me a listening ear when I need one.”

   Audience member Raul Sanabria experienced hardships after lacking direction. Sanabria said, “I felt like I could’ve done much better with my resources and things that were out there than what I did. I mean, I’m not disappointed in my life, but I felt like it could’ve been more. There was a lot more opportunities that I took advantage of because being born here in the United States I never got to see the struggles a lot of people see. My parents struggled, but I never had to. So I wish that I wouldn’t have taken things for granted.” Although being older than majority of the audience, Sanabria’s mindset shifted. 

     “Every accomplishment, small or big, is an accomplishment. We don’t have to be perfect, we don’t have to be gorgeous, that would be the perfect world. But it’s not about being perfect, it’s about just doing the best you can. We should all be proud, you should be proud of yourself,” said Coipel. No matter what someone is succeeding in (or not) it’s best to give credit for the little accomplishments, even if its significance isn’t very important. 

   Audience member Jr. Chase Veldink said, “I think one of the key takeaways from the panel as a whole was that commitment to education and perseverance leads to success. My grandfather was an immigrant from the Philippines and it was his goal to educate himself and live the American dream. Much like Mrs Coipel and many other immigrants, he had to sacrifice a lot to move to the United States.” Being touched by Coipel’s speech was most inspiring for Veldink. The speech reinforced the idea that opportunities aren’t given to everybody. 

Authors with speaker Isis Coipel (Ken Sanabria)

   In “…such a diverse city in a country built by immigrants, celebrating culture is vital to our understanding of one another as Americans,” said Veldink. So to understand and appreciate differences in culture, the speaking panel was an opportunity for others to immerse themselves in Hispanic culture. 

   “I admire WO appreciation for Hispanic voices,” said speaker and WOHS college advisor Juan Vazquez Hernandez. From his story, he wanted the audience to “…take initiative and be proud of where you came from.” 

   Thanks to the five speakers, many students and adults alike were inspired and influenced by their stories and encouragement. Member of WENOW Soph. Ise Badran said “..I was proud of the outcome! The panel went very well and personally, how I expected it to. There was a good size turnout and speakers shared their experiences as well as gave the listeners advice based on those experiences.” According to the club, another panel is definitely possible. “The series has been very inspiring, enjoyable, and successful,” said Badran. 

   No matter your background, strive to take initiative in creating a better life for yourself, and remember, “…be proud of your story, be excited. Wherever you’re at, be part of it, “ as said by Vazquez Hernandez.