At the fourth general session of the 92nd National FFA Convention & Expo, FFA members and guests witnessed the making of history.
“Today’s opening ceremonies are going to look a little bit different from what some of us are used to,” says Luke O’Leary, 2018-19 national FFA president. “Throughout this year as national officers, we’ve met a lot of members who speak English as their second language. If you haven’t heard the opening ceremonies spoken in Spanish, you’re in for a real treat.”
Although many FFA members are native Spanish speakers, no national session has ever incorporated the language. Puerto Rico, however, conducts all FFA ceremonies in their native language, while many other states have large Spanish-speaking membership.
While the National FFA Officer Team was present at their stations for the event, the ceremonies were conducted by native speakers from associations across the organization. The speakers were David Lopez, California FFA sentinel as president; Kevin Rivera, Puerto Rico FFA vice president as vice president; Tatiana Ortiz, Puerto Rico FFA secretary as secretary; Miriam Alvarado, California FFA reporter as treasurer; Orlando Suarez, Puerto Rico FFA treasurer as reporter; Karla De La Cruz, Wyoming FFA treasurer as sentinel; and Isaac Valencia, advisor of Galt FFA in California as advisor.
“It was really special,” Lopez says. “I think a lot of times it’s hard to find your spot in a program and whenever you see other people like you on stage, it really inspires you. It was really an honor to represent, not only California, but also the Hispanic members in the program.”
After each officer spoke, the delegate floor rose with roars of support. The officers and advisor said they felt the excitement and appreciated the encouragement.
“It was amazing. It really showed that regardless of what language you’re speaking, we’re all united and they were supporting us no matter what. We weren’t national officers, but they realized the role we were playing and their support just means the world,” Valencia says. “Not only did we get the chance to do this, but we were celebrated for doing it. I just couldn’t picture a better way to help move our organization in a more inclusive direction where all students and cultures feel welcome.”
Valencia says his chapter, from which he graduated, is about two-thirds Hispanic. Other officers come from predominately Spanish-speaking homes. To them, this was more than a ritual.
“I called my mom, and my mom started crying because this is something we could do together. She got so emotional saying that she can finally help me do something within FFA because she only really speaks Spanish, and so we struggled very hard trying to bond over it,” De La Cruz says. “It was a very emotional time.”
She said this was her moment to prove herself, a self-proclaimed small-town Wyoming girl. She says she was never happier speaking in the ceremony and representing the Hispanic community.
“There were chills from my toes to my face,” says De La Cruz. “I thought about all the people who looked down on me because I’m different, and in that very moment, with all of these people smiling at me and telling me I’m great, it was one of the highest peaks in my life — the most amazing feeling in the world.”
Many friends and family members of the officers were watching via the live stream. Participants hoped their involvement would encourage other Spanish-speaking members.
“Back home, everyone was watching,” says Lopez. “Hopefully by doing this, more people see the diversity and the opportunities they have within the program.”
Many saw this as a significant step, not only for the Hispanic community, but for members of all backgrounds.
“All this heritage is coming through, all these ethnicities are coming through, and it’s something greater at convention every year, and I think it’s just so great,” says De La Cruz. “We should be including all ethnicities, sign language, and contributing ways that we can bring all different kinds of diversity within and step up the level every single time.”
Each participant was more than grateful for the experience and excited for the strides of progress to incorporate many cultures. Each was optimistic for future opportunities to improve diversity and inclusion.
“Even though it was just the opening ceremonies, I think it’s a big step in the right direction,” says Valencia. “Those students who maybe didn’t feel as comfortable here because English is their second language, they got celebrated today, and they were shown that National FFA cares about them.”