For Soledad O’Brien, Heritage Is a Story

Soledad O’Brien is an award-winning journalist, speaker, author and philanthropist, but she is first and foremost a storyteller. O’Brien is especially known for her compelling stories told in her groundbreaking Black in America and Latino in America documentaries. Her own background as a first-generation American, born to a black mother from Cuba and a white Australian father, has fine-tuned her ear to stories that start conversations about race.

Human stories

But her reports don’t just resonate with minority audiences. “I tune in for the storytelling,” says O’Brien, “Not the racial makeup of the people.” She adds, “We found there’s a big audience for authentic stories. They don’t have to be people who are larger than life. We focus on real black and Hispanic people navigating life.”

Heritage tales

And O’Brien celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month the way she knows best—telling stories. She hops on planes speaking on tours, such as last year’s I Am Latino in America. In her audiences she hopes to inspire the next generation of black and Hispanic female journalists, and encourage them to realize the importance of their collective voice, especially in an election year.

The United States has an estimated population of 323 million people, with Latinos comprising 17 percent of the American family. For the last 48 years, the United States has designated Hispanic Heritage Month as a time to honor the contributions that Latinos have made to strengthen and enrich the United States, and make it one of the most diverse and prosperous nations on earth.

Hispanic strength

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month on the eve of a national election is an opportunity for the country to reflect on the impact Latinos have on American culture, community, and politics. More than 55 million Latinos living in every corner of the country, with a purchasing power exceeding $1.5 trillion, are at the intersection of all facets of American life.

In communities across the country, Latinos of all generations lead as veterans, athletes, entertainers, artists, business leaders, innovators, elected officials and many other vocations. Congress has more Latino members than ever before, and this year, with millions of Latinos living in numerous critical states, the path to the White House must go through the Hispanic vote.

As we contemplate our Latino history and role in this country, it’s important to recognize the values that form the bedrock of our community and connect us to the broader American family. We are a welcoming culture that places family at the center of our lives and values humility, tradition and a strong work ethic.

American dreamers

While we take pride in individual responsibility, the most important characteristic that binds our community together is our collective worldview: the belief that we overcome challenges when we face them together, that our life trajectory is more fulfilling when we bring our community along with us and that we can thrive without leaving behind the rich layers of our culture.

This belief in inclusivity and commitment to family values reinvigorates the American Dream and protects the promise that it holds. When we look beyond the dividing lines, we see that all Americans live by these values as well.

This month, as we celebrate the many achievements of Hispanic Americans, we remind everyone to use their influence by fulfilling their personal responsibility to vote in local, state and federal elections. With more than 27 million eligible Latino voters nationally, Hispanic Americans must remember our nation’s ideal of freedom and opportunity for all, and exercise our hard earned, sacred right to vote.