What’s Spanish for “donor?”

At the El Buen Thanksgiving event last month, I spoke to one of the “super volunteers,” a woman who organizes others to form a volunteer team that performs good deeds all over Austin. For some reason, it came up that we don’t see many Hispanics volunteers in the community, and she wondered aloud about that.

Hispanics are clearly more often on the receiving end of charity in Austin than they are on the giving end… or are they?

Most of the volunteers I’ve seen around Austin are white women, no doubt. I think anyone with experience with local charities will tell you that, just as they would tell you that rich, white men tend to fill the chairs at bigger nonprofit board meetings. Nonprofit staffs certainly have their share of Hispanics, men and women, but it’s different when you choose charity as a career. So where are the Hispanic volunteers and donors?

Well, what’s in a name? Volunteers, donors, quesadillas… okay, quesadillas is a non sequitur to you all, but to me it falls right in line with what I knew growing up. (And it’s right about here when I get almost completely off-topic… Skip to “End of Quesadilla Story” below if you want to.)

When I was growing up, a tortilla with cheese was a lame snack, something my grandmother made us when she was tired of feeding us. Don’t get me wrong, they were good. But they were like PBJs – fine in a pinch, but nothing to get excited about.

It was only when I went to college that I realized that the lowly tortilla with cheese was actually … a quesadilla. A quesadilla! Who knew? People loved them, apparently. They even went as far as to – lord! – order them at restaurants. Who orders a PBJ at a restaurant? And pays for it? The first time I went out with friends to a Mexican restaurant, one of them pleaded with me to “just try” a quesadilla. When it came, I didn’t know whether to laugh, walk out, berate them, send it back… I mean, I was completely baffled by the whole thing. I guess I thought it was a joke.

I still get mad when I have to order a quesadilla and pay for it, but my three-year-old son loves them. He requests them often. But, man, can you imagine my horror when he screamed at me once for heating up the tortilla on a comal?

“Mommy, what are you doing?! Not like that, Mommy! In the microwave!”

This was no half-Mexican child of mine. I couldn’t do it. I actually got mad at him (P.S. I’m not the world’s best mom) for wanting me to microwave a tortilla. Apparently my mother-in-law made them this way – she took care of him a few times a week – and even my own husband had made a quesadilla for him this way before. Betrayed! I had to walk out of the kitchen.


So how are Hispanic volunteers and donors like quesadillas? Because, well, we don’t call them “volunteers” and “donors.” We call them “uncles” and “sisters” and “aunts” and “compadres.” My parents, for example. I can’t call them a “donors” exactly (though they do donate blood every six weeks and have donated many gallons on the past 10 years.) But in terms of money, I don’t know of any instance of their writing a check and sending it to charity.

But they have given thousands of dollars in their lifetime to their brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, compadres, co-workers, neighbors… you name it. If someone came in to hard times and needed a few hundred to tie them over, they gave it. I remember them discussing it – usually in Spanish – and deciding how much to give and what we’d have to do without so they could give it.

Sometimes they’d get paid back, but usually not all of it. I doubt they ever asked. If pay-back was offered my father would wave it away.

Lots of families are like this, I think, and they come in every nationality. And I think – might be wrong here – but I think poorer families are more prone to this kind of charity than wealthy ones. Maybe it’s because the family giving the money knows what hard times are like and how a couple hundred dollars can really help. Maybe it’s because the family giving doesn’t mind doing without – because they have for so long anyway – and has a different idea about being economically comfortable means.  

Are there studies out there about where poor people donate their money? I don’t know. But I think the spirit of giving, donating, sharing… I think it’s with everyone, no matter what their income. And no matter what you call it.


One Response

  1. Hey Monica. Nice post. I agree with you on the quesadilla story. I had a similar experience with Migas. We used to make this quick breakfast with corn tortillas guisadas con huevo, tomate, chile, onions y queso. We never had a name for it, until I arrived in Austin. Crazy. I still can’t buck up $4.50 for something that I know costs less than a buck to make.

    Y’know I hear that alot about Hispanics and other minorities. About not seeing them volunteer or hard to recruit them to volunteer. I think people aren’t trying hard enough and are not looking in the right places. Latinos have always given back, whether it’s doing things with their familia (that goes outside the bloodlines to co-workers, neighbors, etc.) or volunteering for their favorite charity. Hispanics do volunteer with nonprofits and they do it with those nonprofits have deep roots in the Hispanic community. I believe that Hispanics and other cultural groups are more likely to volunteer at places they feel welcomed and have a connection with the people in the organization. For myself, if you don’t have anyone that looks like me or someone I can relate to, then I’m going elsewhere. I think (mainstream) nonprofits need to more intentional with cultural groups, build relationships with these groups, and connect with organizations that are doing it well.

    And now a plug for the study question: Under our program, Culture Connections, we are currently surveying Hispanics in the Greater Austin area on their volunteering habits. We should have a report published in about 18 months. We just started this research project in the Fall.

    Director, Hands On Central Texas

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