EEDC: Since our last interview, ChesMRC has been busy working on several new projects, including this month’s Hispanic Heritage Month. Let’s talk about that?
Matthew Peters (MP): It started with an idea to have a sort of block party that focused on the Hispanic group. We were building on that idea and then were stopped by COVID. This summer, as things were picking up and returning to normal, we started to plan it again, particularly now that we’ve increased our staff and have a larger representation of our Hispanic community. The feeling became, ‘Okay, if we’re going to do this, our staff could handle it, and our staff can run it.’
EEDC: So is this planned to be run as a fundraiser?
MP: Our organization has never done fundraising events because nothing like an auction or golf tournament appealed to me. But, when this idea came up, we could see how we could celebrate our Hispanic community’s achievements and combine it as a fundraiser for us.
We decided to create it with many partner organizations, so it would be sustainable and become something that people can look forward to as a regular yearly event. We don’t want it to be a one-and-done type of event; we want to start with the foundation and understand the costs involved and the available sponsorship for this type of activity. And then, we can create an independent committee to make sure that it represents all the Hispanic groups in the region.
EEDC: Who is involved at this point?
MP: Outside of our staff, we went straight to someone who has always supported us–the Avalon Foundation. They were extremely open and excited about this idea. Then, of course, as a board member of EEDC, I went to them. It was a natural fit since EEDC’s role is promoting festivals and events. I want this to be seen as a tourist attraction event, bringing in people from outside our area to come and get to know our Hispanic community.
I also wanted to find a way to include as many people as possible in the festivities, so we came up with the idea of doing posters using our theme “Nuestras Raices—Our Roots.” For that, we went to the Academy Art Museum; this was right up their alley, and they were more than happy to partner with us. We’ve selected some prominent members of the Hispanic community from Easton to serve as judges, and we’ll create banners and posters from the winning entry. The winning poster will also usher us into the second annual festival next year. It will be something we can carry and add on year to year. By the way, submissions for the poster are due September 16.
EEDC: So what’s happening during Hispanic Heritage Month?
As far as the program, there will be three main events. One is a movie night which will take place on September 17th. The movie will be The Book of Life, a great animated film that is also representative of the Hispanic community
Then right after that, on September 18th, we’re going to join the Cultural Crossing event with a special focus on the Hispanic heritage. We’ll have food items and food vendors that specialize in Hispanic foods. There will be traditional dancing and three live bands playing Hispanic music. The event will be extended a few additional hours, so each group has time to perform. Expect a block party feel with live music from about 11 in the morning until seven at night.
At the same time on that day, the Academy Art Museum will be opening up its doors for family art day, again, with Hispanic-themed art projects for families. We’re counting on nice weather so that families can walk around town, go back and forth between the music, the food, the events, and the Art Museum. Hopefully, we can attract some people from other areas to come in and celebrate with us.
Lastly, there will be a book event planned for Friday the 24th at the Avalon. We have three families that have contributed to three storybooks. These books are illustrated by children; however, it contains some emotional themes that aren’t suitable for children. It’s meant for people to understand the real stories about the journey of three of our families.
EEDC: What kind of stories?
MP: Each of the three families talks about the sacrifices they’ve made because life, where they were living, was too dangerous. It’s the unique story about their life that is uncut, unfiltered, non-edited, with no angle, no agenda; just their story with the children’s drawing. A lot of these stories are filled with images of death, violence, and trauma. So, again, there’s kind of a unique product that’s been created with these families. We feel it’s time.
We’re not an advocacy group or organization, and we’re not advocating for any change. But we also know the real stories behind what we see every day. What’s normal for us is not being told or heard because it’s too tough. I don’t feel it’s healthy, and I don’t think our community feels it’s healthy not to be heard. Politics and idealisms aside, we need to start listening to these accounts. We feel like we’re at a point where we’re comfortable with our standing in the community, knowing that we can keep our families safe and protected, where we can give them a safe space to tell their stories.
EEDC: And their stories will be told at the Avalon?
MP: Right. It’s going to be a great evening. We’ll have a short video introduction about what we do and our center. Then we’ll introduce the families who will read from the book and share the children’s drawings. Javier Bustamante will be the keynote speaker, and there will be a musical number from Tori Gomez, a phenomenal musician and performer. After the event, there will be a mingling session where you can come and meet the families or talk to any of our staff.
EEDC: How did you even come up with this book project?
MP: Credit goes to Angelina Sturgis. She’s new to Talbot County, from New Jersey. She came to us and said, ‘I’ve worked with immigrant communities before, and this is what I did. Would you be interested?’ And we said, ‘Yes.’ We hear all these stories, but we’re not writing them down, and we’re not collectively thinking about how we need to share them.
So the first book she did is called The Pieces of My Heart. It was incredibly emotional–and still is for me to read it. So I knew we had to find a way to make it special and share this with the community because it’s too powerful not to. That led to us thinking, ‘Alright, let’s find a way to present this.’ I anticipate it will be a life-changing experience for many participants.
EEDC: Are you already thinking about possibilities for next year?
MP: As I mentioned, we’d like to see this as a yearly event. We might even change it up each year. Even though most of our clients are Hispanic, just this week, I’ve had 42 Haitian clients. So maybe we can do an event with the Haitian community, maybe in Federalsburg. The same with our Asian-American clients, we really haven’t celebrated Asian American Heritage Month. We have a lot of opportunities coming up in future years as we work with different groups. So we’ll see.
EEDC: What else is going on with ChesRMC?
MP: During the COVID crisis, we stepped up and put ourselves out there. We became more specialized and better in the services we provide, and many people became aware of these services. It’s been a constant growth for us for the past year. We’re very busy and even thinking about expanding our staff even more. So COVID was a blessing in disguise for us, because we were able to show why we’re an essential organization here in town.
For more information, please visit https://chesmrc.org