Easthampton ‘diversity heroes’ share their stories

  • The Diversity Inclusion Center hosted a local heroes panel in the Easthampton High School auditorium on Thursday. Panelists from left are Alexander Alvarez, a district math teacher; Celso Lopez, a district math teacher; Easthampton Information Technology Department Director Karin Moyano Camihort; City Council President Homar Gomez; Charlie Vargas, an Easthampton police officer; and Sidney Gomez, a paraeducator in the SOAR program at Mountain View Elementary School. STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

Staff Writer
Published: 10/7/2022 6:47:47 PM

EASTHAMPTON — When Homar Gomez came to the United States from Puerto Rico in 1997, he didn’t speak English with anyone out of fear of being judged for his accent.

Fast forward 25 years later to an auditorium stage at Easthampton High School where his wife, Sindy Mojica, is motioning for Gomez to limit the amount of time he speaks in English.

“Sindy, you know I love to talk,” said Gomez, smiling, to a small crowd on Thursday night. “I was really afraid, really afraid, to speak English with anyone. And today, I’m the City Council president ... If I did it, you guys can do it too.”

Gomez was one of six people celebrated as part of a heroes panel hosted by the Diversity Inclusion Center. The event was held in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, which celebrates the culture and history of Latinx and Hispanic people.

Other panelists included Easthampton Information Technology Department Director Karin Moyano Camihort; Alexander Alvarez, a district math teacher; Charlie Vargas, an Easthampton police officer; Celso Lopez, a district math teacher; and Sidney Gomez, a paraeducator in the SOAR program at Mountain View Elementary School.

Students in the Diversity & Leadership Club met with Mojica, who is the diversity inclusion liaison, on Thursdays to discuss potential questions that they could ask panelists about their lives and challenges they may have faced. Club members Angel Rubio, Brittany Sumba, Vicky Santos and Devin O’Brien led the line of questioning.

Students asked a variety of questions, ranging from what panelists value most to inquiries on how they overcome discriminatory incidents.

Admittedly, Moyano Camihort said she found it harder to identify specific incidents that happened to her rather than when it happens to others.

“If you’re a woman, you have an accent and you’re in technology you need to do things better than anybody else, so you’re always pushing yourself,” she said.

However, Moyano Camihort did briefly mention a recent incident as it pertained to discrimination where an individual accused her of being irresponsible and went up the chain to Mayor Nicole LaChapelle’s office with further complaints. She expressed gratitude for LaChapelle’s support in defending her as there came a point where she could not defend herself any more.

“Working in city hall, the (City Council) president is from Puerto Rico and the mayor supports minorities and women, and the truth is, I’ve felt very welcomed,” she said.

Students were also curious about what panelists found interesting about their jobs.

For Alvarez, who has been teaching for more than 20 years, including six in Easthampton, his greatest joys come from watching his students grow and succeed.

At the back of his classroom is a wall of thank you-notes from past students during his tenure.

“Whenever I’m sad or depressed, I go and look at that wall and I’m better. It brings me so much joy to bump into my students at the grocery store who have gone on to do great things,” he said.

The event provides students and members of the community with some background on city employees, who despite adversity, have overcome their struggles and continue to persevere, Mojica said.

“This gives our students hope and people to look up to — if they hear from the panel that they made it, they can hear that it’s possible. They can make it too,” she said. “They are heroes. All of them.”

Recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month continues this coming week when the Diversity Inclusion Center hosts two sessions about Hispanic heritage in the U.S. on Tuesday. The first session will be open to teachers only from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., and the second session will be open to the public from 5 to 6 p.m.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.
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