On Dec. 8, First Lady Casey DeSantis announced the winners of the Hispanic Heritage Month student art contest and recipients of the Education Award. Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, and this year’s contest theme was “Celebrating Untold Stories and Contributions of Hispanic Americans in Florida.” Students created essay and art submissions to celebrate the accomplishments of Hispanic Americans in Florida. Among the winners was Lake Nona’s Eden Mejia.
Eden, 6, is a first grader attending Florida Virtual School due to COVID-19. This was the first time Eden and her mother, Ashley, had heard about the Hispanic Heritage Month student contest. Ashley was looking for a way to continue Eden’s education but also break up the computer work that comes with being a virtual school student. When they came across the information about the contest, they decided to make this Eden’s first-ever contest submission.
Students could submit drawings or write essays for the contest. Since Eden loves to draw, for her submission, Eden used markers, colored pencils, and crayons to create a picture she titled “Notable Hispanic Floridians.” Eden and Ashley talked about Eden’s Mexican and Honduran heritage and how Latinos and Latinas like her make impactful contributions to the state. After doing a bit of research with her mother, Eden decided to draw the following prominent Floridians: United States Circuit Judge Barbara Lagoa; billionaire real estate developer, art collector and philanthropist Jorge M. Pérez; Olympic swimmer Maritza Correia McClendon; Lucas Benitez, co-founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and leader in the fight to end the exploitation of American farmworkers; Fernando Caldeiro, the astronaut appointed to serve in the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans; and Dra. Antonia Coello Novello, the first woman, first person of color, and first Hispanic U.S. Surgeon General. For her drawing, Eden won a $250 gift card and a goody bag from the Florida Lottery.
Ashley hopes to use this experience to continue teaching Eden what it means to be an American of Latino heritage: “For her to be able to identify not just leaders of her Hispanic heritage leading the country, but specifically in Florida, and the diversity of the countries that they represent is a source of pride for us and a source of inspiration for her. We don’t want her to forget her roots.”
For Eden and Ashley, their Hispanic heritage and the celebration of it is a source of validation and affirmation. They find pride in the unique contributions and experiences of Hispanic Americans in Florida. They hope to continue the celebration of their Hispanic heritage in the Lake Nona area. Eden and Ashley appreciate the diversity of the Lake Nona area and feel very fortunate to live among people of all backgrounds from Latin America and beyond.
“I think the diversity makes our community much richer and more vibrant. I think that is something that we have that is so special here in Lake Nona,” Ashley said.
To learn more about Hispanic Heritage Month, visit www.FloridaHispanicHeritage.com.
Photos Courtesy of Ashley Cisneros Mejia