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Latinos share stories, photos of heritage, traditions, tasty foods

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(CNN) -- The growing desert city of Yuma, Arizona, has been home for I-Reporter Pamela Carvajal Drapala and generations before her since the 1800s. Drapala was born there in 1954, and says her Mexican ancestors were some of the first people to move to Yuma.

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Pamela Carvajal Drapala of Yuma, Arizona, right, comes from a long line of Mexican-Americans in Yuma.

Her father, Vincent, died of a brain tumor when she was 8, and she worked to piece together what information she could about her family after his death.

She was one of many I-Reporters responding to CNN's call for photos and stories of being Latino in the United States to mark Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 to October 15. Photos and stories flooded in of people celebrating multiple cultural traditions and challenging perceived stereotypes.
Photo View Drapala's photos and see more stories »

Drapala was pleasantly surprised in 2003 when her relatives found a lock box full of her father's mementos that her mother had stored away years before. She treasured the "sepia memories" in photographic form, and wanted to pay tribute to the long line of family members in Yuma before her. She is proud of her history, but regrets not getting a chance to know her father better.

"I felt cheated when my father passed at the age of 37," she said. "However, I kept hearing in the back of my head for years the saying, 'You must pull yourself up by your bootstraps and move on.' No one could do it for me; I could only do it for myself."

The I-Reporters featured here are from diverse ancestral homes, including Mexico, Guatemala, Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Venezuela. Many of them shared stories of merging more than one background. Defining their cultural identity was a challenge for some. A portion of the I-Reporters used the labels Latino and Hispanic interchangeably, while others had a definite preference or even used a different term.

Carlos Paris of Fort Myers, Florida, calls himself a Latino and enjoys preparing his favorite foods from his native Venezuela, but he traces his ancestors back to Germany, France and Italy. He has lived in Canada and Mexico as well, and said he sent in his story because he wanted to emphasize the diversity of Latino culture. He advises others to embrace cultural pluralism.

"Take all that is best from each region and peoples and carry it with you wherever you go," he said. "In the end you will realize that we are all one of the same, we are world citizens living under the same sun, and it is this understanding that makes us all brothers in this diverse world."

Speaking about the diversity of the world and the United States, Daniel Hernandez of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, said Hispanic heritage represents just one of many cultures to be appreciated.

"There's so many people that have so many backgrounds in the U.S.," Hernandez said. "To me, it doesn't seem so extraordinary."

He was born in New York and is Hispanic with Guatemalan parents. One of his goals in sending an I-Report is to combat negative stereotypes that might exist about Hispanic people, he said. Hernandez considers himself a nondenominational Christian and prides himself on his missionary outreach work. He has traveled to many countries, including Mongolia, Argentina, Colombia and Chile.

Joanne Golden of Long Beach, California, has Peruvian parents and is raising a 10-month-old son who is half black. While her son loves Sesame Street toys and other trappings of the United States, he is also living in a family that tries to honor Peruvian traditions in small ways, such as through food.

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Golden says she feels her son represents a changing concept of Hispanic heritage that will only continue to develop in the future.

"He is really a newer generation of Hispanic," she said. "He doesn't represent one particular race, he represents a culture." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Hispanic and Latino Issues

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