| Student Voice

My Legacy of Hispanic Heritage and Leadership

by Cher Abigail Aguilar Henriquez

As Hispanic Heritage Month unfolds, I find myself deeply reflecting on my journey. My name is Cher Abigail Aguilar Henriquez, and I am an Act Six Scholar at Saint Martin’s University. However, at my core, I am a sister, a daughter, and a granddaughter; an embodiment of generations of courage, resilience, and dreams. A first-generation college student, the oldest of five, and beautifully raised by my mother and grandmother. Immigrating from Honduras and bearing the rich indigenous heritage of the Ch’ortí Maya, my roots trace back to the heart of Central and South America.

My identity is both an anchor and a compass on the journey of my life.

I like to visualize my identity as a kaleidoscope. When you peer into one, your sight is captured by a dance of vibrancy, each image similar but uniquely distinct from the others. Much like the images shaped by reflective objects within a kaleidoscope, I too am shaped by the combined influences of my heritage. Each influence is a testament to the sacrifices and aspirations of all those who have come before me. Every decision I make, and every dream I chase, is intimately connected to the essence of who I am and where I come from.

My identity is both an anchor and a compass on the journey of my life. Rooted in the rich soil of Honduras and infused with the resilient spirit of my Ch’ortí ancestry, it serves as a constant reminder of where I come from and the legacies I bear. It has taught me invaluable lessons about perseverance and purpose sprouted by generations upon generations of wisdom, sacrifice, and aspirations. It is the lens that I perceive the world through, shaping the way I connect with others, the passions I pursue, and the causes I champion.

My Honduran and Ch’ortí Maya heritage is not just a reflection of my past but a guiding light for the future, mine, and all those who come after me. It is the traditions of my people and the spirits of my family that point my way, reminding me of the strength that lives in me and the responsibility I carry to honor, uplift, and continue their legacy.

Cher’s mother (left) and grandmother (right) celebrating her 20th birthday. (Photo courtesy of Cher Abigail Aguilar Henriquez)

For many, leadership is a pursuit. For me, it’s a calling, an intense urge that stems from a deep connection to my ancestors and the values they cherished. These include patience, kindness, service, stewardship, peace, and, above all, justice. This calling serves as my driving force, giving purpose to the countless nights spent studying until morning, the 10+ page papers, the tears shed under the weight of stress, and the sacrifices made, being away from my beloved family.

Growing up, leadership was a distant concept. Having been raised in a predominantly white town, I was often the “other,” a feeling that wasn’t restricted to just academic settings. Opportunities to connect with my heritage or even to serve in leadership roles were rare. However, a shift in my life came when my family moved to Federal Way. Suddenly, I wasn’t the sole BIPOC student. The move opened up opportunities that allowed me to explore and celebrate my identity more freely.

It was in Federal Way High School that I discovered clubs like Fuerte, a social justice club, which became instrumental in my advocacy journey. Partnering with Washington State’s largest immigrant and refugee nonprofit, OneAmerica, I realized the power of my voice. Another significant chapter was my presidency at Young Docs in collaboration with the University of Washington School of Medicine. These involvements held profound significance, demonstrating that someone of my background could inspire and make a difference.

Cher speaking at the Degrees of Change 2023 spring fundraiser. (Photo by Sharon Ho Chang)

Hispanic Heritage Month, for me, has always been a beacon. A time to honor our roots, our journeys, and the vast array of Latinx stories that create the rich tapestry of our community. My involvement in clubs and advocacy during my high school years was my way of contributing to this narrative, amplifying voices that are often marginalized.

It was during my time at Federal Way High School that my club advisors for Fuerte and Young Docs introduced me to Act Six. Their insistent encouragement led me to apply for the scholarship, and for that, I remain eternally grateful. While higher education once seemed an improbable dream, Act Six brought hope. The scholarship program hasn’t just offered financial assistance, it has fostered a community of scholars, a community built on kinship and shared experiences. Act Six summer trainings have been pivotal, equipping me with essential skills I’d have otherwise lacked. Through Act Six I have forged deep connections with my fellow scholars and mentors like Dr. John Hopkins. These relationships foster a deeper understanding of myself and my passions.

This Hispanic Heritage Month, as I reflect on my journey, I am reminded of the legacy that I am a part of, one of fortitude and strength carried past the horrors of colonization. It’s a legacy I’m proud of, one that has been nurtured by the unwavering support of my mother and grandmother. The legacy that each Latinx individual carries – our stories, our struggles, and our victories – all combine to shape the future. As we celebrate this month, let’s remember to ‘seguir adelante’, to keep moving forward, honoring our past, and shaping our future.

Cher Abigail Aguilar Henriquez is an Act Six scholar in her third year at Saint Martin’s University majoring in Environmental Studies and minoring in Native Voices. Cher is a first-generation college student and immigrant born in San Pedro Sula, Cortez, Honduras. She is of Indigenous descent from the Central and South Americas and identifies as Ch’ortí Maya.

Featured image: Cher celebrating her 20th birthday in September 2023. (Photo courtesy of Cher Abigail Aguilar Henriquez)

Sign up for our newsletter to hear more student voices like this, updates about our programs, and ways to get involved.

*Important Act Six Update*Read the Press Release