National Hispanic Heritage Month Recognized in Upper School Chapel Talk

Middle School Spanish Teacher Kathleen Hornik discusses her Hispanic heritage through the lens of family, identity and sense of purpose.
In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, Middle School Spanish Teacher Kathleen Hornik visited Upper School chapel on Friday. Hornik reflected on her heritage, family experiences, identity and how her mother’s Salvadoran background influences her professional and personal life. 

Growing up, Hornik sometimes felt caught between two worlds with a father from the United States, and a mother from El Salvador. People would often react to answers about her background with surprise or confusion. Would she describe herself as Salvadoran, Latina, Hispanic or American? She would sometimes answer differently, just to gauge people’s reactions.

These experiences and awareness of being perceived as an “outsider” helped inform her ideas about race and identity. “We are all immigrants of this country but some of us are fortunate enough to be first-generation immigrants,” said Hornik during her talk. “I see this as a fortune because of the multiculturalism that made me who I am today. But somewhere along the social construction of the concept of race in the United States, a nationality was conflated with an ethnicity (Latino/Hispanic) and sometimes even a race (brown).”

Hornik feels a deep connection to her Hispanic heritage, remembering the Mariachi songs and celebrations during her grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary and of joyous family gatherings. “I think back to family dinners in El Salvador with 20 of my mother's closest relatives gathered at any given meal around the dining room table topped with aromatic meats, rice and beans, salads and tortillas. It was always so welcoming, nurturing and loud with laughter and music all around.”

Much of Hornik’s education and professional life have also been influenced by her Hispanic identity. After graduating from college, she completed a year of service through the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Hillsboro, Oregon working to improve the lives of immigrants, most of whom were from Mexico and made their living moving up and down the West Coast picking fruit. Hornik also earned her master’s in social work and worked in Richmond with victims of human trafficking as well as refugees and undocumented minors in the foster care system. 

Hornik’s love for the Spanish language and appreciation for her multicultural background is how she came to know and love StC. “This is why I'm back at St. Christopher's and in my fifth year of teaching Middle School Spanish. I have loved teaching every single one of my students because I see the gifts that your individuality brings to our community here at school.”