National Hispanic Heritage Month kicks off Sept. 15 and this year’s theme is "Unidos: Inclusivity for a Stronger Nation." In English, “unidos” means “united,” a term to emphasize the importance of coming together as one. And it’s a big “one,” to say the least. More than 62 million people in the United States identify as Hispanic or Latino, according to the 2020 Census. That’s a 23% growth for the population since 2010.
One proud member of this growing community is Brazilian-born Camila Alves McConaughey. She’s a model, business entrepreneur, bestselling author, mother of three and happens to be married to Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey. She came to the U.S. at the age of 15 and although she spoke no English, she was able to get a job cleaning houses to help pay her bills. “I’ve had so many people in Latin culture say, ‘Well, don't tell people that you clean houses when you first got here.’ And I'm like, ‘Why? That is what I did!’”
McConaughey spoke with Yahoo for the Somos Unidos. We Are One. livestream that aired Sept. 15. She says it’s important for the Hispanic community to celebrate each other’s stories. “Let's just embrace everybody's journey wherever they started, whatever they're at, wherever they're going. If we can embrace that, it will help build those things up to have more people to stand on their shoulders.”
McConaughey worked odd jobs until she landed a modeling gig in New York City. But it wasn’t long before her entrepreneurial spirit led her to the business world. She developed a handbag brand, became a partner in an organic baby food company and launched the Women of Today website to empower and connect women from around the world. But she admitted that for women like her, the road to success is often a challenging one. “You have to go in and be honest with yourself and understand that you are coming in as an underdog. You are gonna have to prove yourself more than maybe somebody else,” she says.
Her best advice? To remember that coming from another country can be an asset rather than an obstacle. “The fact that I come from a different background, had different cultural experiences around me, it actually gives me the advantage of seeing things from different angles that others may not. So, actually, it's a strength.”
The term “Hispanic” describes a person of Spanish-speaking origin, whereas the terms “Latino,”“Latina”and “Latinx” refer to someone of Latin American origin. National Hispanic Heritage Month pays tribute to all those who trace their roots back to countries that speak Spanish as the primary language. This includes Spain, Mexico, Central America, most of South America and many countries in the Caribbean.
The honoring of Hispanic Americans began in 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson. President Ronald Reagan then expanded the event to a monthlong celebration spanning Sept. 15 to Oct. 15., and this expansion was signed into law in 1988. Now Hispanic Americans comprise one of the fastest-growing populations in the country. McConaughey said this evolution presents an opportunity. “I think it's important to understand the power that this community has now. Large businesses are trying to figure out ‘How do I get that market?’ right? ‘How do I get that community to buy into my product?’ So I think it's important to understand that as a consumer, as a cultural pillar over here, it's a lot of power and change that this community can actually do, now more than ever.”
As the nation celebrates the many cultures of the Hispanic and Latinx population, McConaughey says she finds true joy in the rich traditions of her background. “When you think of being Latina, South American, from wherever, that background has the extra colors, the extra flavors, the musicality to it,” McConaughey said. “Music, it's in your veins. So, you kind of see rhythm in everything that you do in your life around you. Whether it's hard times or good times, you are always following the rhythm.”