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“Pongase las Pilas”: A moment of reflection to honor Hispanic Heritage month

Dr. Diana Hinojosa


I grew up in the Little Village neighborhood in Chicago, a Mexican-American community full of life, struggle, and strength. My parents, like many others, immigrated to the U.S. at a young age in search of a better life. They were my first role models, and they showed me what it was like to never give up. Whenever I would find myself feeling defeated or discouraged, my parents would jump in and rescue me with the very well-known phrase: “Pongase las Pilas” as in, “Get it together. Keep going. Get back to work.” Whenever I would hear this, I would roll my eyes, probably complain for a bit longer, and then in fact, get right back to work.


I grew up with this dicho and many others never thinking twice about the context of such a simple phrase until I started to notice the need for resilience and hope in our community and our language. “Pongase las Pilas” is not just about getting back to work, it is about getting it together for the sake of survival, and for the sake of finding a way to cope in the face of oppression and all the systemic barriers our community faces. It is a mindset that promotes “being strong” and often discourages recognition of emotion, pain, and vulnerability.


As an adult I now understand the value of this phrase, and I also understand the value of validating our emotional experience. The recognition of emotion, sadness, pain, anxiety, etc. is not a barrier to our dreams. It is an essential part of healing and growth, and it allows us to keep going. Having self-compassion and being kind to ourselves does not have to compromise our efforts to achieve our goals. In fact self-compassion allows us to have a more positive and loving relationship with ourselves-despite our struggles. Sadly, many people feel that they have to pick one or the other, either I am “strong” or I am “vulnerable.” My hope is that we can recognize the strength in our vulnerability, our emotions, our history, and our culture. So, in honor of Hispanic Heritage month I invite you all to reflect on your favorite dicho and find a way to insert self-compassion and self-love into your experience of it all.



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