In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, The Hartford Chamber of Commerce is highlighting local Hispanic businesses in our Small Business Spotlight series. To learn more about iamhartford, MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Juanita Crispin.
NAN PRICE: Tell us about your involvement in the Hartford community and the impact you’re making here.
JUANITA CRISPIN: I’m a Spanish Teacher at a Hartford Public School and I provide tours in Spanish at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch. I also created iamhartford, which is accessible on Facebook and Instagram.
A couple of years ago, I decided to document Hartford through pictures, many of which were before-and-after. I showed my son places from when I first came to Hartford and compared them to now. I also had family, friends, and strangers asking me about particular places in Hartford they haven’t seen a long time, so I opened the Instagram page for them.
When my son was a toddler, I created a page for him, “Kuwesi gets to know Connecticut,” where I share information about events, places, and discounts. My main focus was always Hartford, since it is where I live, and I wanted to share about the many things the city offers.
Around the same time, a lot of my students were expressing their frustration about learning Spanish. In their opinion, it had nothing to do with Hartford except that there are many Hispanics here, and many didn’t speak English. This encouraged me to focus on Hartford during Hispanic Heritage Month in 2015. My students and I did research and learned a lot. I knew some of the history of the Hispanics’ migration to Hartford, but when I saw my students connecting to the language and the city, I kept researching more.
This is my first year working with elementary students. Their desire to learn more about the language and Hispanics in Hartford is so contagious that I even have parents asking me for information. The students are connecting with the city and language while they learn about the history and see pictures of places they are familiar with.
NAN: Why Hartford?
JUANITA: I moved to Hartford in 1986. It was a challenging transition. I didn’t want to leave Puerto Rico, where I has grown up. We had moved to Long Island from Puerto Rico and we were there for about a month. It was so different from Puerto Rico and it was not like the New York people talked about. My mom’s friend told her about Hartford and she decided to give it a try. I had never heard of Hartford, and I was hoping we would feel as the same disappointment about moving to Long Island, so we could move back home to Puerto Rico.
I was immediately impressed with Hartford! I heard familiar music, smelled familiar aromas, and there were lots of people who were from Puerto Rico. My mom would take us everywhere! I think we visited every museum, park, and free activity in Hartford our first year in the city. I would share the information with my friends who didn’t know about these places and activities. For the last 30 years, I’ve been that one friend you can count on with information about events and places to go here in Hartford.
I love the history of our city. I love the mixture of cultures. I love that I can go hiking, go downtown, and sit by the river all in the same day. We have a little bit of everything.
I also love walking around the city, too. I interact with people who are curious about what I was taking pictures of and why, so I get to talk to a lot of people.
I love visiting the many museums in Hartford, too. That’s how I became involved with the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch. I used to go on Thursdays for tours and take pictures. One day I asked if they had tours in Spanish. They didn’t, so I volunteered to do them.
NAN: How do we tell Hartford’s story?
JUANITA: We all learn differently, so that’s when my educator hat comes in handy. I’m a visual learner, so when I see statues, monuments, and buildings I like learning the history and taking pictures to capture the information I’ve learned. People ask me where in Hartford some of my pictures were taken and when I tell them, they are usually shocked because they either didn’t know it was there or they didn’t know the history of it.
I talk to people and use social media to let people know about places in the community. Technology is awesome but talking with people is my favorite! I meet a lot of the people who follow my social media and thank me for sharing the information. I love when I see people having fun with their families and friends at events they learned about through iamhartford.
NAN: Where do you see the future of Hartford?
JUANITA: I see Hartford continuously celebrating its different cultures. People love the parades and festivals. It gives them an opportunity to not only learn about other people’s culture, but also meet new people. I see young people doing more for the city because they are learning about it, so they are connected to the history. The residents not only speak about what they want, but also support it. The excitement is here, and I know we’ll keep it up.