• Born in the lively city of New York, Michelle Rios, the registrar at Howard Norman Elementary School, spent her early years as a proud "New Yorkie." Her father, Jose Manuel Rios, led her family to make a significant move to New York in the 1970s. In the bustling city, they operated a "colmado," a small supermarket, with their living quarters situated upstairs. This close-knit Puerto Rican community provided a rich cultural backdrop for her New York years.

    However, her journey took a unique turn when her parents decided to return to their roots in Puerto Rico when she was around 8 years old. Her formative years unfolded on the enchanting island, where she soaked in the vibrant Puerto Rican culture and way of life.

    Life there was filled with joyous family gatherings, where they roasted pigs every other Saturday and savored pulled pork, accompanied by the rhythmic beats of traditional music. Family was at the core of her upbringing, with her father having 13 siblings, each with their own kids, creating a bustling community of cousins. These weekends were marked by laughter, delicious food, spirited games of bingo with beans, and lively rounds of dominos. In those days, outdoor play trumped electronic gadgets, forging enduring bonds with family and nature.

    Savoring Puerto Rican Flavors
    Puerto Rican cuisine was an essential part of her upbringing, filled with delicious fried foods like plantains, finger rolls made from cornmeal, and green bananas stuffed with meat, all expertly fried. 

    When Ms. Rios longs for a taste of home, she frequents places like Casa Colombia on 7th Street in Austin, savoring the flavors of Caribbean and South American cuisine. In Killeen, she's discovered a great Puerto Rican seafood restaurant, Costa, where she continues to enjoy her beloved flavors from home. 

    Nurturing the Next Generation
    She is a proud mother of three children, each forging their unique paths. Her eldest, Matthew, works as a Special Education Aide at Hutto High School and is pursuing a teaching career. Her 18-year-old daughter is studying to be a teacher at Texas State and hopes to soon join Hutto ISD as a substitute teacher. Her youngest, a 13-year-old daughter, is currently attending Farley Middle School.

    What Hispanic Heritage Month Means
    For Ms. Rios, Hispanic Heritage Month holds a special place. It's a time when she sees her culture being recognized and celebrated. With a significant Hispanic population in Hutto ISD, both among students and staff, she appreciates the district's acknowledgment of this diversity. She emphasizes the importance of embracing each culture within the Hispanic community, highlighting the unique "sabor" or flavor that each one brings.

    In her free time, she works with wedding venues on the weekends and observes the fascinating differences between Mexican, Peruvian, and Puerto Rican weddings. From music to food, every detail reflects the rich tapestry of each culture. She hopes that people understand that the Hispanic community is not monolithic and that embracing these differences adds depth and color to life.

    A Taste of Puerto Rico
    Puerto Ricans, she says, are "spicy" in every sense. Their culture is marked by rich flavors, lively music, and passionate celebrations. Coffee, an integral part of Puerto Rican culture, is known for its robustness and is grown on the island. Her home town had a coffee farm, where they cultivated and sold their unique and strong brew. She encourages those who have the opportunity to visit Puerto Rico to explore all its regions, from north to south, east to west, and savor the diverse cultural offerings.

    As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, her story serves as a reminder of the diverse tapestry of Hispanic cultures, each with its unique "sabor" and traditions.