Hispanic Heritage Month is observed annually from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, empowering the Hispanic community to celebrate their culture and traditions along with honoring social, economic and political challenges. However, speculation on how to honor the community is continuously up for debate. A few students and the director of Chicano Programs here at NMSU explained why Hispanic heritage is more than just a month to celebrate.
“I’m very proud of my heritage. From the stories that have been told by my mom and older family members, it’s something to be really proud of. To hear the stories of how my family crossed over from Mexico and how my grandparents had to essentially raise themselves because their parents were, you know, trying to make a peso, it makes me really proud especially for my grandparents,” freshman David Castañeda said.
Castañeda is a first-generation college student from El Paso, Texas, and studies digital filmmaking. He is among the few students who do not celebrate the month with festivities or any other special events because he feels his heritage should be recognized all the time. He believes celebrating “blank months” takes away from the big picture of honoring people and that it is simply just another way for businesses to make money.
Castañeda also explained that National Hispanic Heritage Month should be used as an opportunity to educate younger generations about the history and traditions that are often left out of textbooks.
“[Hispanic Heritage Month] gives me a sense of responsibility to keep, you know, teaching and informing my potential future kids about where they come from, so that they can know to appreciate their history, but also use what they have in the future to hopefully have an even better lifestyle than I did,” Castañeda said.
Director of Chicano Programs at NMSU Dr. Ana Lopez, echoed part of Castañeda’s sentiment by saying Hispanic heritage isn’t all about the festivities, but rather a time for national reflection.
“More than celebrating, I see Latinx heritage month as an opportunity to reflect and think critically about our identity, our roots, and complicated histories. As much as we love our food, fun and fiesta activities, I believe that as a community we should be moving our observance and participation of Latinx heritage month beyond celebrating,” Lopez said.
Lopez, who uses the term “Latinx” rather than “Hispanic” because of its negative connotations, argues that this month should also be used as an opportunity to educate others on the historical aspects of Hispanic history and Spanish colonization.
“Educate yourself and commit to unlearning. If you are Latinx, use this month to explore your roots and history beyond romanticizing violence, colonialism and genocide. If you are not, learn to seek out resources and educational opportunities that allow you to identify and unpack biases and prejudice you might have towards this and other groups”
“Educate yourself and commit to unlearning. If you are Latinx, use this month to explore your roots and history beyond romanticizing violence, colonialism and genocide. If you are not, learn to seek out resources and educational opportunities that allow you to identify and unpack biases and prejudice you might have towards this and other groups,” Lopez said.
Similarly to Castañeda, Lopez emphasizes that the learning process should happen year-round, not just during a given month.
For some students, Hispanic heritage also means learning how to be appreciative of one’s roots. Not everyone grows up tuned in to Spanish culture, which may pose its own challenges of fitting in. NMSU freshman and digital filmmaking student Leah De La Torre is one of those students who says she struggles with the meaning of being Hispanic because of her upbringing in a biracial household.
“I guess what Hispanic Heritage means to me is a bit more difficult because, for a while, I’ve kind of struggled with myself being Hispanic — not more so like I don’t want to accept it, but I feel as if I don’t fit into the box that is Hispanic,” De La Torre said.
De La Torre also says the Hispanic community is so broad and diverse that oftentimes it’s hard to be labeled under an “umbrella term,” which is why her acceptance of Spanish culture feels challenging. She also says Hispanic Heritage Month should be a time for learning and development so that students like her can better understand how to be more connected with their culture if they don’t necessarily fit in under that term or don’t know how to embrace it.
“I was never taught Spanish and I always hung out with the, quote on quote, white side of the family and it was always referred to as the white part of the family. It’s always been kind of hard to view myself as Hispanic, even though I think the culture is really beautiful and I’d love to be a part of it,” De La Torre said.
She added that attending NMSU has made her more interested in learning about the different Spanish cultures that exist in this region and on campus and her journey of exploring her own roots will continue.
Students can check out a list of resources, clubs and events on the Chicano Programs website to get more involved in the Latinx community on campus. More in-depth content and readings about Hispanic heritage can be found on the Library of Congress’ website. NMSU’s Chicano Programs and Hispanic Council have more events coming up on campus this week such as Nachos con Nacho Libre at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 13, outside the Corbett Center Student Union.
In addition, NMSU is leading a celebratory symposium on Friday, Oct. 14, at Domenici Hall in Room 102 to initiate “student success at Hispanic-serving institutions through regional and national programs.” This event is open to the NMSU campus along with the community of Las Cruces. Those who are interested can check out the schedule and register for Friday’s lunch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.