Much like the diversity of the Latino culture, the celebrations of Latino Heritage Month (LHM) come in different flavors.
LHM is celebrated over a 30-day period from September 15 to October 15. President Lyndon Johnson created it in 1968 to recognize and celebrate Latino culture and heritage in the United States.
To some, the celebrations seem like a big misconception.
“Latino Heritage Month…what is that? I’ll tell you,” said Germán Cubillos, program director for El Centro Latino, “it’s society’s way of giving a month to Latinos to recognize our culture. But I’m not going to stop being a Latino next month. My culture lives and has a history. We were here forever and have always contributed to society. I just think it’s funny.”
The recognition of Latinos from the country for one month out of the year may even be seen as society shedding light on the issue of racial divisions. “The United States is not united,” said Cubillos. “The first thing they ask you when you come here isn’t your name or age; it’s what race you are.”
“There’s a chemical that humans have inside of them—melanin, which makes up your skin tone. That’s the only difference. We don’t talk about people by their names anymore. We talk about them by their race.”
Despite having a month of recognition, some people like Henry Amaya, a student retention specialist in Multicultural Services, believe that Latinos are not getting the right acknowledgement they deserve. “There’s a historical misconception that Latinos are just here now,” he said, “but the truth is we’ve been here in this country all along.”
“We should be happy we have we have Latinos working in our country,” said Amaya. With a growing population, Latinos currently make up 14 percent of the United States and have become a large contribution to the economy as well as a strong political force. “I challenge people to ask if it’s wrong that immigrants contribute more than they take.”
For others, LHM can be seen as positive.
At Bellevue College, the Latin American Culture Club (LACC) and El Centro Latino had sponsored several events on campus.
“It’s a time to feel proud of who you are and what you represent,” said Daniel Jose Enrique Lile, President of LACC.
A sense of pride is clearly presented in the display cases that LACC rented out in the cafeteria on campus. Inside lay sugar skulls, geographical trails, photographs of famous Latinos in history, pieces of artwork, and mannequins donned with colorful scarves and bags. The display was showcased until October 16.
On October 8, Professor Gabriela Estrada, scholar in residence from International Baccalaureate Program of the Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, lectured on Latino identity. Some topics that were discussed addressed what it means to be Latino and the misunderstandings of Latino history and culture.
With help from the Alianza Leadership Institute and Latino Community Fund (LCF), the LCF Summit on October 16 gave Latinos from Washington an opportunity to work with 75 professionals and apply their leadership skills through small team strategy challenges and workshops; workshops that emphasized the strengths that Latino families and communities, specifically focusing on empowering individuals to address the issues they face.
In Seattle, the Latino City Employees Organization (LCE) has hosted many events in the past month dedicated to LHM. With help from Latino Cultural Magazine, LCE has showcased an art exhibit, Arte para todos Exhibit, in Seattle’s City Hall art gallery to celebrate and honor the month and Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead, November 2). Eight Latino artists in the Northwest, including Marcio Diaz, Isaac Hernández, Rene Julio, Hugo Ludeña, Jennifer Molina, Jaime Olaya, Jose Orantes and Blanca Santander, have featured various pieces of artwork. The exhibit has been running since September 9 and ends on October 31.
Earlier this year, Nordstrom partnered with Latino Art Beat to hold a “What Hispanic Heritage and Culture Means to Me” contest. High school students were encouraged to enter a drawing or painting that presented why and how their Hispanic culture was special to them.
Today, Latino youth may struggle with conflicting cultures. “Due to peer pressure from society, it’s hard for them to try to keep their roots and old traditions,” Lile said. “I feel that Latino Heritage Month does inspire students to remember who they are.”
LACC meets every Wednesday from 2:30pm to 3:20pm in C211 and the El Centro Latino desk can be found in the Student Programs office. Students of all races are welcomed to immerse themselves a culture that is fun, lively and rich.