Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates Latinx communities

Hispanic Heritage Month allows for celebrations, discussion of Latinx experience

Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations at Oakland University have given members of the Hispanic and Latinx communities an opportunity to connect with each other through discussions, online events and food from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15.

Through the celebrations, OU hopes to bring students, faculty and staff together to honor Hispanic/Latinx culture. Junior Claudia Montoya, a music major, immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 14, and Hispanic Heritage Month gives her an opportunity to connect with her identity.

“When I first came to the U.S., I felt like an outsider for some time as someone that came from another place, and it was very different,” she said. “Our culture is a little different, and being able to celebrate our culture during this time, I think it’s really important for us as a community to be proud of where we come from, and to embrace our culture, because at the end of the day, it’s a huge part of who we are.”

So far, OU has put together several online discussions and panels centered on Hispanic and Latinx issues, such as panels titled “Effects of COVID-19 on Migrant Communities” and “Latinx Scholar on Afro-Latinx and Black Lives Matter Virtual” and book club meetings. 

Upcoming events include Student Congress’s (OUSC) monthly Student Concerns Forum — which will be focused on Hispanic and Latinx issues affecting the student body — on Oct. 7 at 4 p.m., and an online presentation titled “Hispanics Writing in Our Own Voice: American Dirt and Palm Trees in the Snow” on Oct. 15 at 1 p.m.

Michael Ugarte, professor emeritus at the University of Missouri–Columbia and Guggenheim Fellowship recipient, will be hosting the final presentation for Hispanic Heritage Month. 

“[Ugarte will discuss] how our identity is constructed, and the importance of the Hispanic and Latinx community being able to construct their own identity through narrative,” said Nicole Lucio, Center for Multicultural Initiatives (CMI) assistant director.

As COVID-19 continues to restrict event attendance, planning groups like CMI and their partners OUSC, The Office of Student Involvement, Spanish Club, Hispanic American Leadership Club and more have been finding new ways to continue to celebrate with the OU community. 

“[The online format] has given us an opportunity to connect with some individuals that we might not have gotten to walk into the Gold Rooms for a panel,” Lucio said. “I think that there’s some pros and cons to the virtual programming piece. With the mission of our office being to connect with underrepresented students in general, we’ve been very intentional with our outreach and how we are using our social media.”

On social media, CMI has been posting videos of Hispanic and Latinx staff and faculty members from across campus cooking traditional recipes at home. These “Tuesday Tutorials” give viewers a look into food from around Latin America.

Yoel Joa, assistant director of Residence Life, shared his family’s way of making Cuban-style coffee. 

“Both my parents are from Cuba, and they immigrated to the U.S. shortly after the revolution of the ’60s,” Joa said. “One of the things I got to enjoy as a kid, an adult and throughout my life was drinking Cuban coffee. Cuban coffee is really important to Cuban culture as something to start the day or a conversation starter that you would have when guests are over.”

In addition to the celebrations happening within the campus community, Hispanic Heritage Month allows for an opportunity to reach out to incoming students from a Hispanic and/or Latinx background. In Pontiac, which has a large Hispanic/Latinx community, OU has been hosting bilingual presentations on financial aid information and campus life for high school students and their families.

Lucio feels that Hispanic Heritage Month allows students, staff and faculty to feel more at home at OU by celebrating their identities and cultures. 

“If we’re talking about inclusion, and people feeling valued and welcomed, their identity needs to be represented and seen and celebrated,” Lucio said. “There’s that part of celebrating it and recognizing it and validating it, and then also that educational piece for individuals who are coming [in].”

She continued to explain how celebrations such as Hispanic Heritage Month bring education and awareness to minority communities on campus and create a better environment for those students.

“We are a predominantly white institution, and so to celebrate African American Celebration Month and Hispanic Heritage Month is extremely important … for our underrepresented students to not feel marginalized and experience microaggressions and racism and things of that nature on campus,” she said. “It’s our responsibility [as an institution] to educate the general population.”

Creating a space for different groups of people to learn and celebrate one another is one of CMI’s goals for Hispanic Heritage Month. In doing so, they hope to create a better experience for all. 

“When others, not only the Hispanic community, but when others join and celebrate with us, it makes us feel like we are welcome into the whole community,” Montoya said. “So, being able to celebrate that at OU makes us feel like we’re part of it, and I feel like culture shouldn’t be something that divides different groups of people, and being able to celebrate others’ culture and other people’s background in a way can unite people.”