As Hispanic Heritage Month comes to an end, students and faculty shared their input on the importance of the month and how Latinx and Hispanic culture and history have contributed to the country and to USC.
Hispanic Heritage Month was founded by former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson and Representative Edward R. Roybal. It originally began as a week of celebration in 1968. In 1988, Ronald Regan expanded the week into an entire month, from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, dedicated to the history and culture of the U.S. Latinx and Hispanic communities.
Hispanics make up 48.7% of the population in L.A. county, and as of the Fall 2020 semester, Hispanic students make up 15% of the entire student body at USC. Dozens of organizations at the university are dedicated to celebrating the unique diversity of the Hispanic community, including La Casa, HILO, El Sol y la Luna, Hermanas Unidas, Latino Business Student Association, LatiFAM, and many others.
Students have also learned to admire and celebrate their heritage as they have gotten older. Gabriella Gutierrez, a Junior majoring in Film and Television Production, says seeing people her age celebrating the Hispanic community resulted in her admiration for her heritage.
“I wasn’t entirely ashamed of my heritage, but it was just there. I feel like now I really respect it and think it’s beautiful in a lot of ways,” Guiterrez said.
Part of Guiterrez’s admiration for heritage is due to the respect she has for her family.
“I really am a product of a lot of hard work and sacrifice to even get into this country, and to even be obtaining a bachelor’s degree,” Guiterrez said.
Junior Sofia Reyes who is majoring in health promotion and disease prevention, thinks recognizing differing generation attitudes in celebrating Hispanic Heritage month is an important aspect of the celebration. She says what Hispanic means to her is different than what being Hispanic means to her parents.
Sofia Reyes identifies as Chicana, an identity associated with the 1960s Mexican-American movement. Sofia Reyes likes that her identity is associated with a radical fight for rights.
“I like that aspect of it,” Sofia Reyes said. “Like, yeah, we’re radical but for what we need and what we should have.”
“And it goes beyond these clubs,” said Claudia Torres, a Senior majoring in Law History and Culture. “Individuals, before the organizations, really make a difference. They’re organizers. They’re advocates for marginalized communities. They’re civil rights activists. They’re first-generation students. They’re low-income. A lot of them were homeless or are homeless. They bring in culture. They are such an important part of USC.”
Torres opened up about what this month means to her. “I believe that every single month of the year we should be proud of our heritage. However, I think that this month, in particular, is a good time to remind us and educate others on the adversity that a lot of Latinos in the US and in Latin America experience. It’s a great way to reconnect, learn something new about your culture and your family. It’s a good refresher.”
Other students, like Mishell Reyes, have a different perspective on Hispanic Heritage Month. “I don’t know if I buy into the whole point of emphasizing that I’m Hispanic. It’s a colonialist label. It’s important to celebrate people with different cultures and different types of heritage, but not romanticizing them or glorifying them as something that they’re not.”
Mishell Reyes is the Social Chair of Hermanas Unidas, a student organization that focuses on inclusivity and provides a safe and professional space for people who identify as Latinx. When it comes to her Hispanic heritage, Reyes believes that it’s a label that not everyone might need or identify with. “I think it’s a large part of who I am, I think it’s why I became a history major. I wanted to know more about my history and my heritage because both of my parents are immigrants. But I don’t personally think that it’s an important label. I think it’s important when you’re discussing certain topics, but I see it as more of a confined label that leaves certain people out.”
Professor Juan De Lara also recognizes the complexities of Hispanic Heritage Month. He believes that Hispanic Heritage month does not do a well enough job of celebrating identities outside of the European Hispanic identity.
“The law seeks to integrate us into American society by erasing the indigenous, Black, and other nonwhite genealogies that shape so much of who we are and have been,” De Lara said. “I think it’s time for us to undo this erasure.”
Whether or not USC Hispanic and Latinx students recognize Hispanic Heritage month, many acknowledge the importance of educating others about Latinx history. “It’s really important for us to learn about our history,” said Torres. “It’s the only way that I believe we can really make a difference today and in the future.”
Students also are optimistic about the ways they can celebrate their heritage in their professional careers. Sofia Reyes plans on giving back to her childhood communities.
“Immigrants, refugees, low-income, all the Spanish speakers,” Sofia Reyes said. “That’s the population I want to help. Those are the populations I want to represent and do them justice.”
Hispanic Heritage month has drawn to a close, but every day must continue being a celebration and appreciation of the traditions, values, and individuals that undeniably contribute to USC and the country at large.