Diversity, Community, and Reaching Beyond Man-Made Barriers

*UIS will be celebrating Hispanic Latinx Heritage Month from September 15 through October 15


Hispanic Latinx Heritage Month (HLHM) is a month to celebrate and raise awareness of the various aspects of Hispanic and Latinx culture. In this context, Hispanic refers to Spanish-speaking cultures that trace their roots to Spain and its various colonies. Latinx refers to the geographical region of Latin America encompassing Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean. In celebration of this month, the Diversity Center will be holding a number of events to honor Hispanic and Latinx culture while giving students the opportunity to observe and immerse themselves in it.

To kick off HLHM, on September 15, the Diversity Center took students to Beardstown, Illinois, a predominantly Mexican- American community, to attend their Fiestas Patrias celebration. The following day, there was a flag raising in Legacy Campus where students identifying with particular Hispanic and Latinx cultures raised the flags of their countries, this year’s flags being the flags of Mexico, Honduras, and Belize. The flags will remain up for the rest of HLHM.

Other events will take place throughout the month, including Dia de Salud on September 19, the screening of Under the Same Moon on September 20 as part of the ECCE Speaker Series, Sip N’ Paint on 24 September, and Café con Leche on September 25.

One particular event highlighted by Daniel Aguilar – the Program Coordinator of Hispanic/Latinx Outreach at the Diversity Center – will be a performance on September 27 by Soldiers Who Salsa, a non-profit that teaches salsa dancing to wounded and injured US military servicemembers and their families. In describing the event, Aguilar called it a “spin on some of the ways we do cultural celebration…we’re adding a new dimension where people are now getting up and active and learning how to dance some of those Latin dances: Bachata, Cumbia, Merengue, and of course Salsa.” Students wishing to show off their newfound fancy footwork can attend the event being held on September 28, the CIELO Scholarship Dinner.

“Cafecitos: Samantha Alonso” will be held on October 1 in partnership with the Illinois Comptroller to promote financial literacy and educate students about state resources for entrepreneurs. La Familia Cookout will be held on October 5. Saul Flores will be giving a presentation on October 9. In 2010, Flores, then a student at North Carolina State University, made the 5328 mile journey from Ecuador to the United States by walking, hitchhiking, and canoe riding, documenting it in over 20,000 photos. This dangerous journey mimicked that faced by many of those seeking refuge in the United States.

The Diversity Center and Gender and Sexuality Student Services (GSSS) will be cooperating to host Pan y Café: Gender and Sexuality in Latin America on October 10. These organizations will be working with the Department of Political Science to present From Jose Sarria to Danica Roem and Mayor Pete: LGBTQ+ Candidates Past and Present. The final event will be Now It’s Your Turn on October 15.

HLHM is a celebration of Hispanic and Latin American identity. When asked what exactly this identity meant to him, Aguilar said:

“It means I’m part of this active community, it really means being part of a community that has multiple facets…it’s always this beauty of showing everybody’s different aspects and countries… we try to represent all these different identities…the great thing is even if someone is from a different part of Latin America there’s still this common line of potentially having that Spanish language that crosses manmade barriers. To me, it’s always community, it’s diversity, and it’s just really showing your identity in this microcosm of different identities.”

When asked about the significance of HLHM in the age of Trump and his anti- Latinx rhetoric, Aguilar cited the media’s portrayal of the Hispanic and Latinx community in America as a “sleeping giant” in that “many folks who identify as Hispanic or Latinx don’t get engaged.” HLHM offers the chance for members of this community to learn more about their culture and history. He went further, saying that it also can help dispel misconceptions about the Hispanic and Latinx identity: “It’s one thing to listen to what the media is saying about the culture and the identity, it’s another to experience it.” HLHM provides the opportunity for those who do not identify as Hispanic or Latinx to experience a culture that they may have only heard about.

When asked the one message he most wanted readers to get from this article, Aguilar said, “For individuals who don’t identify as Hispanic or Latinx to feel comfortable, welcome, and invited to come to any and all of the Hispanic Latinx Heritage Month events. Oftentimes we end up in this mindset where you have to be from some kind of identity group or underrepresented background to experience what we have at Diversity Center events…no matter your identity, come out, experience, there may be something that resonates with you.”