Latinx Celebration Month: Embracing Diverse Identities the Whole Year

Latinx+Celebration+Month%3A+Embracing+Diverse+Identities+the+Whole+Year

By Abhilasha Khatri, News Writer

 

The weeks from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, 2021 mark the annual celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, or, as it is recognized at the University of Utah, Latinx Celebration Month.

The celebration initially began as a week, approved by President Lyndon B. Johnson on Sept. 17, 1968, and was expanded to a month in 1988.

The timing of the celebration is important, as Sept. 15 coincides with the independence days of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico’s independence day follows shortly after on Sept. 16, as well as Chile’s on Sept. 18.

Jessica Venegas, a first-year student at the U whose family is from Mexico and Venezuela, associates the month with celebrations of Mexico’s independence day. For her, it is a time marked by making pozole and tamales, attending festivals and spending time with family. 

“They would have Mexican dance groups go [to festivals], and they would perform, and there would be a lot of mariachis and stuff,” Venegas said. “We used to go to a lot of those when I was younger and we would participate in it because it’s a big deal to my family.”

Isabel Dulfano, a professor of Spanish in the department of world languages and cultures at the U, said Latinx heritage month is about celebrating the diversity of the Latinx community and defying the tropes that fail to define what it means to be Latinx. 

“This affords us an opportunity to highlight who Latino people are,” Dulfano said. “There’s not a monolithic culture of Latino or Latinx. We’re really talking about a broad expanse of people who come from a lot of different places.”

For people like Dulfano, celebrating and engaging with the culture, history and achievements of Latinx people is not something confined to one month out of the year — it is a constant part of their existence.

“I don’t wait for this time of month to come around. I am always celebrating the fact that I am Latina, an academic, a woman, I have children,” Dulfano said. “I wake up every day and I’m very conscious of who I am and I’m not afraid to show that. I’m not afraid to teach classes around these issues, and to really engage the students in some meaningful and constructive thought that is inclusive of many people.” 

Diana Chacon is a U student and advisor for Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, a student organization on campus that originates from the Chicanx movement of the late 1960s. Chacon says the celebration aspect of the month is just as important as the critical conversations, an idea she relates to the concept of “pleasure activism” explored in the book “The Politics of Feeling Good” by Adrienne Maree Brown.

“It advocates for politics of healing … of centering our resilience, our joy.” Chacon said. “Being involved in social justice work … a lot of times people tend to focus on the dark things like the pain … they’re trying to steer away from this myth that changing the world has to be done through pain.” 

Chacon says it is all about balance, an important component to consider when it can be so easy to burnout as an activist constantly advocating for social change. 

“You need to have the moments where you’re having the critical conversation … but also you need to have those little moments of ‘okay, I just want to be with my people in my community … to just be … to laugh and to dance,’” Chacon said. 

Even for those who are not part of the Latinx community or activists themselves, Chacon says programming that may be criticized as “superficial” can still be meaningful to people who have never interacted with the culture before. She says it is all about having diverse programming that caters to different people. 

“If we have the celebration that some people will deem superficial because they have the food and the dancing and all that … that might be the first time that someone has experienced any of that … it could be very much meaningful to them because it opens up the door,” Chacon said. “But also there’s a space for the person who has done that already … I’ve read, I’ve educated myself … I’m ready for this space that is more critical.” 

There are many ways to celebrate and learn more about Latinx culture, whether it be through art, literature, music or history. In naming specific people who inspire her, Dulfano cited the names of Malinche, an iconic indigenous woman in history, Frida Kahlo, a Mexican artist and Helena Maria Viramontes, a Chicana writer.

She said the Latin American influence is everywhere. 

“There’s been so much crossover between Tex Mex … there are rappers who are rapping in Spanish, in indigenous languages,” Dulfano said. “It’s all around, it’s on the walls of Salt Lake … I mean, we’re here. And our food is here, and our way of being, our music … just appreciating it, recognizing it, I think it’s really important.” 

In addition to the icons, Chacon says, it is important to celebrate the contributions and accomplishments of everyday Latinx people.

“I would love for people to celebrate the panadero at the bakery store who makes our bread … those [like], in my neighborhood during the pandemic, this person who was delivering lunch to our elders,” Chacon said. 

In the spirit of highlighting these everyday people, Chacon recommends two resources. The first is High Country News, a magazine with a campaign called #IamtheWest, which features everyday people and “their contributions to the sustenance of our society.” The most recent feature was Adam Campbell, a shoe shiner from Albuquerque, New Mexico. The second is The West View, a local, independent newspaper focused on the West side of Salt Lake City, mostly written by BIPOC community members.

 

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