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Feature Presentation: The legacy of Hispanic Heritage Month continues

For The Heights

Published: Monday, September 26, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

Boston College's annual celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month (HHM) is underway. And what does this mean for us? You might be thinking: Salsa music in O'Neill Plaza, speakers coming to campus, perhaps some Latin food or a free T-shirt. And while you can expect all of those things, it is worth venturing beneath the surface of Hispanic Heritage Month to uncover some of the history and behind-the-scenes effort that has made HHM a blossoming BC tradition.

HHM is a national event. In 1968, the first National Hispanic Heritage Week took place in September to celebrate the contributions of Hispanic Americans to American society and culture as well as to honor the independence of our neighboring Central American countries such as Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Mexico. All of these nations celebrate their independence in September or October. By 1988, the week-long celebration was lengthened and National Hispanic Heritage Month now occurs between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15 each year.  

BC did not officially join the celebration until quite recently. This year marks the third annual BC HHM. In the spring of 2009, a group of students, led by Bryan Leyva, BC '10, decided it was time for Boston College to recognize National HHM.

"The first year was very difficult because we were starting from scratch," says Eduardo Dorado, BC '11, a member of the committee that was responsible for organizing the first HHM at BC. "Celebrations for Black History Month and Asian Pacific American Heritage Month were already in place at BC, but this was new."

The University was very responsive to the students' idea, and so planning began. The first HHM at BC was launched in September of 2009. The calendar of events included speakers, dinners, and celebrations featuring Latin-inspired food, music, and dance. The goal was to make the events both exciting and informative so that they might attract more students, Hispanics and non-Hispanics alike.

Despite the challenges of that first year, HHM has continued to grow and is now becoming a BC tradition. This year's organizers are Stephanie Gonzalez, A&S '12, and Jorge Miranda, A&S '13. They head a student committee that includes representatives from various Latino student clubs and organizations on campus. This committee works in conjunction with AHANA staff members and administrators.

Organizers of HHM at BC are happy to have support from the University. "In past years, we have had academic departments, schools, offices, and centers sponsor – financially and otherwise – specific events during the month," says Joana Maynard, assistant director of ANAHA Student Programs. Without such cooperation, HHM would not be possible.

The HHM committee purposefully aims to plan a nice mixture of events that will attract students with various interests. This year's keynote speaker, Victor Rios, spoke last Tuesday in Devlin 101. Rios is a sociology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He shared his personal experience growing up on the rough streets of Oakland, which led him to get involved in gang life. He eventually realized that education was his way out, and Rios went on to become an award-winning professor and the author of two books. He spoke about the marginalization and demonization of Hispanic and black teens. "We have to see the hope and the light in kids," he says. "Because it is there. People thought there was no hope for me, but look at me now."

If you missed Rios, there are more opportunities to celebrate HHM. Join the facebook group "Hispanic Heritage Month @ Boston College" for more information about upcoming HHM events.

This year's theme for HHM, "Being Latino is.…," speaks to the notion that there is no singular definition of what it means to be Latino. Organizers of the celebration encourage non-Hispanics to get involved. "It is our hope to have non-Hispanic students attend events. Learn something new, participate, celebrate what makes our culture beautiful," Gonzalez says.

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