At the University of Michigan Alumni Center Thursday evening, about 80 students, alumni and members of the Ann Arbor community attended the first event of this year’s LatinX Heritage Month celebrations.
Sponsored by prominent Latino campus organizations and alumni, the event featured speakers who outlined inclusivity goals and stressed the importance of breaking down institutionalized borders for their on-campus community.
The Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives, along with the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs, the Spectrum Center and the Alumni Association are collaborating for the second time to bring a month of activities, including keynote speakers, film screenings, poetry readings and other events that celebrate Latino heritage, to campus.
This year’s theme for LatinX Heritage Month is “Sin Fronteras,” Spanish for “Without Borders.” Medical student Mayra Gómez, a member of the LatinX Heritage Month committee, said artificial borders that can divide us are meant to be challenged, an idea she hopes is conveyed throughout Hispanic Heritage Month.
“We chose the subject of ‘Sin Fronteras’ to emphasize that despite our differences, we can come together and celebrate,” she said. “So we ask you to be aware of the borders that exist and question them.”
University alum Hector Galván, a program coordinator at OAMI, said the title of the commemoration was changed two years ago from “Latin@ Heritage Month” in an effort to be more inclusive, which he added is central to OAMI’s goal of the importance of community at the University.
“With a growing number of Latino students at the University, it’s very important that they feel at home, they feel welcome and that they feel this institution recognizes their cultural heritage and the contributions that they bring,” he said.
According to the Office of the Registrar’s ethnicity reports, there were 2,028 self-identified Hispanic students during fall 2015, making up approximately 4.6 percent of the campus population. Galván said he aimed to create a welcoming community for these students coming to campus.
“A very important aspect of LatinX Heritage Month is creating a space for people to feel that their culture and their heritage is accurately represented through the University of Michigan,” he said.
That idea of inclusivity, he said, is one reason for moving away from the traditional names for this month such as “Latino Heritage Month” or “Hispanic Heritage Month,” which is how the celebration is commonly referred to across the nation.
“We realized that some people may not fall strictly on one side of this gender binary,” he said. “So we use the term ‘LatinX’ to be more inclusive of those people that fall somewhere along the gender spectrum.”
LSA junior Tania Lopez said she finds the term “LatinX” creates a stage of equal opportunity where all members of the Hispanic community can express ideas without feeling discriminated against by a gender label.
“I think it’s very important to have awareness of the LatinX community since we are so small, and we just need our voices to be heard,” she said.
Hispanic Heritage Month was originally created as Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1988, then-President Ronald Reagan expanded the observance to the 30-day period that it covers today, a time especially significant in the Latino community due to the many Latin American countries that celebrate their independence during this month.
University alum Israel Diego said he feels there is a connection across members of the Latino community that transcends other cultural differences.
“I like the idea that we are all Hispanic, as in Spanish-speaking,” he said. “So it’s really good to be able to have that solidarity between us and I highly respect that.”
Gómez said she finds the Latino community on campus a safe place to share her experiences.
“For me, it was a little alienating to be in the Med School where it’s a very elite and privileged group,” she said. “A lot of my classmates come from a lineage of doctors. My mom has a fourth-grade education and my dad has a sixth-grade education, so just being able to connect with people with a similar background with similar situations is very comforting.”
Diego also emphasized the importance of building a strong community among Latino students at the University.
“I just want other Latinos that still haven’t reached out to reach out and to really get to meet all the other members of the Latino community still in the school,” he said. “It’s really important to engage and to become a stronger people in the University.”