The sounds of Latin American pop music floated through the Union hallways as members of the Latinx community lined up to check in for the event. Latinx Heritage Month has begun at Michigan.
Latinx Heritage Month is celebrated from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 nationwide and encompasses seven Latin American countries’ independence days. The U.S. Department of Education refers to the event as Hispanic Heritage Month and defines it as “a time to recognize and celebrate the many contributions, diverse cultures, and extensive histories of the American Latino community.”
The U-M Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs (MESA) hosted the opening ceremony Thursday night and decorated the Rogel ballroom with national flags and Latin American food at buffet tables. A photo booth enticed friends to commemorate the event with group pictures as community members gathered to recognize their cultures, with many dressed in clothing that celebrated their Latinx heritage. The attendees spilled out onto the third floor balcony.
LSA sophomore Luz Mayancela, member of the Latinx Heritage Month planning committee, kicked off the ceremony by recognizing the importance of visibility on campus for members of the Latinx community. She said Indingenous visibility is equally important and took a moment to acknowledge the land on which the University of Michigan resides.
“We learn and reside on this basis, and it is crucial for us to continuously advocate against ongoing systems of power that we enforce and the repression of Indigenous communities and culture,” Mayacela said. “As we navigate these spaces, I invite you all to reflect on our continued participation in modern colonialism.”
As the setting sun beamed through the ballroom windows, Business senior Alex Jimenez announced the this year’s theme: “Vamos Pa’lante: Juntos Iluminamos el Camino de Liberación” translated in English as: “We Move Forward: Together We Light the Path to Liberation.”
Jimenez is the graphic designer for the Latinx Heritage Month planning committee. He explained the symbolic meaning behind the theme and his inspiration for the sunset-orange logo. Jimenez said MESA wanted the theme to be representative of the Spanish language that many Latinx people experienced during their childhood.
“In terms of the aesthetic for our logo, we wanted to present the sun as a way to show how we can recognize each other’s success in our community and being each other’s light,” Jimenez said. “In terms of (the) actual phrase, ‘Pa’lante’ is a slang phrase that a lot of us might have grown up with in Spanish communities.”
After Jimenez’s initial welcome and opening remarks, MESA director Nadia Bazzy spoke on the importance of Latinx Heritage Month at Michigan.
“I want to thank you all for being here to celebrate the diverse and rich identities and communities that make up the broader Latinx community,” Bazzy said. “The chance to come together and make an identity-affirming space at a predominantly white institution is not only important, it’s necessary.”
Bazzy said cultural identities should be honored the entire year and should not be limited to a singular month. She also honored the commitment to academic excellence exhibited by the Latinx community at the University.
“It is necessary for a sense of belonging to tell the stories that we each brought in here today. The ones known, the ones unknown, and the ones yet to be written,” Bazzy said. “As we journey (through) this month together, we want to acknowledge the collective purpose in this room is the pursuit of academic excellence for the greater good. And as you take this energy with you this evening, and further into the month, we hope that it ignites and sparks a fire.”
LSA junior Luisa Sánchez, another member of the event’s planning committee, spoke next, offering her thanks to MDining chef Estela Cardenas for preparing the Latin American food for the ceremony. Sánchez said many U-M Latinx community members are far away from their homes and their typical family meals, so Cardenas’s efforts were very meaningful.
“We truly appreciate the hands that went into the labor to make this food, and it tasted delicious,” Sánchez said.
Sánchez discussed the privilege she felt to speak in the shared space at the University and introduced the ceremony’s keynote speaker, American Culture and Latinx studies professor William Calvo-Quirós.
Calvo-Quirós took the ballroom stage, wishing a happy independence day to the celebrating Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Calvo-Quirós then spoke on the topic of independence in history more broadly.
“What is important is that freedom is very much tied to our sense of self and our sense of community,” Calvo-Quirós said. “We take freedom and liberties in this sense because they define a lot of things that we are.”
MESA has a number of events planned for the remainder of Latinx Heritage Month, including a talk about Latinx health disparities, a professional headshot photoshoot, an anti-racism workshop and a Día De los Muertos community altar.
Correction 9/19: the quote including the phrase “broader Latinx community” has been updated to reflect the exact words said at the event.
Daily Staff Reporters Carlin Pendell and Natalie Anderson can be reached at email@example.com@umich.edu.