'It starts with us': Hispanic Heritage Month at CMU

Dearborn junior, Amina Torres, smiles while painting on a canvas Thursday, September 21, in the Center for Student Inclusion and Diversity, Bovee University Center. In addition to Talavera making, Torres painted a salamander on a canvas.

As Hispanic Heritage Month is presently upon us, Central Michigan University's students, faculty and staff continue to celebrate the diversity on campus, but also learn and understand the different cultures that come from the month-long celebration. 

Hispanic Heritage Month takes place from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, as it marks the anniversary of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico and Chile also celebrate each of their independences within this 30 day period, according to National Hispanic Heritage Month.

The celebration started as a week-long observation by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 and was expanded to a month-long by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. 

“For me it’s really awesome, because it’s the beginning of the academic year at the university, so it starts with us, " Alejandra Rengifo, a professor of history, world languages and cultures, said. “It starts with celebrating who we are in this country.”

Despite having the Spanish language in common, the cultures are very similar, but at the same time have things like foods and traditions that make them unique and different, Rengifo said. 

“For example, the tortilla," she said. "It’s eaten in Mexico, Guatemala and maybe Costa Rica. But from Costa Rica down, [including] the Caribbean, Venezuela, Columbia, Peru, Paraguay, it’s rice. Then in Chile, its pasta." 

Hispanic Heritage Month references Hispanics, but it really is in celebration of all Hispanics, Latinos, Latino Americans and the individual cultures that each individual has to share. It is recognizing the Latinos in the working fields, in the classrooms, the ones that are teaching and the ones that are doctors as well, Rengifo said. 

On campus, Jonah Guerro, a sophomore studying chemistry and Spanish from Lansing, celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month in his registered student organizations (RSOs) on campus. Guerro is involved in the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, Ballet Folklórico de la Luz and the multicultural fraternity, Sigma Lambda Beta. 

“With (Sigma Lambda) Beta, one of our pillars is cultural awareness which is a huge thing for us," Guerro said. "We like to focus on things that aren’t usually seen in popular media. We try to focus on underrepresented (Hispanic cultural) groups and events you might not have heard of."

Guerro thinks of this month-long celebration as a way to connect back to his roots. Being half-Mexican and half-white, he and his siblings were of a lighter complexion and were considered “too white to be Mexican and too Mexican to be white," he said.

“Doing all of these things on campus is [helping me to] really find that part of my culture that I was missing," Guerro said. "I feel like I’m honoring my family and I’m honoring those who came before me and trying to discover that part of myself."

Rengifo encourages students to go out and learn something new about a culture that is not familiar to them as CMU and CMU RSO’s do a "good job" at providing those events.

Upcoming Hispanic Heritage Month Events:

  • Empowering Immigrant and Undocumented Students in Higher Education: 6-7 p.m. Sept. 26, Sarah Opperman Auditorium
  • Ballet Folklorico Performance: 6-7 p.m. Sept. 27, Townsend Kiva Theater
  • Latine Entrepreneurship & Small Businesses Success: 6-7 p.m.Sept. 28, Grawn Hall 100
  • The Resilient Legacy of the Taíno Culture: 5-6 p.m. Sept. 29, Bovee University Center Auditorium

For more information on these events and those for the rest of the celebration, visit Engage Central