Image description: The words Celebrating Hispanic/Latina/o/x heritage month September 15th-October 15th are written in multiple colors.

Happy Hispanic/Latine heritage month! In case you didn’t know Hispanic/Latine heritage month takes place from September 15th through October 15th each year. Since this year’s blog just launched with an intro post, I thought now would be a great time to celebrate! 

First, a little history. 

Hispanic Heritage” month was originally “Hispanic Heritage” week, and it was created by then-president Lyndon Johnson in 1968. The celebration was soon expanded from one week to one month, in 1988, by then-president Ronald Reagan. On August 17, 1988, the recognition of the “Hispanic Heritage month” we know today, which lasts from September 15th through October 15th was enacted into law. 

I put “Hispanic Heritage month” in quotations above because the term Hispanic does not emphasize all of the groups that are included in the month. Though many people use “Hispanic,” “Latino,” and “Latinx” interchangeably, there is a difference between the terms. “Hispanic” now refers to anyone who speaks Spanish, though this excludes Brazil, whose primary language is Portuguese. Some people take issue with the term Hispanic because it originally referred to Spain, a country that at one point colonized many countries (including Argentina, Costa Rica, Mexico, and the Philippines among many others) that have since gained their independence. For this reason, many people identify with the term “Latino or Latina” which refers to any person from Latin America or of Latin American descent that is currently living in the United States. However, Latino/a is not the same as the term “Latin American” which refers to any person living in Latin America. 

Since Spanish is a gendered language with masculine and feminine spellings for words, the term,  Latinx, was coined as a gender-neutral alternative. Some people are against this term as well though, because “Latinx” is harder to pronounce according to the Real Academia Española (the group that maintains the consistency of the Spanish language). Others argue that the word latinx was imposed by non-Latino whites, but some say that the term was created by queer latinx people. Finally, there is the term Latine which is used as another gender-neutral alternative. It was created by feminist and nonbinary communities. According to El Centro at Colorado State University “The objective of the term is also to remove gender from Spanish, by replacing it with the gender-neutral Spanish letter E, which can already be found in words like Estudiante.” In addition, some people just like to be referred to by their specific country of origin, instead of using a term that unites all Latin American countries. 

Terminology is important. The words we use can be powerful in understanding one another and learning about varying perspectives. Further, broadening your horizons, beyond terminology and history can be one way to celebrate Hispanic/Latine heritage month. 

With that effort in mind, I thought I would gain the perspective of two Latine students at SMTD to see how they feel about the month and the ways they celebrate. 

When talking to 4th-year BA dance student Annabella Vidrio, she says that she “doesn’t like Latine Heritage month events that are just lectures that educate others outside the community.”  

However, she does think that the Office for Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs (MESA) took that into consideration when planning their events this year.  “I went to the Latinx Heritage Month Opening Ceremony and I plan on attending more of the other events too. I just enjoyed seeing my community and going to an event that celebrates us,” says Vidrio. She believes “Hispanic/Latine programs should be celebratory events for those who share a Hispanic/Latine identity and allies.” 

MM in Violin Performance and Chamber performance student Javier Torres believes that it’s important to celebrate Hispanic/Latine heritage and that celebrating the month looks different to each person.  “I think because I haven’t been in the US for that long, celebrating my culture is different for me. I still feel connected to Puerto Rico and when I go home, that’s where I celebrate. I think Hispanic/Latine heritage month is especially for people who have been in the US longer, it’s a time that they can remember their roots, celebrate their families, abuelos, and abuelas,” says Javier Torres.

“I am so honored to have a month that is dedicated to honoring my culture which is a melding of so many cultures.  Particularly where I am from, Puerto Rico, we have a beautiful mix of African, Taíno (Indigenous Caribbeans), Spanish, Arabic, and many other cultures.” -Javier Torres

Just because people have different backgrounds, does not mean they can’t find ways to relate to one another. Javier believes that Hispanic/Latine heritage month should be about all Hispanic/Latine cultures coming together and being in community with one another, while allies support them in that effort. 

SMTD still has an opportunity for growth in supporting Hispanic/Latine students.

So far, SMTD has advertised MESA Hispanic/Latine heritage month events on social media. The SMTD Office for DEI also did Instagram takeovers sharing resources on Hispanic/Latine heritage month. However, many feel that SMTD as an institution still needs to create more tangible initiatives to support Hispanic/Latine communities. Javier says that “if [SMTD is] doing Hispanic/Latine heritage month we have to go all out, with Bomba events, Salsa events, El Jarabe Tapatío, and more. We need to incorporate Hispanic/Latine culture into the music, theatre, and dance.” Offering internal programs to both support Hispanic/Latine students and properly celebrate Hispanic/Latine heritage month could establish a stronger sense of belonging among Latine students. An effort that is especially needed, since the white-dominated fine arts world is often one that excludes them. 

Annabella also believes that SMTD needs to do more to support Hispanic/Latine students. She thinks that “presence is the most important thing. Supporting Hispanic/Latine people and DEI in the arts should be about an emphasis on bringing our school and its resources to people of diverse backgrounds, not just advantaged ones.”

In addition to planning for the future, SMTD as a school needs to extend its reach to marginalized communities and work internally to support the marginalized students that are here now. All performers, composers, artists, students, and faculty members both within SMTD and outside of it need to be more intentional about the ways we uplift marginalized voices. Working together, we can create tangible strategies to facilitate systemic change. Yes, performers/conductors can program more works by BIPOC composers, but this needs to be more than just tokenism on a few choice concerts. Representation is important; it fosters a sense of belonging among marginalized artists and encourages more marginalized people to take up performing arts disciplines. Yes, professors can offer classes on “Hispanic/Latine music forms,” but they need to be more specific about accurately representing the wealth of cultures and styles that exist so students can broaden their horizons beyond western classical music, and thus enhance their creativity. Yes, everyone can read a quick article or watch a video on Hispanic/Latine heritage month, but we need to continually celebrate Hispanic and Latine people, listen to their perspectives and learn to dismantle any unconscious bias or stereotypes. These actions, if applied in relation to both Hispanic/Latine and all BIPOC communities, will allow students of these marginalized identities to feel seen and valued in the performing arts, redefining the meaning of the performing arts canon and who has a place within it.

Hispanic/Latine heritage month should be about making space for Hispanic/Latine identities within the arts and beyond. SMTD and EXCEL have plenty of funding, performance, and collaboration opportunities, and all students, faculty, and staff can use these resources to make room for identities that are often silenced. Through this, and by continuing to broaden our perspectives, we can learn more from one another, and create art that is by and for everyone. 

Thanks for tuning into this post! If you’re curious about what our guest contributors Annabella and Javier are doing, you can look forward to seeing Annabella Vidrio in the Annual Dance concert at Power Center for the Performing Arts in February. She is also performing in her sister Ariel Vidrio’s BFA concert in April. Javier Torres will be performing Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s Violin Concerto Op. 80 in the Sphinx Competition in January. More information about the dance concerts can be found here. To learn more about Sphinx visit Sphinxmusic.org.

Additional Sources Consulted: 

https://maizepages.umich.edu/organization/lacasaumich

https://mesa.umich.edu/about-us

​​https://www.history.com/topics/exploration/exploration-of-north-america#section_5 

Image description: People of all ages sit outside, some looking at the camera some not. The words the invention of Hispanics is written on the bottom, and the beginning lines of an article are written beneath that text. Click the image to learn more.

Image from Florida Atlantic University: https://www.fau.edu/student/features/posts/2021-hispanic-heritage/index.php

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