With the difficulties, disconnect and Zoom fatigue resulting from the University’s transition to remote learning, the Emory Hispanic and Latinx communities have hosted a National Hispanic Heritage Month celebration unlike any other.
The observation, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, was established to celebrate the “histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.”
Student organizations, including the Latinx Student Organization (LSO), Black & Latinx in STEM (BLIS), Lambda Sigma Upsilon Latino Fraternity Inc. (LSU) and Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority Inc. (LTA), aim to uplift and unify Latinx individuals at Emory, a predominantly white institution.
“At Emory, there’s a lot of us, but at the same time, sometimes it feels very isolating to be Latinx on campus,” LSO Vice President Anna-Frida Herrera (23C) said.
Latinx Associate Professor of Political Science Bernard Fraga and Acting Professor of English Nicole Guidotti-Hernández hope to support their community through research and advocacy. Fraga’s research focuses on race and ethnic relations within American politics, and Guidotti-Hernández is currently teaching courses on early Latinx literature and gendered violence.
Throughout the month, LSO collaborated with other student organizations to grow their on-campus presence. They hosted a coffee-making event with LSU and LTA on Sept. 25 and a Jeopardy night with BLIS on Oct. 2. Moving forward, they hope to host a cooking event on Oct. 14, and to collaborate with Afro-Latinx dance team Alas de un Mismo Pájaro and the Student Programming Council on Oct. 21 for a dance event.
Herrara also works for the Office for Racial and Cultural Engagement, which will host “Undoculife: Support for Students with Mixed Status Families” on Oct. 13 at 6 p.m., an event discussing undocumented individuals and family seperation, and a career panel with Latinx alumni on Oct. 15 at 7 p.m.
BLIS President Christina Chance (22C) believes shining a spotlight on Hispanic and Latinx communities and cultures is crucial at a predominately white institution like Emory.
“Celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month is giving an opportunity for people who feel underrepresented or looked over to really celebrate and share their experiences and their cultures,” Chance said. “Being open to learning about others and their experiences is essential in our growth as a country.”
Besides collaborating with LSO for Jeopardy night, BLIS is sharing informative biographies of Hispanic and Latinx inventors and scientists through their Instagram page, including Dominican licensed clinical psychologist Carmela Alcántara and Puerto Rican Associate Professor Omar Queintero at the University of Richmond (Va.).
LSU President Kasey Cervantes (19Ox, 21C) emphasized the importance of using this month to educate Emory students about the diversity within this community.
“Each country has their own flavor and touch, and I think the importance of Hispanic Heritage Month is bringing light to these other countries that you might not hear about,” Cervantes said.
LSU recently hosted Café Con Chisme with LSO and LTA, and plans to host a linguistics event, “What does it mean to be Latinx?” along with a game night. LSU is also seeking applicant mentors for the virtual Latino Youth Leadership Conference taking place from Oct. 29 to Oct. 31. The Conference aims to motivate middle and high-school Latinx students to pursue higher education.
The efforts of all three organizations to celebrate this month, however, do not come without challenges — Cervantes said recruiting new members has been especially difficult. Herrera noted, however, that LSO’s events can still help Hispanic and Latinx students feel grounded.
“I think because so many of our events surround having fun and having conversation with other Latinx people on campus … it’s a very welcome break for a lot of people,” Herrera said. “It’s nice to be in a space that feels really safe and really accommodating to who you are.”
As student leaders strive to uplift their community, professors hope to similarly do so through their influence and research.
Given the upcoming presidential election, Fraga emphasized the importance of increased Latinx voter participation. He encouraged Latinx students to contact him to discuss and process the election.
“I think that speaks to the underrepresentation of Latinx voices in American politics and how much more work there is to do, for not only Latinx citizens themselves, but really for candidates and campaigns to create a more inclusive environment where more voices can be heard,” Fraga said.
Guidotti-Hernández similarly emphasized the importance of increasing Latinx representation on Emory campus. She aims to regularly host Latinx speakers, such as Omar Jimenez, an Afro-Columbian CNN reporter who was arrested by Minneapolis police in May 2020. She hopes these speakers can be “a catalyst for change” in the fight against racism.
Both professors are advocating for the University’s programming related to the inclusion of Afro-Latinx individuals within the Hispanic and Latinx community. Fraga said that the faculty are discussing programming to celebrate the Afro-Latinx community and highlight their concerns.
Guidotti-Hernández also noted that the observation celebrates both Hispanic and Latinx individuals, so the name should be more inclusive, as many students do not identify as Hispanic, such as Brazilians.
“I think we need to move from Hispanic as a Nixon-designated term to thinking about either Latino, Latina or what I use and what the students use, which is Latinx,” Guidotti-Hernández said.
During a National Hispanic Heritage Month unlike any other, Fraga and Cervantes encouraged students to prioritize their own mental health. Fraga stressed the importance of Latinx students staying “healthy, safe and secure,” and Cervantes encouraged students to reach out if they ever need help.