KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A celebration of Latin culture and traditions is underway as Western Michigan University recognizes Hispanic Heritage Month.
"As our nation continues to grapple with the challenges presented by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as well as racial injustice, communities of color have given voice to the dire need for awareness, equality and justice for all," affirms Western's Office of Diversity Education. "We firmly and affectionately celebrate the contributions of the Latino community as we acknowledge Hispanic Heritage Month."
A number of events are planned throughout the month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. They range from trivia nights and dance parties to a Latinx art showcase and discussions about challenges the Latinx community faces.
"Something I really wanted to do is have events throughout Hispanic Heritage Month instead of just one week," says Jessica Cortes, a senior social work student and president of the Latino Student Alliance (LSA). "The vision was to have different conversations and collaborations than the kind we have had before."
Hispanic Heritage Month at Western culminates with El Grito, an event Cortes hopes will be "the event of the year." It will be held in partnership with the Western Student Association and Campus Activities Board.
"We're going to have food, dance performances, music and the biggest thing will be a fashion show,” Cortes says. "It's so great to get two of the largest RSOs on campus to partner with LSA on this initiative and celebrate the Latinx culture at Western."
Western has large Mexican and Guatemalan student populations, which will both be well represented at the event, but Cortes is also hoping to add representation from even more Latin countries.
"Being Latino means everything to us; it runs through our veins! Being proud of our music, being proud of our food, being proud of where we come from—there's just a lot of meaning behind our culture," says Cortes, a first-generation college student. She's part of Western's College Assistance Migrant Program, which provides assistance to migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their dependents, as well as the Foundation Scholars Program. "Many of our parents come from different countries, and to see their struggle is what motivates us to continue to further our education in hopes to one day be able to give back to them."
About 8% of Western students identify as Hispanic. While a smaller population, Cortes says the Latino community on campus is extremely tight-knit. She's found tremendous support and opportunities for growth in LSA.
"If it wasn't for LSA, I wouldn't be the leader I am today," she says. "I've networked with so many community leaders and built really good relationships, and I've grown as an individual as well."
LSA members can take part in the Grassroots Leadership Development Program (GLDP), which promotes and facilitates dialogue and interaction between Hispanic students and public officials. During the first week of Hispanic Heritage Month, LSA members met with Latino leaders from the Kalamazoo community. They'll meet with the city's mayor the second week. Students who complete the GLDP, which involves 10 sessions, are eligible to attend the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute.
"Students have the opportunity to go to a conference where they see people who look like them, talk like them and really get inspiration and motivation," Cortes says. "It makes you proud of being Latino; it makes you proud of where you come from."
She hopes Hispanic Heritage Month events bring that pride to the entire campus community.
"It's really about teaching other people on campus about what we represent and our culture, because it's special."
For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.
|Hispanic Heritage Month at Western|
|Sept. 23||Trivia night||5 p.m.||Webex|
|Sept. 23||100 Latinos Dijeron||8 p.m.||Bernhard Center 204|
|Sept. 24||Dance night||5 p.m.||Bernhard Center 105-107|
|Sept. 29||Movie night: "Fruits of Labor"||5 p.m.||Webex|
|Sept. 30||Challenges for Latinx in the U.S. Today||4 p.m.||Webex|
|Sept. 30||Latinx Art Showcase||7 p.m.||South Kohrman K1206|
|Oct. 5||Latinx & LGBTQ+ panel||7 p.m.||Bernhard Center|
|Oct. 6||Poetry reading||5 p.m.||Webex|
|Oct. 7||Killing Women: Interrogating a Nameless "Culture Legacy" in Latin America"||5 p.m.||Zoom|
|Oct. 13||Dance night||5:30 p.m.||Webex|
|Oct. 15||El Grito||6 p.m.||Miller Plaza|