Celebrating culture is important for keeping traditions alive. We’re so happy to be celebrating this month with our Latinx students.
September 15 through October 15, we are celebrating Latinx Heritage Month! Latinx/Hispanic heritage spans many countries, all of whom have similar but also very different cultures. This month is very important to celebrate: it brings awareness, spreads culture, promotes inclusion, and celebrates heritage. I spoke with Latinx students, Gabriela Cruz and Jovan Hernandez, and also Multicultural Student Life staff Daniel Dominguez and Ronni Williams about this month and what it means to them.
Gabriela Cruz is a pre-medicine junior majoring in Neuroscience and the president of the Gamma Gamma chapter of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc. here at UT. She is of Puerto Rican heritage and is very proud of it. Gabriela adds, “My heritage means where I came from, the customs that I grew up in my own household, and the pride in my beliefs.” Jovan Hernandez is a senior majoring in Computer Engineering and the president of the Gamma Gamma Chapter of Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity Inc. When asked about his heritage, Jovan answers with “my Puerto Rican heritage is something that defines me greatly. My family raised me to be a proud Latino, and to proudly represent my country.” Hernandez is grateful for his heritage and Puerto Rican background, it’s what made him who he is today. He says, “My heritage is something very important to me and something that I want to pass on to the future generations of my family.”
No matter where you come from, who you are, who you love, or whatever, this month we can celebrate our culture together.
Gabriela shares that this month is a month filled with different Latin countries’ independence days like Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica, Honduras, and many more. She continues, “I feel really good about this month and how people come together to raise awareness about issues within the Latinx community. Like mental health stereotypes, LGBTQ+ awareness, and the effects of growing up in a Latinx family. This month brings awareness to anything that’s going on in the Latinx community and honestly beyond.” It’s important to celebrate where people come from and the contributions that Latinx people have made for the world. “I also feel happy that we can celebrate a whole month on our heritage.”
This month is so important; it’s a time to celebrate different Latinx cultures and where the Latinx community can share their own culture and embrace other cultures. It’s especially important to celebrate in this country because of how big the Hispanic community is in America. Jovan adds, “This should be a time where you not only learn about different cultures but embrace them. Whether or not you enjoy or agree with everything about someone’s culture you should take the time to appreciate the fact that you can experience it.” It’s always great to learn about other cultures, it helps you widen your perspective on the world and society. Gabriela also adds, “It’s just important to celebrate our beliefs, our customs, and our culture. And most importantly share our celebration with others who may not even identify as Latinx and just show them why we love our culture.” Ronni, the assistant director of MSL, believes this month is incredibly important because having a month where people can intentionally celebrate different cultures and different heritages, especially our students, faculty, and staff is so meaningful. She adds, “It gives the chance for others to recognize the important and good work that our Latinx students are doing on our campus that may often go unrecognized.” The Latinx community is small in East Tennessee, but this month is a month that recognizes this community and brings everyone together. Daniel, a new staff member in MSL and a fourth-generation Mexican-American proud of his heritage, recognizes this and tells us why overcoming this is important to him, “Coming to Tennessee was very much a culture shock. So it’s important to me to find ways to make sure that the experiences that I’ve had as a student at a predominantly white institution and the experiences that I’ve had a feeling that isolation isn’t continued to Latinx students at UT. Cause I can understand that the Latinx community at UT is small, but it’s also very strong. We just want to make sure that that visibility is there so that they don’t feel so isolated and siloed.” Daniel adds, “and when I’m able to have this opportunity to connect with students at UT who identify in the Latinx community and find ways to bring themselves back to what they always know; it’s so fulfilling to me because I also get the opportunity to do that as well.”
Ronni also believes that this month provides an opportunity for students that maybe don’t hold these identities to have the opportunity, to learn more and also join in the celebration and recognize the great work that their peers are doing, but also to understand a different lived experience than the one that they have themselves. She encourages students that don’t identify within this community to take the time to learn more about it, “You can embrace the community and the community can embrace you.” Gabriela wants people to be informed and give your support on what’s happening in Puerto Rico, Central America, and other Latinx countries dealing with political climates, social issues, handling the pandemic, and natural disasters. Additionally, Jovan would love it if students could embrace this month. He suggests that people get out of their comfort zone, “they should take a day to try something new; explore the country that you are least interested in and research their history, culture, food, etc.” This can help you grow an appreciation of this country and culture.
Not only is this important to bring the community together but it’s important to highlight the community. The Latinx community in the country is just so ever-growing and so increasing. Daniel says, “I think that this month brings us to a platform where we can say ‘Hey, don’t forget students of color, people of color, specifically those who identify as Hispanic or Latinx, are very evident.” Daniel and Ronni both believe that this idea should be apparent throughout the whole year but are thankful that this month does shine a light specifically on the Latinx community.
Everyone has their own identity within the Latinx community and this month brings everyone together to celebrate heritage and culture. Jovan ends with, “Heritage is something that defines all of us. We need to create a sense of unity on campus and embrace cultures outside of our own. We as Volunteers need to work together to create a safe and welcoming environment for minority groups, not just this month, but always.” Daniel ends by saying that so many identities are intersectional. He says, “You can be Latinx and you can also identify as transgender, nonbinary, have an invisible disability, etc. There are all these ways that we as people are connected. And people who may not identify as being Hispanic or Latinx still have a way to connect with our community because of the other ways that we show up in the world. If you don’t identify in this way, that doesn’t mean that you aren’t able to be welcomed in and able to learn and embrace the community.”
Gabriela’s sorority, Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc., is hosting different events to celebrate different Latinx cultures and also informational events about voter registration and the politics of immigration. Fliers for these events will be posted on their Instagram account @lta_gammagamma. Jovan’s fraternity, Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity, Inc. is planning on doing a month-long social media campaign on Instagram (@utk_lambdas) promoting Hispanic and Latin American countries.
Follow @MSL_UTK on most social media platforms, especially Instagram and Twitter to find the most up to date flyers on virtual events and educational posts about Latinx Heritage Month.
Bailey Ly is a junior majoring in public relations with a minor in business administration. She is the undergraduate public relations intern for Student Life Communications. She loves cooking and learning about new cultures.