By Guest Contributor Blanca E. Vega
The days between September 15 and October 15 have been federally recognized as Hispanic Heritage Month. This is the time in which many Latin American countries (e.g. Mexico, Chile, Guatemala) have struggled and won independence from Spain. The struggle for freedom has been memorialized into a cultural celebration in the US since 1968, celebrated as Hispanic Heritage Week, and then extended into a month in 1988. It is popular to coordinate mixers and happy hours to honor this month. During this time, we may also want to think of finding ways to fight against the poverty affecting 25 percent of Latino/a populations, struggle against policies like Secure Communities that aid in incarcerating Latinos/as who now comprise of over 50 percent of federal felony offenders, and work against the fact that Latinos still lag behind many racial/ethnic groups in (K-16) educational attainment.
Brandeis University was the place where I began to understand the importance of these celebratory months. For young people, college is often the place where they experience the most diversity in their lives. Thus, the absence of a group that has significantly shaped this country’s historical and political landscape, such as Latinos, can be of great detriment to the learning and social enhancement of a college community.
As a college student, I could never have articulated what I just stated. At the time, I felt the impact that a lack of Latina/o populations in higher education had on me academically (e.g. lack of mentors who shared my background), emotionally, and socially. Personal reflection and my degree in higher education helped me articulate that impact later. During that time, I witnessed my peers who were black, South Asian, or women have their particular groups recognized in meaningful ways that were encouraging to me. In fact, many of my peers who were involved in promoting group recognition, encouraged me to coordinate the first Hispanic Heritage Month at Brandeis University in the fall of 1997.