National Hispanic Heritage Month is a celebration of the histories, cultures and contributions of people whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. Today, this observance spans the month-long period between September 15 and October 15, but it originated as Hispanic Heritage Week under the Lyndon Johnson administration in 1968. This version lasted 20 years until 1988, when President Ronald Reagan signed Public Law 100-402, expanding Hipanic Heritage Week into the 30-day National Hispanic Heritage Month that is celebrated today. The month covers many independence days for Latin American countries; on September 15, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua all celebrate an anniversary of independence from Spain.
Every year, the National Council of Hispanic Employment Program Managers, an organization responsible for building relationships between federal agencies and the Hispanic community, declares a theme for the month. This year’s is “Esperanza: A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Hope,” which invites the public to celebrate Hispanic heritage and to reflect on how enjoyable tomorrow can be if everyone holds onto their resilience and hope today. This theme is fitting, given the events of the past year. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone greatly, but the Hispanic community felt the effects immediately. Their average unemployment rate jumped from 4 percent in February 2020 to 18.1 percent in April 2020. Also, COVID-19 affects the Hispanic community more than others; Hispanic and Latino people are 1.7 times more likely to contract the COVID-19, 4.1 times more likely to end up in the hospital with it, and 2.8 times more likely to die from it.
With COVID-19 hitting the Hispanic community so hard, Kent State has resources for their Hispanic/Latino students to turn to. One of these resources is the Spanish and Latino Student Association, or SALSA. SALSA is a student-run organization meant to assist the success of Latino students and teach those interested in the Latino community at Kent State. Miranda Sepulveda, the president of SALSA, wrote in an email that their mission is aimed at “creating a safe environment where students who identify as Hispanic/Latinx can celebrate and learn about their culture. Throughout the year we have events to teach about our culture and have open discussions about issues facing the Hispanic/Latinx community…Overall, we try to create our own familia of Latinx/Hispanic students and students who are interested in learning about the culture.”
Joining SALSA helped Sepulveda learn more about her heritage and start celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. She wrote, “Growing up I did not know much about Hispanic Heritage Month and I never celebrated it in my house… I started celebrating this month when I came to Kent and started participating in SALSA which is when I really learned about what this month meant.”
SALSA is holding many events over the course of the month to celebrate Hispanic heritage, such as Proud to Be, where students write on the K with chalk about what aspect of their identities they are proud of, and Flag Day, an event where students discuss the symbols and colors of Latin American flags. They also have an event collaborating with other Latinx/Hispanic organizations on campus to create a unity quilt. All students are welcome at these events. More details are available on SALSA’s social media.
National Hispanic Heritage Month was set aside by the government as a celebration, but the month should also be used as an educational tool to help understand different cultures better. This is a time for everyone to reflect on the rich heritages and cultures the United States holds, and work towards becoming more tolerant of anyone different.