Who Decides What It Means To Be Latin@?

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Chicano Legacy 40 Anos

Hispanic Heritage month is well under way on many campuses around the nation, but not here on this commuter campus. No mariachi band playing, no people handing out free paletas, and no grito.

Here, where Latin@s are the the majority of the student body for the first time, students are having discussions about what Hispanic Heritage Month means to them:

“It serves as a means of grouping the other.”  They shared as they wrestled with different ideas. They asked: “Who celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month growing up?” The room was silent as someone offered up more thoughts on having someone outside the group define traditions and assign holidays to them.

While many different Latin American countries celebrate their independence during this 30 day period many argue that the term Hispanic negates the Afro-Latin heritage of many Latin@s.

As I watched this discussion unfold, I could not help but think these students are on to something. They have an understanding and insight into their culture and into power dynamics that many miss.

I went to a university where 10% of of the student population at the time was Latin@. Hispanic Heritage Month consisted of a series of events: a banquet and a carnival. Most Latin@ student leaders on campus would show up to the banquet and most Latin@ student organizations had a booth at the carnival.

We were but a small minority of  the student body, our voice on campus and in the city was not a strong one. We had but few spaces to ponder on what this month meant or who we were. Aside from two Professors who headed the Latin-American Studies Program, there were not many opportunities to dialogue about issues of identity.

A lot of the discussion I witnessed earlier centered on the issue of identity and who gets to define identity. How cool would it be for a similar discussion to happen in the context of a Destino Movement? What if we provided avenues to help students embark on a journey to find who they are in Christ as Latin@s?

Our ethnic journey is a large part of our identity journey. I have come to believe that we honor God when we are who He made us to be, including our unique ethnicity.

He desired diversity when he asked people to fill the earth. He was not pleased with people grouping as one and building the tower of Babel and He gave them many tongues and scattered them. He will one day have representatives from each tribe, people, nation and tongue before His throne. It seems to me like culture might be important, stay tuned for the upcoming Cross-Cultural training.

What have you observed on your campus? How is the Latino and Hispanic population diverse there?  How are Latinos/Latinas defining themselves there? How about the community in your city?

photo courtesty: jaygalvin

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Posted on September 26, 2011

About destinoovalle

A Latina, former Destino student, now serving in an urban context.

3 Responses to Who Decides What It Means To Be Latin@?

  1. will says:

    This is really interesting.  I asked some guys in the Latino fraternity on the campus I work at if they were doing anything to celebrate Hispanic Heritage month, and I don’t think they even knew it existed.  They kind of seemed to dismiss it as a time for the government to recognize their existence…

    • destinoeric says:

      Will, 

      That is really interesting. I wonder what their story is. I wonder if they commented that way as a result of being super secure in their ethnic identity or being insecure. 

      What’s the ethnic breakdown of your campus? Ours is only 14% Hispanic so they get pretty excited about celebrating HHM.

    • destinoovalle says:

      Will, 

      So interesting to hear that. Yes, it seems to me that in this urban campus where the majority are Latino they seem pretty confident in defining their identity and not adopting “foreign” holidays. 

      I have also seen that many students don’t grow celebrating their ethnicity at all and it’s not until high school or college when they begin exploring this and HHM does open some space to think about it. 

      Also, interesting to point out is that most Latinos here are unaware that they are the majority on campus this year (30%) and still very much express their insecurities in being a minority, so numbers are not necessarily giving them voice on campus. 

      Like Eric, I would be interested to know the ethnic breakdown of your campus and hearing their story as well.