Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

Sept. 15 marks the start of Hispanic Heritage month. It is also independence day for several Latin American countries, including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala.

Originally, the observance was limited to a single week known as “Hispanic Heritage Week.” This week was brought to fruition by President Lyndon B. Johnson. President Ronald Reagan then extended its duration to a full 30 days, establishing it as “Hispanic Heritage Month” in 1988. 

As per tradition, the Cultura Viva Festival, a mixed culture festival which is mostly driven by Latino members of the community, is being held in Walla Walla. Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies Carlos Vargas-Salgado is at the forefront of this significant celebration.

“We are going to have Hispanic music, food and dancing, but of course the festival is for the celebration of all cultures,” Salgado said.

Exec members of Latinos Unidos. From left: Alejandro Mata, Jenny Contreras (center), and Andrea Diaz-Garcia (right). Photo by Sailor Harris.

Whitman’s new affinity group Latinos Unidos is also starting to plan festivities in preparation for Hispanic Heritage Month. Vice President Jenny Contreras said that an upcoming event is in progress. 

“A Hispanic Heritage Month celebration is being put on by the Intercultural Center. We will perform and BonApp is catering. There will be music. We are promoting as much as we can because it’s hard to promote due to us not existing as a club previously,” Contreras said. 

Latinos Unidos is also independently planning lots of Latino-oriented events throughout the year. Contreras says they will be mainly food-based. 

The Latinos Unidos represent Hispanic and Latino culture and create a safe space for Hispanics and Latinos not only during Hispanic Heritage Month but year-round. 

Andrea Diaz-Garcia is Latinos Unidos’ president. Diaz-Garcia explains that growing up attending Predominantly White Institutions [PWIs] made her feel the need to represent her culture because she struggled to find people like herself. Contreras confirms a similar experience.

“In my past before I came to college, it wasn’t that significant but when I came to college I felt like I wasn’t surrounded by as many Hispanics any more and I started to see how rich my Mexican culture truly is and the diversity of Latin America,” Contreras said.

While Contreras and Diaz-Garcia emphasized the importance of showing all cultures love and respect throughout the year, the significance of Hispanic Heritage Month is not lost on them. Latinos Unidos is the first group at Whitman to collectively and continuously pay homage to Hispanic and Latino culture. 

It means a lot to the members to be able to even start such a group and have so many supporters. 

“I have immigrant parents that came here right after getting married. They didn’t even get to spend enough time in their country and it makes me sad. Starting a club for students who also may not be able to find their place as easily like our parents [makes it feel] like I am paying it forward,” Diaz-Garcia said.

All of the cabinet members say they’ve felt like their first year at Whitman was full of wondering whether they would continue to stand out or start to fit in. 

“I have felt so many microaggressions and have felt uncomfortable many times because I am darker. In classes here I specifically have felt it. I always end up doing exercises alone because no one will pair up with me. It’s little things like that that aren’t necessarily aggressive but it feels bad,” said Diaz-Garcia. 

Contreras and Diaz-Garcia both say they can speak for all POC students when they say that holding on to culture is more important than ever while attending a PWI

“The first year here makes you feel insecure about your cultural identity. I found myself giving in a few times to trends completely opposite to my culture. I felt like everyone could see that I was FGWC [First Generation Working Class] and not like the “others” or white. I also felt like I didn’t grow up like a lot of the people here, so I tried to hide my Mexican identity. I embraced it even more after that realization,” Contreras said. 

This entire first-year experience shared by many POC students is what led to the creation of Latinos Unidos and other affinity groups such as Immigrant Family Experiences. One of the goals of these groups is to help Whitman recognize important days and months throughout the year.

Contreras explains that being at Whitman or any PWI may be a struggle for POC for the first year but through a little work and perseverance she grounded herself in her culture.

“I slowly began to reclaim my culture by practicing my language and taking Hispanic classes and making Hispanic friends,” said Contreras.

Through Hispanic Heritage Month events at Whitman as well as the resources available, students like Contreras and Diaz-Garcia can continue to cherish and celebrate their culture.

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