Mid-September is a meaningful period for many Americans who identify as Latinx. Not only do a number of Latin American countries celebrate their independence around this time, September 15 signifies the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month, a celebration of the histories, cultures, and contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
The annual Oberlin Latinx Heritage Month (LHM) celebration also begins in mid-September. The celebration, which often extends beyond 30 days, features speakers, social events, film screenings, workshops, panel discussions, and performances that celebrate the history of Latinidad and highlight the achievements and creativity of the college’s Latinx community. LHM programming is coordinated by a committee of Latinx student volunteers under the guidance of Julio Reyes, Latinx community coordinator and assistant director of the Multicultural Resource Center.
This year, the 12-student committee organized four key events, including the Día de la Raza (Day of the Race) Banquet and Latinx ‘Sco Night featuring the Washington D.C.-based Maracuyeah Collective. “As a staff member, I don’t necessarily go to the ‘Sco a lot, but this night was special. It brought in a lot of faculty, staff, and students within the Latinx community,” Reyes says. “It was nice to see such a large group of Latinx people dancing and really filling up the space in a way that has never happened before.”
“LHM is important because it brings Latinx students closer and it helps other allies learn what it is to be Latinx,” says sophomore psychology major Zurisaday Gutierrez-Avila, a San Diego, California, native who served on the LHM committee. Gutierrez-Avila says, for her, coming to Oberlin was a culture shock. “When I came here, I couldn’t find a community of people who grew up how I grew up. It was really hard navigating higher education without having a system of support.” She says attending LHM programming and becoming involved with the celebration’s planning has helped her meet people with backgrounds similar to hers.
Bringing Latinx-identifying people together as well as people from other small campus communities to share experiences and create ongoing dialogues is a large underlying goal of Oberlin’s Latinx Heritage Month celebration. “LHM is a time for us to be with each other and other communities to learn about our history, culture, and all the different backgrounds that encompass Latinx. It’s a time for everyone to come together and express, learn, and feel the love we all have for our culture and our heritage,” says Xavier Tirado, a junior biology and sociology double-major who served as treasurer on the LHM committee.
“Even though we have different backgrounds and our experiences are different, a lot of the small communities on campus are going through the same things we are. Understanding that we can use this time to talk about these issues and figure out solutions and enjoy each other's presence while doing so is what LHM is about,” Tirado says.
This year’s LHM celebration concludes November 9 with a presentation by Justin Torres, author of We the Animals, a coming-of-age tale of a young, queer, mixed-race narrator growing up with his two brothers in a working-class neighborhood in New York. Reyes, Gutierrez-Avila, and Tirado encourage all those interested in discussing gender, sexuality, race, and class in a comfortable environment to attend.
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