Latinx Heritage Month Kick-Off Begins With Educational Celebration
Early Saturday afternoon, students gathered in the IC Big Room to celebrate the kickoff of Latinx Heritage Month (LHM). Attendees chatted amongst themselves, enjoying the food provided by El Merkury, a Philadelphia restaurant specializing in a fusion of Central American street food. The meal included chorizo, chicken, and jackfruit taquitos; loaded plantain chips, arroz con elote (three baked cheese rice with jalepeño and corn); cilantro sauce and spicy red sauce; and, a fan favorite beverage of almond horchata.
To officially begin the celebration, Karen Avila ‘20, one of the members of the LHM Committee, welcomed attendees and recognized the Independence Day of five Central American countries, all celebrated on September 15th. She went on the explain the need for a month specifically dedicated to the celebration of the lives of Latinx people. “In many ways, our acknowledgement, pride, embrace, and love of our heritage and of others sharing our heritage is one of pain,” she said. “It is knowing how important it is to preserve our connection to our roots because we embody the evil effects of erasure-speaking a language that many think of as indigenous to an entire group of people, such as Spanish and Portuguese, and that we face this contradictory truth of having to acknowledge the role of an institution that wasn’t originally designed for Latinx bodies, and more generally, people of color as the space that held the resources, histories, and experiences for me to understand myself and identities.”
After Avila’s welcome speech, attendees headed upstairs to learn a little more about the history of the various Independence Days that mark the beginning of Latinx Heritage Month. Two other LHM Committee members, Vanessa Jimenez-Read ‘20 and Kaitelyn Pasillas ‘20 led the group in an informative Kahoot game. “We really wanted to be intentional,” said Jimenez-Read, “because with a lot of these stories there are multiple sides. It’s not just the usual two-side debate that often gets framed...we wanted to have an educational opportunity for all the students, and ourselves too because we also learned a lot throughout this process.”
Jimenez-Read and Pasillas also played two videos, one highlighting the United States’ involvement in Central America and one exploring the intricacies of the border crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border. “There are even power structures within Latin America, there are some countries with bargaining chips, like Mexico, like how they have the power to negotiate with the U.S. at the expense of Central Americans,” emphasized LHM Committee member Jackelyn Mejia ‘20. “The people that get hurt that most are the Indigenous, and they’ve been hurt the most throughout history - history repeating itself.”
As Jimenez-Read said, “the statistic that popped up was that 83% of indigenous people died in one of the wars that they show in Guatemala...a lot of the people that are fleeing the Central America region are indigenous and/or Black, and we wanted to highlight that.”
“Some voices are still marginalized in the Latinx communities, such as Black voices and indigenous voices, and kind of just giving the space to allow those voices to take up space,” Pasillas added, again highlighting the importance of intentionality in their programming.
Looking forward to the rest of Latinx Heritage Month, the Committee plans on carrying this continued intentionality throughout all their programming. Avila emphasized the idea of purpose: “Latinx Heritage Month and a lot of other heritage months are way more than just glorification of culture, that it’s just way more than food, and a colorful event, and music, and decorations. Latinx identity is shaped by purposeful events, by purposeful ideologies. Everything is intentional...it comes in our music, it comes in our culture, it comes in what we are, so when you show up, it’s really trying to understand who we are.”
Jimenez-Read focused on the need to center voices and stories of those not usually represented in LHM celebrations both at Swarthmore and on other college campuses. “My family is from the Caribbean, and I wanted to see a lot of that represented in the program, but also being critical of other regions and groups of people who haven’t been historically centered.”
“I wanted to highlight how we’re all so different, and not just paint broadly with a brush - like when you think of Latinx you think of just Mexican stuff, or just a brown person,” added Mejia. “There’s Black folk, there’s Indigenous folk, there’s Jewish folk, there’s Asian folks, there’s white folks. We’re very diverse, and I feel like that’s a little bit challenging to represent in such a short amount of time.”
Mejia also noted that students who had ideas for speakers or events could still reach out or join the LHM Committee. “So it’s kind of a mechanism of having these resources available to center the programming that Latinx students want to see.”
In the coming month, the LHM Committee plans to host events including a Crumb Cafe takeover and open mic night, an LHM Pub Night, and a secret event to be revealed in October. Throughout the entire month, Committee members want to focus on the need for creating a critical and intentional space to explore Latinx identity, both for people who identify as Latinx and those who want to learn more. “Criticality is a form of love,” emphasized Avila, and “we just want to know that you care about us as people.”