Honoring Hispanic and Latin American Heritage Month

Posted by Office of Diversity & Inclusion on Friday, September 15, 2023 at 8:12 AM PDT

Dear Campus Community,

September 15 – October 15 marks the observance of National Hispanic Heritage Month. Originally established in 1968 by President Lyndon B. Johnson as Hispanic Heritage Week, this month offers the opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the ways in which Hispanic and Latin American individuals and communities have shaped the course and culture of the United States. The mid-month designation encompasses the national independence days in several Latin American countries including Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica (Sept. 15), followed by Mexico (Sept. 16), Chile (Sept. 18), and Belize (Sept. 21).

Nearly 20% of the population of the United States identifies as Hispanic or Latin American; as is one in four children, not to mention that Hispanic and Latin American young adults who are undocumented makeup nearly 50% of the college-going population in the country. As one of the fastest-growing demographic groups in the nation, it is not a monolith but comprises a diverse range of diasporic origins, experiences, identities, and cultures. It is this rich texture that strengthens communities and makes our society better in education to entrepreneurship, in STEM, law, politics, social change activism, arts and entertainment, and beyond. The present impact and future promise of our Hispanic and Latin American communities is undeniable.  

Guided by our LIFT SU principles, we recognize and appreciate that fostering inclusion means amplifying voices from a variety of perspectives and offers a path toward solidarity and common purpose. We express our deep gratitude to Edgardo Gonzalez, Vice President of Advancement, and Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Professor, Modern Languages and Cultures; Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, for sharing their reflections on what Hispanic and Latin American Heritage Month means to them, and trust that you will receive their words with openness.  

Edgardo Gonzalez
Vice President, Advancement
When I was 9 years old, in Buenos Aires, I sobbed.  I sobbed as I buckled my seatbelt on the first airplane I had ever seen in real life, not to mention sat inside of. I was terrified. Not of flying, but of what we were leaving behind and what lay ahead. I was terrified of leaving behind everything and everyone I knew and about getting OFF that plane in a new country where I didn’t know anybody or speak the language or understand the culture.  Early on, I was encouraged to assimilate, to not stand out, and to blend in outside my home, while holding on to my language and customs inside my home. “It was just easier/safer that way,” but I was stuck between two cultures.  I wasn’t readily taught the skills to merge these cultures; In order to thrive I was simply supposed to transplant one culture for the other.  I was supposed to go along to get along – so that is what I did.  One day I woke up and didn’t recognize myself or who I had become.  It wasn’t until my 20s that I unlearned that way of living and more fully embraced my roots and my whole identity.  I learned to own and proudly live out all the cultures that nurtured me, fed me, and formed me into the person I am today.

Hispanic Heritage Month puts all the traditions, achievements, and ancestry of our peoples into focus.  It helps us honor, reconnect with, and share the richness of our Hispanic cultures and identities, but most importantly it continues to nurture understanding and bridging to other cultures.  What my siblings and I hadn’t realized during that plane ride is the magnitude of the bet our parents made on themselves and on their kids that day.  We hadn’t realized the magnitude of the opportunities (and struggles) it would bring.  We hadn’t realized the richness of who we’d become.

Shout out to immigrants - especially immigrant parents - whose shoulders we are standing on. 

Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Ph.D.
Professor, Modern Languages and Cultures; Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies
"Fresh as a Lettuce" by Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs

As a Chicana, growing up as a child farmworker, and knowing that somehow there was differential treatment for  my people on and off the fields, that there were no assigned drinking fountains for Mexicans, in the world that I grew up in, (not too long ago) I had to decide early on, that it was not materialism that defined me, but spirituality, writing, and especially poetry. I come from a culture that deeply respects poets, and so I wanted to be a poet. My mother sometimes had to keep an eye out and use whatever was growing on the side of the road so we could eat.  I had to decide that what defined me was truly a combination of nature and nurture, and that I had a say in the nurture category, and for this I was incredibly fortunate. I do not consider myself “Hispanic,” it’s not that it’s incorrect but it is absolutely not the full picture. Hispanic simply refers to a Spanish speaking person, without acknowledging ethnicity or race.  I am a descendant of Tepehuano & Tarahumara people from the mountains of Durango, Mexico, and rieleras, Nahuatl warriors and survivors. I speak 5 languages and am a border crosser, on a continual basis. I danced folclórico in college and sang in the Gospel choir, but these activities are not what define me. What defines you? 

I have used my mother’s uplifting saying, as the title of my forthcoming memoir "Be Fresh as a Lettuce," to inspire strength in me, as well as her "They are not choosing you, you are choosing them," to assist me throughout my life, and affirm my strong identities. Whether I was coming out of a language exam or an executive meeting, I felt triumphant. This has helped me understand that I am responsible in great part for how I choose to see myself, project myself and allow for others to treat me, you are too.  

My undergraduate professor Ken Atchity, at Occidental College told us something that is common sense, but that I would like to share with all of you, because this saying did guide my life: "Be careful about what you pretend to be, because that is what you will end up being,"    
Choose your image and subjectivities wisely. As Latinx/ Chicanx people, we are not unidimensional entities.  

If you ended up at SU, I want to congratulate you and let you know that no matter your circumstances before getting here, you are privileged, and there are many resources for you here, use them.  Don't spend your time working for a minimum wage salary, spend your time learning what you might have missed growing up, and connecting to your future.  If you were like me, you have arrived with much wealth, you might know how to cook, sew, another language, or part of it, another culture, or part of it, have good storytelling skills, and more.  You might be able to identify intersectionality and know that diversity, is not one word, but millions of meanings.  

Resources and Renewal to Inclusion
Please visit the Office of Diversity and Inclusion website to view a range of educational resources regarding Hispanic and Latin American Heritage, as well as Zoom backgrounds to use to support and celebrate throughout this Heritage Month. 

We also encourage you to attend two events hosted by ICTC: A Conversation with Author Stephanie Saldaña, author of What We Remember Will Be Saved, on September 28, and the annual Immigration Summit on September 30. Learn more here.

Indeed, our society is powerfully transformed by the contributions of Hispanic and Latin American individuals and communities. And our university is strengthened by our Hispanic and Latin American students, staff, faculty, administrators, and alumni. This month, we take the time to focus on this richness and excellence. To those who belong to these communities: we see and celebrate you!  


Eduardo M. Peñalver, President 

Natasha Martin, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion