Professors suggest students participate in events to gain information.
By Wally Perez
Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to draw attention to the history of Hispanic culture and to make more people aware, an English professor said.
The celebration extends Sept. 15-Oct. 15 and recognizes contributions by Hispanic Americans to the United States while celebrating their heritage and the culture behind it.
Professor Mariano Aguilar, chair of the Hispanic Heritage Month Committee, said those who participate in events at this college will receive information that they probably wouldn’t be provided at any other place at any other time.
“Ideally, we wouldn’t have Hispanic Heritage Month; we wouldn’t have Black History Month or Women’s History Month because all these groups would be given the attention they deserve, so we wouldn’t need to create these types of days, weeks or months,” Aguilar said.
Lisa Ramos, Mexican-American studies professor, said it’s powerful to know that there are people with your background who have contributed to this country.
“I’ve heard college students of Mexican descent say, ‘I grew up feeling like I don’t belong in this country, I grew up feeling like my ancestors didn’t contribute to this country’,” Ramos said.
She said students attend events to learn about civil rights activist Cesar Chavez or the Battle of the Alamo and realize, “Wow, people like me, who had last names like me, who looked like me; they were contributing to major battles at the Texas revolution.”
Aguilar said events during the celebration include activists who are in their 70s or 80s who have been around for such a long time and have seen and contributed to the history.
“My uncle, who was one of many activists, died last fall,” Aguilar said. “At his rosary, there were members who attended who hadn’t seen each other in 20 years.
“They say so-and-so is dying, so-and-so is sick, and they’re realizing that their stories are going to disappear if they don’t get it out there, Aguilar said.
The month is also a time where people can be informed about minorities and their contributions, Ramos said.
“We assume people of color — minority groups — are so oppressed that they weren’t able to achieve much. They think that they didn’t do anything,” she said.
People who know that Mexican-Americans have contributed to society don’t really know just how many different ways they’ve contributed, Ramos said.
The events at this college are for students to gain knowledge and an understanding of the history and culture of Hispanics.
Aguilar said some events in the past, such as walkouts, may be noted during some lectures and they were a statement in the civil rights era.
There were California walkouts where Mexican-American students walked out of their schools because they were being discriminated against. They wanted Mexican-American studies programs; they wanted to stop being punished for speaking Spanish, he said.
“Some people may know of the California walkouts but not know of the walkouts that happened in this city,” Aguilar said. “Students walked out of Lanier and Edgewood high schools in the late ’60s in protest, just like in California.”
Growing up, Aguilar said both of his parents were Chicano activists, but they raised him and his sister to be almost apolitical.
“We grew up in the late ’70s and ’80s, in Reagan America, where Hispanic became the term. They went from being Chicanos in the 1960s-70s who had these little kids who became Hispanic in the ’70s and ’80s and didn’t teach us about the history.”
Aguilar said it might have been a generational situation, saying the difference in generations can play a big factor in what parents teach their children.
Ramos said there’s a reason behind children not learning Spanish.
Parts of those walkouts were because teachers were not allowing their students to speak Spanish during class. If you did, you would get hit and punished, Ramos said.
“It was ingrained in my parents who grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, that speaking Spanish was inferior, that it’s bad and something bad would happen to you if you did,” Ramos said.
Now, it’s not because children are going to be slapped, but they may be made fun of or acquire an accent, even potentially struggling with two languages growing up, she said.