Written By: Andrew Martinez Cabrera
Graphics By: Lizzie Flores and Jackie Veliz
From September 15 to October 15, National Hispanic Heritage Month (HHM) or its rebranded title, Latiné Heritage Month, recognizes and celebrates Latiné Americans and their ancestors. It was first introduced in 1968 as a weekly observance under Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency and later expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. September 15 is a special date to note as it was when most Hispanic countries declared their independence in the early 1800s. Outside of the school administration, student-run efforts have committed to recognizing the month through multiple facets.
“Last year I was in the Ethnic Studies class with Ms. Miranda. We were having a discussion and I guess I made a pretty good impression, because she pulled me, and two other people aside to be advisors for the club!” said Ana Vázquez, a junior at Las Lomas and co-president of Latinés Unides. Starting on Zoom last year, the group has expanded its membership and organized events on Acalanes Union High School district campuses. Lunch activities included bingo, musical chairs and piñatas. On October 29, all the Latinés Unides clubs across the district held a Latiné Heritage Month Festival at Miramonte with varied attractions.
On campus, Spanish language classes have hung up posters highlighting notable Latiné figures. Junior Mark Fregozo-Larios, whose family hails from Guadalajara, appreciates the colorful and insightful posters that recognize the many contributions and influences of Latiné Americans: “It’s a great way to learn more about these people and what they’ve had to offer.” Secondly, starting on the first day of HHM, Canvas announcements listed its own set of bios for notable Latiné figures.
Following the end of Latiné Heritage Month, another notable celebration begins in November. Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) starts its two-day celebration from November 1 to November 2. “It’s a combination of indigenous beliefs and customs with Catholic beliefs, which happened due to the intrusion and colonization of the Spaniards,” said Samantha Lansman, a Spanish teacher, ELD teacher and the World Language Department Chair. “There are things like altars. There is commemoration and honoring and celebration of those of the past. There are specific objects you can see, like a certain kind of incense [copal], you often see certain flowers [cempasûchil], and there’s even certain kinds of breads [pan de muerto] and specific food all related to the celebration.”
Outside of major Mexican communities, Day of the Dead has become more widely known here in the United States, similar to how Cinco De Mayo blew up in the 1980s through the commercialization of the day. Dia de los Muertos entered mainstream culture after the release of Disney/Pixar’s Coco in 2017 which grossed $807 million worldwide.
In Mexico, Cinco De Mayo is not celebrated to the extent that it is in America. It is largely celebrated in Puebla, the setting in which the Battle of Puebla took place during the Franco-Mexican war, in which the tide of the war was turned against France. In the United States, the appeal of the holiday reaches beyond the battleground because of the universality applied to it. Commercialization of a specific cultural celebration possesses the risk of losing the genuinity of a specific tradition, especially if only stripped down to the basics.
“They can sell a product, and it becomes attractive, and the more people know about it, then other people look at how to capitalize on it. So it can be a downside if we’re not being honest and taking the time to understand what it really is and what it represents,” Lansman said. She does note, however, that it does provide an opportunity for more people to learn about new cultures from various nations.
One has to be wary about cultural celebration and acknowledgement of the achievements and grievances of one culture without spilling into cultural appropriation. “I think Hispanic holidays being recognized more is a double-edged sword. On one hand, I think it’s amazing that we are being recognized more by people, Cinco de Mayo being a great example. But I also think these holidays can be taken from us just as easily, just as many parts of other people of colors’ have been taken,” Vázquez said.
The same applies to educational progress, as it is tricky to teach about someone else’s culture with no prior knowledge or experience relating to it. Vásquez, who has had difficulty organizing and overcoming the problems mentioned above, did say that there is some sort of improvement. “This year, [Las Lomas] asked us what [Latinés Unides] wanted to do, which is a big step.” She does note that until the involvement process becomes the norm, and as more people “start to do research on their own instead of putting the burden on the Hispanic people of the school,” full representation cannot be achieved.
Sometimes classrooms can’t cover everything, and it is not for a lack of trying. Spanish language classes often have the upper hand in these scenarios as they do not only get to teach the language, but they get to delve into the cultures in a meaningful manner. There is also the added benefit of getting to continue to learn throughout the academic year even after HHM ends. That is why clubs such as Latinés Unides provide Las Lomas students with an enriching experience to learn more from people with roots tied back to Latiné cultures. This applies to any culture. “I hope a lot of people take advantage of that, because there’s a lot of learning that can be done outside of a specific classroom,” Lansman said. “They have an open door policy that the group is not only for Spanish-speaking people, but also anyone who is interested in learning about and exploring Spanish speaking cultures, which I think is really really awesome.”
If interested, Latinés Unides club meetings are regularly held in Room 410 on Tuesdays during lunch.