The UO Honors Latinx Heritage Month 2019
By Yvette Alex-Assensoh, Vice President for the Division of Equity and Inclusion
Too often, we view history as static; a set of facts to be observed rather than celebrated; ideas that have been memorialized rather than tools for constructing a better present. As a result, history is sometimes devalued, especially in regards to marginalized communities, and it ultimately works to the detriment of us all. This is why Latinx Heritage Month is so important, especially in 2019. Daily stories featuring images of Latinx immigrants being brutalized, accompanied by racist rhetoric from the highest echelons of power, are that much more damaging when we deprive our society of the knowledge of all the amazing historical contributions of people from the Latinx diaspora. Not just education, but celebration of these contributions is key to dispelling the myths that are fueling attacks on Latinx people, as well as empowering the community to continue positively shaping our society in spite of the oppression.
Latinx Heritage Month dates back to 1968. It originated as a week-long celebration under President Lyndon Johnson, known at the time as Hispanic Heritage Week. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan expanded the celebration to a month-long observation, which we officially recognize from September 15 through October 15 every year. During this time, we highlight and honor the contributions of Americans of Mexican, Spanish, Caribbean, and Central and South American descent in all aspects of American life. The mid-September date holds particular significance because it honors the anniversary of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, while Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence on September 16 and 18, respectively.
While the official government designation for the celebration is Hispanic Heritage Month, the University of Oregon recognizes the culturally preferred Latinx Heritage Month and expands its events and programming through early November. The term Latinx is particularly significant because it includes all people of Latin American origin or descent and serves as a gender neutral alternative to terms like Latino or Latina.
This spirit of unity is especially important in 2019, in the face of so many institutionalized attacks against the Latinx community. In spite of all this institutional racism, throughout the country, Latinx people are making historic contributions to the fabric of our society, including on the UO campus.
50 years after a group of determined community members built Centro Chicano Cultural, one of the first cultural centers serving Latinx people in the state, the UO has opened up the Latinx Academic Residential Community. The Latinx ARC represents a huge step forward for the university and a great opportunity for Latinx students and allies to the Latinx community to forge stronger bonds and shape a more empowering university experience for everyone.
The UO is also proud of Latinx faculty members who are continually making history and inspiring students, colleagues, and other community members alike. Some of these outstanding faculty include UO assistant professor Ana-Maurine Lara, who received a 2019 Oregon Literary Fellowship; senior romance languages instructor Jesus Sepulveda, who was awarded First Prize of Poetry in the II Concurso de Poesia Oregoniana 2019; and associate professor Ernesto Martinez, who won the prestigious Imagen Award for his short film “La Seranata.”
While it’s important to highlight the awards and institutional advancements, it’s equally important to view these accomplishments through the larger demographic trends of the university. The UO has expanded its Latinx student population from 3.7 percent to 12 percent in the last decade, according to the UO Office of Institutional Research’s 2018-19 demographic data. This compares closely with the latest US Census Bureau Data from 2016, which says Latinx people account for 12.4 percent of the state population.
However, when we look deeper into the data, while Latinx students make up 12.8 percent of undergraduates, this number dips to 7.8 percent for graduate students. Despite being more than double the graduate student population from a decade prior, it still indicates there is much more work to do to not just recruit and retain Latinx graduate students, but empower them to thrive and leave an imprint on the UO campus.
With that in mind, the UO will be hosting and/or participating in a wide variety of events to honor this year’s Latinx Heritage Month. The festivities will include a number of arts offerings, such as “Resistance as Power: A Curatorial Response to ‘Under the Feet of Jesus,’” an exhibit that opened on September 7 and is set to run through February 2020 at the Jordan Schnitzer Art Museum, and “Blake Little: Photographs from the Gay Rodeo,” which also opened on September 7 and is featured at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History. Other activities include a CLLAS Poetry Slam and teach-in on poetry and resistance, Madre’s Club, and the Dia de Los Muertos Celebration at the Jordan Schnitzer Art Museum. We hope you can join us!