To many, history is merely an academic subject. Engaging with it is a task, if not an ordeal, and when we do, we often feel a need to oversimplify. Either we’re learning from cautionary tales or celebrating two-dimensional triumphs. In reality, history is never something we can truly separate from ourselves. We’re always influenced by it. We’re constantly contributing to it. History is complex. It’s expansive. Yes, it is about education and celebration, but also everything in between and outside. Ultimately, history is us, and as part of the fabric of history, engaging with it is an act of better getting to know ourselves. During LatinX Heritage Month, we engage with history through the lens of the diverse LatinX diaspora.
LatinX Heritage Month originates in 1968. President Lyndon Johnson sanctioned the then week-long celebration as Hispanic Heritage Week. 20 years later, in 1988, President Ronald Reagan expanded the celebration to a month-long observation, which we now officially recognize from September 15 through October 15. This 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. Throughout this month, we highlight and honor the contributions of Americans of Mexican, Spanish, Caribbean, and Central and South American descent in all aspects of American life. At the UO, we particularly honor and share the stories of individuals from these communities and their impact on the landscape of Oregon.
It is important to note that while the US government officially designates this celebration as “Hispanic Heritage Month”, the UO recognizes the culturally preferred LatinX Heritage Month. The term Latinx is preferred because it includes all people of Latin American origin or descent and serves as a gender neutral alternative to terms like Latino or Latina. In addition to rejecting outdated federal language, the UO also expands its events and programming through early November.
Highlighting the diversity of our LatinX community and providing empowering resources, however, is far more than just a priority for LatinX Heritage Month at the UO. Consider the example of the UO Patos community, which serves as a hub for engaging with the traditions, beliefs, knowledge, pride, vision, and viewpoints of UO’s LatinX diaspora. The page includes first-person student stories and various resources, such as information on LatinX student groups, UO and community connections, and courses that engage with the wide variety of perspectives and experiences within the community.
Resources like this help build on the momentum of recent, vital additions to our campus like the LatinX Academic Residential Community. Entering its second year, the LatinX ARC is open to all LatinX students and those who identify as allies to the LatinX community. In its initial year, the space has been a prolific venue for collaboration and community building, and we can’t wait to see what the upcoming year brings. Additionally, through the work of Latinx scholars and allies, a Latinx minor has been approved offering a wide range of courses and opportunities across UO’s schools and colleges for students from all walks of life.
In addition to amazing scholarship and creativity, there is great work happening around responding to the real-time issues facing students, their families, and communities. Examples include the Latinx Strategies Group and the UO Dreamers Working Group. Latinx Strategies provides a welcoming place for Latinx community members to gather, strategize and act in ways that build inclusion and equity. The Dreamers Working Group connects DACA students to funding support in direct response to the federal government’s denial and systemic disenfranchisement.
The UO is proud of all its LatinX student, faculty, and community groups doing great work on campus and in the surrounding Eugene and Lane County areas. Going forward, we only hope to build on how we support and amplify these emerging leaders and voices.
Looking in the mirror, we certainly realize there is much more work for us to do as a university. The percentages of LatinX undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty and employees, are 12 percent, 7.6 percent, and 5.5 percent, respectively. For more context, the percentage of undergrads has tripled in the last 20 years while graduate students and faculty/employees have both doubled in that time period. The latter two are important increases but still far from matching LatinX population demographics in the US or Oregon. As we work to become a truly elite academic institution, it’s imperative that the diversity of our campus is not just representative of the country as it is, but as it will be.
LatinX Heritage Month 2020 will be full of opportunities that showcase this diversity. Despite COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, the UO will continue to provide a plethora of activities and programming that engages with LatinX history, culture, and visions for the future. We hope you can join us!