Latinx Heritage Month 2021 and Envisioning More Just Futures

2020 was a Census year and as such, population numbers are at the top of many people’s minds. Oregon is no different. According to the Census Bureau, Latinx Oregonians make up the fastest growing demographic in the state, increasing from 11.7 percent in 2010 to 14 percent in 2020. This is exciting news for the future of our state. Unfortunately, a number of news outlets and commentators have chosen to frame this news as a cause for concern. Rather than envisioning a state that embraces and celebrates its increasing diversity, some with highly influential platforms have chosen to fear monger about “white replacement.” Meanwhile, issues like the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on Latinx communities and equally disproportionate lack of access to vaccines continue to persist. This backdrop belies the ever- increasing importance of recognizing and continuing to grow systems that processes that not only recognize Latinx Heritage Month, but ensure that Latinx students, faculty and staff have the ability to contribute, achieve and to be recognized year around.

Latinx Heritage Month dates back to 1968. Then President Lyndon Johnson sanctioned the week-long celebration as Hispanic Heritage Week. This continued for 20 years until in 1988, when President Ronald Reagan expanded the celebration to a month-long observation. Today, we officially recognize Latinx Heritage Month from September 15 through October 15. Why does it start in mid-September, you ask? This 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 the month-long celebration, 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 University of Oregon, we particularly honor and share the stories of individuals from these communities and their impact on the landscape of this state.

It should also be noted that while the US government officially designates this celebration as “Hispanic Heritage Month,” the UO chooses to recognize the culturally preferred Latinx Heritage Month. The reason that we do this is because the term Latinx includes all people of Latin American origin or descent. It also serves as a gender-neutral alternative to terms like Latino or Latina. Furthermore, in addition to moving beyond outdated federal language, the UO also expands its Latinx Heritage Month programming through early November.

It’s particularly exciting that at this moment in time we’re seeing more projects celebrating the local Latinx community, not just on campus, but throughout the county. For example, the Memos Mexican Restaurant mural project in neighboring Springfield is a great model for what we hope to see more of when it comes to integrating the arts and history.

At the UO, we’re incredibly proud of the contributions of Latinx staff, students, faculty and administrative leaders. The new Latinx Studies Program, directed by Audrey Lucero, finished its first year with an amazing array of accomplishments, including 20 declared minors and a host of student awards, fellowships and experiential learning grants. Rosa Chavez-Jacuinde, Director of the Center for Multicultural Academic Excellence (CMAE) won the Outstanding Professional Advisor Award, one of two awards given campus-wide by the UO All-Campus Advising Association; Professor Laura Pulido, an internationally acclaimed geographer, provided expert testimony about the environment and environmental justice to Senator Merkley’s Environment & Public Works subcommittee; John Arroyo and a team of colleagues won a 4.5 million dollar grant from the Mellon Foundation. Arroyo, who is PI and Director of the Just Futures Institute for Racial and Climate Justice Pacific Northwest, will lead a new partnership between the College of Design and the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Oregon, in conjunction with Whitman College and the University of Idaho. Gabriela Martinez is the new Department Head for Women’s and Gender Studies. Also, the Center for Latinx/a and Latin American Studies (CLLAS), which is now being directed by Christopher Chavez, Associate Professor in the School of Journalism and Communications, had a number of individuals who were recognized for their work, including CLLAS founding director and executive board member Lynn Stephen, who won the 2020-21 publication prize of the LASA Expert Witness Section; executive board member Isabel Millán, who was awarded a Woodrow Wilson Career Enhancement Fellowship; and Thomas Parker, the 2021 recipient of the CLLAS Undergraduate Award in Outstanding Coursework in Latinx and Latin American Issues.  As a university, we also recognize all the great work being done by groups like the Latinx Strategies Group, Dreamers Working Group, MEChA de UO, UO Muxeres, the Latinx Male Alliance and many others.

All of this is occurring along with a continuing growth of the UO’s Latinx population. According to the UO Office of Institutional Research, in the last decade, the percentage of Latinx staff at the UO has nearly doubled from 3.3 percent in 2009-10 to 6.3 percent in 2019-20. The Latinx student population, meanwhile, has jumped from 3.8 percent in 2009-10 to 12.6 percent in 2019-20. As our campus community continues to grow and diversify, it is our duty to ensure that we are applying principles of equity, inclusion and justice to ensure that in every aspect of campus life so that our Latinx students, faculty, staff and academic administrators are valued and respected in every aspect of campus life.

Please join us in making yet another Latinx Heritage Month to remember!