Lehigh has marked Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month with a series of celebratory events that have sparked community conversations about culture and identity.
Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month started Sept. 15 and lasts until Oct. 15. The Office of Multicultural Affairs has worked on elaborate programming for the month, which has included virtual events, a newsletter and a social media campaign. They worked with other cultural groups on campus like the Circle of Sisters, Latinx Student Alliance, Latin Dance club and more.
“We really tried our best to incorporate as many student organizations and voices into the programming of the month,” said Clara Buie, Lehigh’s associate director of Multicultural Affairs.
The events are also open to faculty and staff, who have been joining in on the conversations.
Nationally, it is known as Hispanic Heritage Month, but at Lehigh, “Latinx” has been purposefully added to make the month more inclusive. The term Latinx encompasses more Latin American countries as well as nonbinary voices and Black indigenous people. Buie said this change in name has been important, and that hopefully next year, it can just be called Latinx Heritage Month.
The change in the name has been an important aspect for many of the involved groups on campus.
Mericel Mirabal, ’22, the president of the Lambda Theta Alpha Latin sorority at Lehigh, who also works at the Office of Multicultural Affairs, said the name change was a positive step.
“I would like to see people move away from the language of Hispanic Heritage Month and instead just call it Latinx Heritage Month because Hispanic is a term that has ties in colonialism and is not inclusive enough of all of Latin America,” Mirabal said.
As part of the social media campaign for this month, the Office of Multicultural Affairs has made an infographic on its Instagram page explaining more about the differences in terminology.
Nathaly Rodriguez, ‘22, the president of Latinx Student Alliance, said for them, this month has not only been productive in celebrating Latino culture but has also prompted critical conversations.
“Our culture is not perfect,” Rodriguez said. “It is based on traditions and customs that aren’t necessarily inclusive of different groups of people. The LGBTQ+ community, Afro-Latinos, those who have more indigenous roots, they’re usually left behind in conversations.”
This year, the Latinx Student Alliance has been trying to shed light on some of these issues — the name of the month being one of them.
Some of the month’s themed events have included talks with guest speakers, a movie night, jeopardy and a virtual dance party.
Buie facilitated a talk for the month on “Spanglish” and its influences in the U.S.
“It’s important for us to highlight and honor all of the cultures that are involved and so, for me, I really focused in on trying to find specific areas of the culture that are nuances that we don’t really talk about as much,” Buie said.
Lambda Theta Alpha hosted a cooking event through Instagram Live where a member showed how to make empanadas from start to finish.
The Latinx Student Alliance and Lehigh Immigration Coalition also hosted a conversation talking about immigration in Latinx culture and how it encompasses many more groups that are often left out of the discussions surrounding immigration issues.
To balance the critical and thought-provoking discussions with some of a more light-hearted nature, Latinx Student Alliance is also having a family feud event intended as an opportunity to bond and laugh together.
The Office of Multicultural Affairs’ newsletter, also created for the month, is a student-led way to highlight key topics and events of the month. Buie said every week she looked forward to seeing the contributions from the students in the newsletter.
Jenn Ocampo-Castaneda, ’23, an ambassador for the Office of Multicultural Affairs who worked on the office’s social media campaign, made a YouTube playlist with music and worked on infographics for the office’s Instagram account.
She said much of the online interaction through social media has been from alumni instead of current students, which she said she wished was different.
As a result of COVID-19, much of the typical programming has been altered to fit a virtual setting, resulting in lessened student involvement.
“I do feel that those that did attend the programs or engaged in the social media conversations, got a lot,” she said. “It was pretty impactful to hear all of the different ways in which they engaged and honored the month.”
Rodriguez said it has been difficult to plan events with the executive board because of the fact that everyone is in different places and finding the time is often hard.
She said this year, Latinx Student Alliance has had a lot less involvement than previous years. In the past, their first meeting of the year would have well over 50 students. But this year, only 25 people joined the Zoom call for their semester kick-off meeting.
“I think it’s really important because (Latinx Student Alliance), being a culturally-based organization that people go to as a safe space, I think is so crucial for us to have that initial, ‘Hey this is us and we’re here for you,’” Rodriguez said.
Ocampo-Castaneda also said the Office of Multicultural Affairs has had some challenges in engaging with first-year students.
“They don’t really know that we exist because we don’t have any office for them to walk past,” she said. “Students who have been here previous years are already aware of the office and it is easier for them to take advantage of, but for the students who have not been previously involved, it is harder to start.”