Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15 to October 15. It celebrates the histories, cultures, and contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America. In commemoration, we profiled four students who graciously shared how they honour their heritage and who they would like to recognize during this month. In a four-post series, we will share each of their stories.
But first, we’d like to share a very brief history of the origin of the month and acknowledge the ongoing discussion around the term Hispanic.
Hispanic Heritage Month was first observed in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week and was extended to a full month in 1988. It begins on September 15 to coincide with the independence days of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Mexico celebrates its independence day on September 16; Chile on September 18; Belize on September 21. While these countries all gained independence from Spain, the term Hispanic (derived from the Latin word for Spain) is not without complications. In centering on Spain, Hispanic erases the indigenous cultures and civilizations that existed before Spanish colonization; it side-lines Brazil, which is the largest country in South America but whose predominant language is Portuguese; it alienates present-day indigenous communities and people of African descent whose lineages are not directly tied to Spain.
It’s a tall order to find a singular term that adequately addresses the myriad histories, cultures, and identities that come from the Caribbean, Central and South America that continue to evolve in the United States: a group estimated at 62 million people according to the 2020 U.S. Census.
The term Latino offers more flexibility in including Portuguese-speaking countries and people of African descent (Afro-Latino). However, it continues to leave out indigenous populations and has also been criticized for excluding non-binary people who do not identify as male or female. For the latter reason, the term Latinx was created to be gender inclusive and has gained momentum since 2016. And yet, Latinx receives pushback since the term is not used outside the U.S.
The descriptions above capture only a small sample of identities. They are meant to highlight the inherent complexity in how individuals, families, and communities self-identify and how these same groups are recognized by government institutions. We want to acknowledge that despite the moniker of Hispanic Heritage Month, our students embrace nuanced and diverse identities. We are proud to celebrate their stories here. First up we have Myrna Barrera-Torres.
- Where did you grow up?
- What did you do before pursuing your MBA?
I spent the past six years working in various roles in marketing in different industries. Most recently I was a Marketing Automation Strategist overseeing technical implementation at Vision Service Plan.
- What’s your cultural background?
I am the daughter of Mexican immigrants and a dual citizen of Mexico and the U.S. This is something part of my identity that I hold very close to my heart. My parents immigrated here to provide their daughters with better opportunities, and not only am I a first generation college student but first to pursue a master’s degree. Neither of my parents speak English fluently so I grew up in a bilingual household and Spanish was my first language.
- How do you connect to your heritage?
My connection to my heritage is part of my whole identity and the yearning to connect and engage comes naturally to me but some of favourite ways I stay connected is through:
Cooking – I specifically love cooking homemade Mexican food. My mom is an amazing cook! I have some of her recipes written down or memorized and when I make Mexican meals I don’t usually do a fusion but my mom’s authentic version.
Music – Most of the music I listen to is in Spanish, not exclusively Mexican artists, but I am a big fan of Latino Pop music. I also enjoy dancing to Mexican regional music with my husband.
Traveling – I’ve made it a goal of mine to explore different regions of Mexico and learn as much as I can about the history, people and culture of my ancestors. Most recently, we spent five days in Mexico City and four days in Merida, Yucatan.
- What leader, cultural figure, or historical moment would you like to recognize during this month and why?
I believe that the American Civil Rights Activists Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta are historically significant Hispanic leaders that deserve our recognition. Their work in establishing what is now the United Farm Workers Association and the fight for farm workers rights resonates with me personally. I was raised just 30 minutes from Delano, CA, and agriculture is a big economic driver in the region. My father started coming to the United States as a farm worker in the late 1970s and directly benefited from the activism of Cesar Chavez’s leadership. The motto that came out of their activism “Si Se Puede”, meaning “yes we can”, is a constant reminder that we are strong, resilient and we can strive for progress.
For the second post in this series click here.
Aarin Murray, Foster Class of 2022, and Christine Pham, Foster Class of 2022 and VP of Diversity at Foster, co-authored this post.