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Latinx Heritage Month, and What Being Latina Means to Me

Words and photo by Lily Rivas

Starting Sept. 15, we begin our celebration of Latinx Heritage Month. This month is dedicated to the contributions and influence of Latinx Americans to the history, achievements and culture of the United States. Latinx Heritage Month first began under President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 and was known as Hispanic Heritage Week. The month was then expanded by Ronald Reagan to span 30 days, starting on Sept. 15 and concluding on Oct. 15.

To some, it might seem odd to start and finish this celebration in the middle of two months instead of during one consecutive month. However, Sept 15 is a significant date as it is the anniversary of the independence for Latin American countries Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. Hispanic Heritage Month is now recognized as Latinx Heritage Month to represent the all the identities of different Latinx Americans. Latinx includes non-binary, gender non-conforming and gender-expansive people.

Here at Cal Poly, we celebrate the diversity and achievements of our students who come from all backgrounds. This is no different for our Latinx students, faculty and staff. On campus we can express our culture and strengthen our community through various clubs and organizations.

“I appreciate all the ways that Cal Poly tries to make their students feel seen and heard,” second-year English student Bili Chavez said. “It’s nice knowing that the school cares for its students and want to give us as many resources as possible This past year I have used the Multicultural Center on campus, and I really can’t wait for the Latinx Center to open.”

Student Diversity & Belonging (SDAB), a collective of campus resource centers within Student Affairs, will be holding various events across campus during this month. SDAB will host their annual Fall Welcome on Sept. 29, which includes a free meal, music, information about resources, and an opportunity for Mustangs to interact with their community. The department looks forward to hosting several more events such as a virtual cooking night.

Another significant event happening on campus this Fall is the grand opening of Cal Poly’s Latinx Center. This new addition to the campus will provide a space that will engage in intentional and intersectional advancements to celebrate culture while supporting and empowering Latinx students. The hope of this center is to strengthen the community at Cal Poly

“It brings me great joy to announce the establishment of the Latinx Center on our campus,” Vice President for Student Affairs Keith Humphrey said. “This center will serve as a place for students to build community and lifelong bonds and participate in cultural traditions and learning that expand their personal and professional development.”

When open, the Latinx Center will host a range of programs during Latinx Heritage Month, including the State of Latinx each Fall. The center plans to engage in critical dialogue with panel and speaker series throughout the year that are rooted in the diverse needs and experiences of Latinx students. These educational programs will help spread awareness and knowledge about the Latinx student experiences. Cal Poly welcomes its continual growth toward becoming a Latinx serving institution.

What it means to be Latinx can be many different things to any individual. For some, it’s all about the food. The rich flavors and spices in dishes that have been passed down for centuries since the Aztecs and the Mayans, instills many memories for Latinx individuals. For others, it might be the bold and lively colors from the textiles or embroidery that we wear. The language, the music, and the dances can also be thought of. At the end of the day, Latinx for many people is about family. Family is at the center of our culture, and it is thanks to our ancestors who passed down our customs, traditions and values.

“Being Latina means resilience, strength and celebration,” third-year architecture student Sarah Mojica said. “It means being apart a legacy of people who fought for their rights, the conservation of their culture and families. It’s a constant reminder of who I am and where I am from. Being Latina empowers me to be bold and brave and to honor those trailblazers before me. Being Latina means joy, liveliness and color. It means music streaming from my windows, aromas of food ascending from the kitchen and laughter filling up any room. Being Latina inspires me to strive for more and to be brave in any endeavor I choose to take.”

What it means to be Latinx is not about one individual aspect, it is a culture derived of so many different parts. People might think of certain things like food, family and traditions. Now while all this is important, we cannot simplify the Latinx identity or culture. Being Latina for me is not something I say or think of lightly. It is who I am and represents where I come from. Being Latina is not something I can turn off and on, my identity is so pervasive in my everyday life that it affects the way I speak, what I eat and how I interact with the world around me. I love Latinx Heritage Month because I feel that my culture and my people are recognized. I appreciate Cal Poly because here I know that Latinx students belong.

Lily Rivas is a communication studies third year, resident advisor in yakʔitʸutʸu and communications assistant in the Cal Poly Corporation Marketing and Communication office.