How UTA student organizations, departments are celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month amid COVID-19

For broadcasting sophomore Paola Yanez, music, food, games and ballet folklórico are the elements of celebration when it comes to Hispanic Heritage Month.

Yanez’s family used to gather with other churchgoers at Centro Cristiano La Puerta Hermosa church every Sept. 16 to celebrate the month. But this year, the party might change to a carne asada cookout and only include her family for health concerns, she said.

National Hispanic Heritage Month is an observation started by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week. It was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to a 30-day period, according to the National Hispanic Heritage Month website.

It starts on Sept. 15 and ends Oct. 15. The start date marks Independence Day for five Central American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico celebrates its Independence Day Sept. 16 and Chile on Sept. 18.

The observation was established at a time when there were many civil rights legislations being passed. There was also social conflict regarding how the government was treating minorities, so this observation was an important aspect at that time, said Marcela Nava, associate professor in practice of the School of Social Work.

But this monthlong observation is often celebrated in official settings such as schools and organizations rather than on the individual level, Nava said. COVID-19 has halted most activities on campus and caused some to move online.

In 2019, the Center for Mexican American Studies brought Ballet Nepantla, a New York traveling ballet company to UTA for a performance called Valentina

But this year, the center is planning to invite a creative writer to speak in a virtual event because of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Erin Murrah-Mandril, assistant professor of English. More information will be available when the event is confirmed.

Last year, Paso a Paso’s Mavs in Movimiento held an event to celebrate the heritage month with food, games and free dance lessons in the University Center.

But this year, all the club’s activities are put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Brenda Galvan, president of the club.

But lecturer of Spanish Jazmin Chinea Barreto said Hispanic culture is made up of more than just food. She encouraged students to learn more about the history and arts of different Hispanic communities.

Nursing senior Nancy Villasana, vice president of La Sociedad Hispánica, also said that students should be more aware of the different culture groups and traditions that fall under the umbrella term Hispanic.

The U.S. Census Bureau defines Hispanic or Latino as a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.

Villasana said the heritage month is important for the Hispanic community to stick together, especially during the pandemic when people are isolated from each other.

La Sociedad Hispánica does not have any plan for celebrating the heritage month. The organization normally starts meeting in mid- to late-September, she said, so they typically celebrate specific cultural days such as Día de los Muertos.

Ignacio Ruiz-Pérez, chair of the Department of Modern Language, said the heritage month is a celebration of a sense of belonging. Ultimately this country is composed of different identities and different cultural manifestations, and one of them is the Hispanic culture, he said.

“This way we are not only preserving the memories of these people [and] the past,” Ruiz-Pérez said. “But we are also preserving our very essential part of this country.”


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