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Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration Sparks Discussion Regarding Latine Identity

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The ASUCI Anteater Cultural Awareness Program (ACAP) and the Garden Commission hosted a Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration at the Cross Cultural Center on Oct. 10. 

The event was the first ACAP cultural event of the year and the first in coordination with the Garden Commission that supports the Arroyo Vista “Ants in Your Plants” garden. Students harvested crops originating from Hispanic/Latin regions grown at the garden for the event. The fresh produce included tomatoes, corn, oregano, peppers and cactus pads. 

The event also included two performances by Ballet Folklórico de UCI. Third-years Ricardo Orozco and Mario Rios Jr. performed a traditional style dance from Jalisco, Mexico, and fourth-years Bianca Vega and Mahal Buenafe, performed dance from the state of Veracruz. 

Participants also played several rounds of La Loteria, the Spanish word for “lottery.” This game of chance is traditionally played with beans as placeholders on a board with colorfully illustrated images. Instead, the participants used Latinx candies. 

Michelle Sánchez, a fourth-year criminology, law and society student and co-chair of  Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA), spoke during the event regarding the use of “umbrella terms,” such as only naming “Hispanics” in “Hispanic Heritage Month.” By using one term to reference complex Latinx and Hispanic identities, some activists say it erases important differences in race, culture and language.

“I see the concept of what they were doing here, which is great. We’re celebrating the month, but including and interpreting the history of why we don’t like to use these terms and why they’re generalized to us as a culture, is essential,” Sànchez said. “We love celebrating the traditions but we also need to recognize that there’s more to the story than sharing the food and drinks.” 

According to Sànchez, MEChA is a sociopolitical organization on campus to discuss social, historical and political issues pertaining to communities identifying as Latine and Chicane. 

MEChA calls the month “Hispanic and Latino Heritage Month.” As acknowledged on their Instagram, “Although this month is widely known as Hispanic Heritage Month, we still take the time to appreciate all achievements within Latinoamérica.” 

Second-year biomedical engineering student and ACAP co-commissioner Hannah Varghese commented on Sànchez’s speech.

“I honestly didn’t know [about “umbrella terms”] initially, I’m so glad she mentioned it and brought it up,” Varghese said.” ‘We called it Hispanic Heritage Month because that’s what it’s usually called. We weren’t aware and we will definitely include that next year as part of our events.” 

The UCI Libraries also celebrate “Hispanic Heritage Month,” but note the importance of recognizing that the term “Hispanic” is used to “describe a diverse group of people with ties to Latin America and other Spanish-speaking regions and that not all people in this group identify with the label,” according to the UCI Libraries website. “This broad mosaic of people is inclusive of many different ethnicities, cultures, backgrounds, and identities.” 

According to Varghese, this year ACAP plans to focus on heritage month events including Indigenous Heritage Month, AAPI Month and Black History Month. In preparation for this event, Varghese also reached out to the Latinx Resource Center. 

“All students know about are the big events [ASUCI] like APAD . These small events are really important because we’re giving back to the students in a small community setting,” Varghese said. “When it becomes a big scale you can lose the importance of the event, and can’t have those close connections.” 

Emilie Takahashi is a Campus News Intern for fall 2023. She can be reached at takahae1@uci.edu.