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ISSUE 121 VOL 2 PUBLISHED 9/28/2007

Latino Heritage Month celebrates, educates

By Lyndel Owens
News Editor

Friday, September 28, 2007

From mid-September through the first week in October, St. Olaf annually celebrates Latino Heritage Month (LHM). The month is a federally recognized period commemorating many Latin American countries' dates of independence; events during the month also examine contemporary issues regarding the community in the United States. "Presente!," the campus organization promoting awareness of Latino political, social and community issues, sponsors the celebration by featuring numerous events and expert speakers.

Presente! president Laura Guzman '10 is hopeful about the potential knowledge the celebration could impart. "We hope people walk away with a newfound cultural understanding and awareness," she said. "We want everybody to understand the richness and diversity within Latino culture. We also want to mobilize people to act on the social issues that affect our community such as immigration policy and media justice." Events such as the salsa dance, immigration panel and a Diversity Awareness House discussion about assimilation through language all embody Presente!'s goals of highlighting the Latin culture's vitality and richness.

The nine events held during the month are varied in scope so they appeal to a large swath of the St. Olaf community. "We want to reach out to the wider community with our efforts in the hope that at least one or two of our events will appeal to every St. Olaf student. We want to make sure what we do is relevant to the realities of the Latino community now," Guzman said.

Presente! member Nick Espinosa '08 said his experience studying abroad in Latin America has helped him recognize this community to which Guzman refers.

"My experience studying abroad in Mexico motivated me on a deep level to help others to recognize the dignity that is often denied oppressed people, and to be aware of how this is justified through their dehumanization in media portrayal," he said.

Latino art, Media justice, immigration issues and language assimilation are topics that have been and will be explored.

The celebration's schedule highlights the diversity and interplay of aspects of Latino culture. On Sept. 15, disc jockeys from the Cities mixed music in the Lion's Pause, followed on Wednesday, Sept. 17 by guest speakers from the University of Minnesota who discussed Latinos and media justice.

Espinosa attended the media justice event. "It was very telling that the vast majority of our stories on Latinos were about crime or immigration," he said. "We live in a time of growing anti-immigrant sentiment, and the media's negative portrayal of this group has encouraged discrimination and stereotyping, especially among those who have limited contact with Latinos."

A further sampling of the schedule includes two events focusing on immigration. The first is a youth workshop on Monday, Oct. 1, while the other is a panel of immigration experts the following Wednesday, co-sponsored with the Political Action Committee (PAC). Guzman expects the five speakers, hailing from various academic and professional groups, to be informative. "Immigration continues to be one of the most politically divisive and misunderstood issues in the current discourse," she said. "We really wanted to break down this debate in order to understand the future of immigration policy."

Each year Presente! sets the tone for the Diversity Celebration Committee's (DCC) 15 yearly celebrations. DCC coordinator Trisha Salkas '09 emphasized Presente's important role early in the year. "LHM is the first celebration of the year put on by DCC. It plays an important part in creating more awareness of DCC, particularly for the first-years," she said.

"For most first-years, Latino Heritage Month is the initial interaction they have with DCC," she said. "With a calendar full of quality events like this year, Latino Heritage Month creates opportunities for learning, celebrating, and experiencing various aspects of Latino and Hispanic cultures for the entire student body."

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