Roughly 25 years ago, Hispanic Heritage Month was born at Stony Brook University, and this year the founders and student leaders reflected on their efforts.
Founder Lynda Perdomo-Ayala said the event has grown immensely over the years. It started off as an event that included just an art exhibit showcasing Hispanic artists and has now grown to a month-long cultural celebration, leading up to the closing ceremony that took place Friday, Oct. 24 in the Student Activities Center Ballroom.
After hors d’oeuvres and live music, the scholarships and awards were acknowledged, followed by a traditional dinner encompassing many different Hispanic cuisines.
“I think that we have a really strong Hispanic community already at Stony Brook, but this event brought everyone to together and made more people aware of the Hispanic community as well,” Vicki Velez, the residence hall director of Dreiser College, said.
“You get exposure to students with different values, attitudes, and lifestyles but ethnic and cultural heritage and languages. These type of months expose students to history, art, literature, music and contemporary issues affecting the Hispanic population. As our nation is experiencing there is a huge growth of Latinos all over the country,” keynote speaker Frank D. Sanchez said.
Sanchez, the vice chancellor for student affairs at the City University of New York, took the stage to discuss how, with a month-long cultural celebration such as this one, the quality of the Stony Brook University degree is improved.
“While the month is nice to celebrate, I think the more we can embed it into the overall collegiate at Stony Brook experience, the better off students are for a global workforce when they are exposed to global cultures,” Sanchez said.
This month has been filled with a myriad of events run by the Latin American Student Organization, including La Vision, a conference for Hispanic high school students to learn about Stony Brook University. In addition, LASO held an event educating people on undocumented child immigrants.
“Our culture is being celebrated all the time, but Hispanic heritage month is our opportunity to shine and show everyone what our culture is about and why we are so proud of it,” senior environmental studies major Kevin Montalvo, a public relations officer for LASO, said.
There were a multitude of dance and art events, including the more traditional bomba y plena and the more modern tango and salsa. The Spanish Harlem Orchestra performed Saturday, Oct. 25 at the Staller Center.
For many students on the committee, Hispanic Heritage Month is more than just a month-long celebration.
“Hispanic heritage means the melting pot of all Hispanic cultures coming together to help one another in the Hispanic culture,” Emely Tejeda, a junior psychology major who won the Rafaela Luna Outstanding Leadership Award, said. “They give back to the community that raised them and together keep enriching the culture.”
The 25th anniversary is evident in academics as well. According to Perdomo-Ayala, the freshmen reading this year, “Pink Boots and A Machete: My Journey From NFL Cheerleader to National Geographic Explorer” by Mireya Mayor, was chosen because the book was written by a Latina.
“I think its important to have Hispanic Heritage Month because it acknowledges that there is a Hispanic community on campus it just celebrates our culture, and it lets people know that we are here too,” junior health sciences major Daissy Chica, vice president of LASO, said.
Lilia Ruiz-Debbe, the director of the Spanish Language Program, discussed how culture is much more than just a definition.
“I think for us this month means a lot because it means a connection with our communities also; what is important is what we have together, what we have in common,” Ruiz-Debbe said.
Ruiz-Debbe said that through events such as the Latin Pedagogues, where speakers from other universities spoke out on different issues troubling Hispanics, the community can learn a lot about other communities within itself.
For some award winners, the title is indicative of overcoming barriers.
“I’m from the Bronx and coming to college overall is not something that’s known,” said senior business management major Caroline Almonte, who won the Leadership Award. “Seeing Hispanic Heritage Month at Stony Brook, you meet Hispanics and Latinos that relate to you. They have heard counselors put them down and tell them they won’t make it to college, and I’m a senior now and it’s amazing that I am about to graduate in May.”
“This community as a unit is a community that’s been able to save its traditions for the most part,” Erika Lozano, senior political science major who won the Academic Award, said. “People disregard that within the Hispanic community there are differences from the whole. As well in terms of celebrating it especially on campus there is a synchronization of the Hispanic community surviving through the youth. You’re embracing your inner among your outer.”