Flag bearers at the Hispanic Heritage Month 30th Annual Opening Ceremony Celebration. Some of the groups included Latin American Student Organization and Omega Phi Beta. AMAYA MCDONALD/THE STATESMAN

On Wednesday, Oct. 9, the Hispanic Heritage Month Planning Committee held the 30th Annual Opening Ceremony Celebration, to welcome Hispanic Heritage Month (HHM). 

Ballroom A of the Student Activities Center was decorated with tables containing centerpieces of flags of Latin American countries. The sides of the ballroom were lined with tables of various student groups that are connected to the Hispanic community at Stony Brook. Some of the groups included the Latin American Student Organization (LASO) and the Latina-oriented sorority — Omega Phi Beta. LGBTQ* Services were tabling as well. 

The official ceremony began with the flag procession of the countries that comprise Latin America. University President, Dr. Michael Alan Bernstein, gave the University President Address and the Hispanic Heritage Month Proclamation. Bernstein added that he is “proud” of the diversity of Stony Brook University (SBU) and the “longevity” of the HHM Ceremony at SBU. 

Dr. Jarvis Watson, interim chief diversity officer, reminded the audience of the history of National Hispanic Heritage Month. What started as Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 was later turned into Hispanic Heritage Month in 1988. Dr. Watson then focused on the SBU theme for the ceremony: “Latino Excellence At SBU.” He described how a group of Latinx SBU students came together in the 1990s to establish their own column for Hispanic students within the magazine Blackworld called “En Acción.” What started as a small column that united SBU Hispanic students evolved into various clubs and organizations that represent the now larger and diverse Hispanic community of SBU.

Vice President of LASO and a senior health science student, Tiara Santiago, spoke about what Hispanic Heritage Month means to her. “It’s a chance to show my pride, culture, and heritage,” Santiago said. “LASO works closely with the HHM Planning Committee to [contribute] a lot of ideas to make the celebration come true.” 

Nicolas Pennisi, a Colombian American and senior journalism major, joined LGBTQ* Services at their table. Pennisi described why it was important for LGBTQ* services to be present at the ceremony, “LGBTQ* Services has a table at this HHM Opening Ceremony because we want to remind folks that people can be both Hispanic and queer at the same time.” The LGBTQ* services table contained pronoun pins (in Spanish and English) and images along with information of Hispanic people who are queer. “A lot of times it’s difficult for folks in the Hispanic community to also identify as queer, and vice versa,” he added. 

Christina Vargas, chief diversity officer at Suffolk County Community College, and keynote speaker at the opening ceremony celebration, explained that when she studied at SBU, there was a low Latinx population. Vargas explained how the Hispanic students on campus became very close. She concluded that people should take HHM to learn from each other, reflect, celebrate cultures and build relationships. 

Lynda Perdomo-Ayala, who contributed to creating HHM at SBU and received a standing ovation for her past work as a social worker and as chair of the Suffolk County Human Rights Commision, spoke of arriving at SBU after being president of LASO during her time at Adelphi University. She described herself as “hungry” for her culture to be represented on campus. Perdomo-Ayala explained how the Latinx students on campus were feeling isolated and wanted to create HHM. Perdomo Ayala’s hunger and the helpful and supportive staff willing to help make the month official at SBU created the university’s first HHM celebration 30 years ago. 

As the ceremony was concluding, light refreshments were served along with Latin American foods such as empanadas and taquitos. The joy of the attendees was prevalent — the air was filled with laughter, discussions tied people together and rhythmic sounds of guitar and soulful Spanish lyrics were heard in the background.

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