30 Days, Countless Ways to Celebrate

Hispanic Heritage Month Observed on Post-Pandemic Campus


Photo by Anthony Whiting

Depicted above is the current mural outside of the Mexic-Arte Museum entitled Somos Historia. The artist, Luis Abreux earned his Master’s degree in Fine Art, specializing in Painting, from the San Alejandro Art Academy in Havana, Cuba and has lived in Austin since 2005. “My mural is a historical portrait,” Abreux said. “The satirical style in my work reinforces the theatrics of life and how the most valuable things are relative-like the lives exchanged for gold 500 years ago.”

Anthony Whiting, Reporter

The halls are filled with the sounds of Spanish music and students are decorating sugar skulls. Along with the start of fall and football season, Hispanic Heritage Month has also begun, bringing something new to celebrate in Spanish classes, clubs and the Austin community.

The origin of this holiday can be traced back to 1968, when President Lyndon B. Johnson claimed only a week to commemorate Hispanic Heritage in the United States. Today, Hispanic Heritage Month, which is from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, recognizes the broad achievements and contributions of Latino and Hispanic Americans as their share of the population continues to grow.

This year Hispanic Heritage Month is observed differently for Senior Bella Fernandez coming back from the COVID-19 pandemic. Fernandez highlights the importance firsthand through seeing her own extended family’s hardships over the past year.

“I’d say Hispanic Heritage Month is pretty important because we have family in Spanish-speaking areas like Mexico, and I know how hard it is over there, especially treating COVID-19, [because] they don’t have readily available vaccines or treatments,” Fernandez said. “I’ve been able to witness it directly, seeing my family affected by it and hearing what it’s like to get COVID-19 in Mexico, because it is a completely different situation than here. Making sacrifices in regard to the pandemic definitely forced my immediate family and I to be closer than ever.”

Over the past two years with students not in the classroom, immerging students in the Spanish-speaking world has been difficult according to one teacher. Spanish III, IV, and V teacher Kris Campos shares her insight on the Hispanic community and why she thinks Hispanic Heritage Month is especially significant this year.

“People in the Hispanic community, culturally, are a very united people; families are very close, very social, so that’s extra hard when we’ve been isolated through the pandemic,” Campos said. “That’s one of the amazing things about Hispanic culture; celebrations are such a big deal and an important part, now that we can start being together again. [Having] students in-person for Spanish classes makes all the difference. Languages are living things, they’re changing, they require interaction. You can interact and practice the language in [certain] way[s] in the classroom that you absolutely cannot on Zoom.”

Celebrating Hispanic and Latin heritage on campus culminates in Spanish Club. After a year of meeting virtually, the Spanish Club has planned out an eventful schedule and is optimistic for the year, according to senior and President of the club Alexa Yeager. Her role is to build a community that strives to educate students about Spanish-speaking countries and the variety of cultures and customs for Hispanic Heritage Month.

“I help lead the meetings, help set our agenda for each week, and [the officers] all work together,” Yeager said. “This year we have a lot planned actually. We have extra money left over from last year and so we’re planning field trips, either a museum or try and go to Six Flags. In our normal meetings, we talk about different countries and their cultures and histories, sometimes we’ll eat food. We have a movie night planned for the next meeting. [Hispanic Heritage Month ties into a large part of this organization as] we focus on educating people on different cultures. You don’t even have to speak Spanish [to join]. It’s just learning about different places’ different traditions.”

For students who wish to attend, Spanish Club will be watching “Coco,” a Disney movie that ties heavily into Hispanic and Mexican culture and heritage in particular, on Tuesday Oct. 19 in Campos’ room – Room 1012.

“”Coco” is a movie in English, but it’s got a lot of cultural things that are very right [about Hispanic and Latin culture],” said Campos. “October is such a great time. Hispanic Heritage Month starts mid-September, which is when lots of [Latin American] countries gained their independence and it ends mid October, going into Day of the Dead.”

Membership in Spanish Club, even for students that identify as Hispanic and Latino, has allowed some to witness holidays and traditions that are not covered in their own household.

“I think [I’ve grown through involvement in Spanish-related extracurriculars] because in my own family, we don’t celebrate all of the Hispanic holidays or talk about it in depth,” Fernandez said. “Being able to hear about it at school and hear about other Spanish speaking cultures has really broadened my idea of what being Hispanic is, because I don’t just see how my family perceives it, I see how other families and different communities celebrate.”

A number of students that have taken Spanish courses in their high school career reflect highly on their experiences, including recognized acknowledgement in Hispanic holidays, in the class and growth both academically and personally.

“I took three years of Spanish and I had a lot of fun,” Senior Jasmin Gonzalez said. “They do a really good job [at Cedar Park] about making sure everyone is aware of what’s going on and I do really appreciate that. It was really nice to walk in and [be greeted with] ‘Happy Día de Los Muertos’ especially throughout the year, [as] we [celebrate the] holidays of Latin culture.

AP Spanish Language and Composition is not a requirement in LISD, after the three years recommended for foreign language courses, but is one method to continue engagement in Hispanic and Latino culture as a part of learning the language.

“I think last year [taking AP Spanish IV] we learned a lot more about specific traditions,” Yeager said. “Definitely I feel my understanding of Spanish-speaking countries expanded a lot more than the earlier years of Spanish where we were doing more grammar and vocabulary. I think understanding different places and how people’s lifestyles differ from yours can help you grow as a person and connect with others better.”

Outside of campus, the city of Austin has many amenities to offer to explore Hispanic and Latino history, art, and literature this month. The latest seasonal exhibition, titled MX 21-Resistance, Reaffirmation & Resilience, at the Mexic-Arte Museum is open from Sept. 17, 2021 to Feb. 27, 2022.

“The Hispanic community is alive and well in Austin,” Campos said. “The Mexic-Arte Museum is somewhere we’ve visited before. They have altars for Day of the Dead. [In the past I’ve called] ahead and they’ll give us a tour in Spanish [and] we got to do some art while we were there. UT has one of the biggest collections of Latin American [artifacts] outside of Latin America [including] archives of Garcia Marquez, my favorite author.”

A large part of Hispanic Heritage Month is the recognition of history, even the colonization of indigenous people in Latin America enforced by Spanish rule, that translates to the modern lives and culture in Hispanic communities. The Mexic-Arte Museum displays the Somos Historia mural, translated to “we are history”, by Cuban and Austin artist Luis Abreux on the exterior of the building.

“My mural is a historical portrait,” said Abreux. “The satirical style in my work reinforces the theatrics of life and how the most valuable things are relative-like the lives exchanged for gold 500 years ago.”

There are unique aspects of major holidays, like Christmas, for Hispanic Americans. Fernandez and her family celebrate Las Posadas, a religious tradition common in Mexico, but keep the invitation open to all.

“Something I’ve noticed that I really do like is that it’s a pretty Hispanic thing to celebrate Christmas on the 24th instead of the 25th,” said Fernandez. “Around Christmas, we do a posada, my family [and I], [and] we do a big party with all our friends and neighbors.”

No matter the simplicity of traditions, honor in carrying out tradition remains an integral part of Hispanic Heritage Month. There is great joy in celebrating with family and friends.

“I do have a lot of family traditions that revolve around literature and art because my family is really into that,” said Gonzalez. “We travel, usually to San Antonio or Laredo, [expressing] a lot of creative art, we’ll be in the back yard with a barbeque or carne asada and drawing. It’s a lot of fun.”