Hispanic Heritage Month recognizes both culture and prominence of Hispanic people

By Gus Bode

Hispanic students reflect on how month and activities can better inform others of their culture

With events for Hispanic Heritage Month underway, a primary goal of the Hispanic population on campus is to not only to illustrate to SIUC what being Hispanic is, but also what it is not.

“I don’t agree with being called Hispanic,” said Adrienne Viramontes, a doctoral student in speech communication. “It’s a term created by the government that I do not identify with myself.”


A possible reason for Viramontes’ rejection of the term could be the stereotypes that are often associated with being Hispanic.

Hispanic Heritage Month, observed officially for the first time in 1989, was established not only to celebrate the independence of several Hispanic countries, but also the culture of its people. The month officially begins Sept. 15 and ends Oct. 15.

President George W. Bush said in his national 2001 address about Hispanic Heritage Month today that Hispanic culture continues to shape the American experience with more than 30 million Americans, about 1 in 8 people in the United States, claim Hispanic origin.

“They contribute to every walk of contemporary American life, while simultaneously preserving the unique customs and traditions of their ancestors,” Bush said. “All Americans, regardless of national origin, celebrate the vibrant Hispanic American spirit that influences our Nation’s art, music, food, and faiths. We also celebrate the practices of commitment to family, love of country and respect for others, virtues that transcend ethnicity, reflect the American spirit, and are nobly exemplified in the Hispanic American community.”

But despite the influence of the cultural aspects of Hispanic heritage during the month, there are still those misled by stereotypes of the culture.

The image of the Hispanic male as a thug in particular is one that Sevaro Cosyleon sees as all too common in today’s society.

“We are not all gang-bangers that speak in heavy accents and say ‘ese’ all the time,” said Cosyleon, a senior in finance from Pueblo, Colo.


While the depiction of Hispanics as thugs is one typically reserved for the male population, females are not free of the burden of stereotypes.

“There’s this whole image people have about the fiery Latina,” said Amanda Cortes, a senior in speech communication from Chicago and the president of the Hispanic Student Council. “People get the idea that [Hispanic women] are all passionate.”

Both Cortes and Cosyleon agree that television and film are large contributors to the previous stereotypes, as well as preconceived notions about the occupations of Hispanics.

“A lot of people think there is a large population of us on welfare,” said Cortes. “But people come to this country because there are more jobs here. They come here to get a job, not a handout.”

Cortes also points out that, on the opposite side of the spectrum, they are often accused of ‘taking jobs’ from Americans, a theory she finds trouble with as well.

“When you see Latinos on television, it tends to be as a construction worker or the cleaning lady, like on ‘Will and Grace,'” Cortes said. “These are jobs that people tend to identify with us, and these are also the jobs that no one wants anyway.”

Both Cortes and Cosyleon agree that film and television depiction play a large role in creating these stereotypes, and they hope that events such as the Hispanic Heritage Month celebration will help to illustrate a more factual representation of what the culture has to offer.

Events for Hispanic Heritage Month began with a picnic on Sept. 7 and will conclude with a ceremony on Oct. 17. While members of the Hispanic Heritage Committee hope that lectures, such as a panel discussion on Hispanic legislators, will help to inspire and enlighten those in attendance, they also hope to show the entertaining side the culture as to offer.

Through entertainment, not to mention free events such as Noche de Gala, an evening of Salsa dancing on Sept. 13, and the sixth annual Festival Latino, a cultural festival on Sept. 20, the committee hopes that when individuals think of Hispanics, they will conjure up images not of thugs and cleaning ladies, but instead, a more accurate depiction of the culture.

Students such as Cortes and Cosyleon hope that each event will draw more attention to the culture and hopefully lead to the establishment of a Hispanic studies program in the future.

“We’re one of the few schools that don’t have [a Hispanic studies program],” said Cosyleon. “There’s only about 500 of us, so we have a limited voice that’s not heard as much. But we know the more we do now, the better things will be in the future.”

Reporter Jessica Yorama can be reached at [email protected]