Each year, from September 15 through October 15, the United States celebrates the achievements and contributions of Hispanic Americans during National Hispanic Heritage Month. The month also highlights the independence of several countries. Five Latin American countries celebrate their independence from Spain on September 15: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras. Mexico celebrates its independence on September 16 and Chile on September 18.
What began as a weeklong recognition in 1968 under President Lyndon B. Johnson, was later expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period.
Director of Student Engagement and Development Jeunelle Sanabria sat down with New York Tech News to talk about National Hispanic Heritage Month, its meaning to her, and what this year’s theme—Latinos: Driving Prosperity, Power, and Progress in America—means to the younger generation.
What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?
When I reflect on Hispanic Heritage Month, I think about my grandparents and the sacrifices they made to come to this country to build a better life for their family. My grandmother came from Chile, and my grandfather from Puerto Rico. They met in New York City and built a family that was rooted in culture and love. Although I was not raised speaking Spanish, I was always taught that family comes first. They have always supported me and my dreams. As a first-generation college student, I was extremely grateful for my family’s encouragement. They have shown me what it means to overcome adversity and pushed me to be the best in everything I do. As a Hispanic woman I pride myself in my strong foundation. Like me, many Hispanic-identifying individuals have a profound sense of family and believe that it is the root of their culture.
This year’s theme is Latinos: Driving Prosperity, Power, and Progress in America. As director of student engagement at New York Tech, what does this theme mean to the younger generation? How can they apply this not just in their personal lives but as students at New York Tech?
We all want the opportunity to live a successful and happy life. There have been many challenges for Hispanic-identifying people and to overcome the adversity we must highlight each other’s accomplishments, support one another’s goals, and celebrate our differences. We can only do that when we are open to learning from each other. I encourage everyone to keep an open heart and clear mind. We don’t always need to understand, but we should always lead with compassion.
What are some facts about Hispanic Americans and Latino Americans that people don’t know or sometimes get wrong?
Hispanic Americans make up over 18 percent of the population in the United States. We are an intricate part of American history. There have been misconceptions and stereotypes associated with Hispanic culture. One of the biggest is Cinco de Mayo. This has become an American tradition that celebrates Mexican culture. However, the holiday recognizes the Mexican victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla. Although the Americanized holiday is fun, it is easily confused with Mexican Independence Day and Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead). It is important that we remember the reason behind these holidays and celebrate them accurately. If we continue to change traditions and adapt them, we slowly begin to erase their history.
What are some of the ways the New York Tech community can celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month?
Celebrate Hispanic culture by getting out of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and educate yourself. Learn about the history behind the traditions and push against the stereotypes.
Be kind to one another. We all have different stories that make us unique. If we take the time to listen, learn, and connect, we can all share in the beauty of diversity.
This interview has been edited.