People and businesses across LA County are hosting events in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month to commemorate the contributions and influence of its Hispanic community. LA County has the largest Latino population in California — constituting almost half of the county’s entire population.
Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15–Oct. 15, was first widely celebrated in 2002 in LA when the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) made the first Latino Heritage Month Calendar and Cultural Guide providing a roundup of the month’s events. Businesses and organizations have had to adapt their events to function online to continue education during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the 63 percent of residents in NELA that identify as Latino, many of the events, such as listening to Latin American music or cooking chile rellenos, are part of their daily life. According to Michelle Garcia, a current stage manager at the Latino Theatre Company, the pride the Latino community has for their identity is not limited to one month.
“We’re always super proud of our heritage,” Garcia said.
Destiny Rosa (senior) said Hispanic Heritage Month does not bring much celebration for the Latino community as they live and appreciate their culture and heritage on a daily basis. For Rosa’s family participating in these activities — eating hispanic food, listening to hispanic music and connecting with fellow Latinos — are part of their daily life.
“Everyday is a day that we are connecting and celebrating our culture,” Rosa said.
According to Evelina Fernández, a resident playwright at the Latino Theatre Company, Hispanic Heritage Month is more for people who are not aware of Hispanic and Latino culture to acknowledge the community’s contributions to not only Los Angeles, but also the country and world. Fernández said Hispanic Heritage Month is a time for people to learn about the untold stories and contributions of the Latino community in the U.S.
“Latino stories are few and far between. We have a long rich history of struggle, of hard-working people who helped build this country,” Fernández said. “Every day, when you sit down and have a piece of fruit, [it is] most likely that fruit was picked by a [Latino] farmworker, but [their] stories are not told.”
According to Fernández, the Latino Theatre Company will continue to update its page of archival plays, available for one week per play, online every Tuesday until Oct. 27. The Latino Theatre Company will also be hosting virtual readings of their fall plays every Friday until Nov. 20. Both of these events are virtual and free, and a full schedule can be found on their website.
Micol Garinkol ’19, office supervisor for Occidental’s Intercultural Community Center (ICC), said NELA has a large Latinx population and it is important for the Occidental community to educate themselves about Latinx heritage and the work of the Latinx community. She said this responsibility of self-education should not be restricted to the 30 days.
“Our 30 day celebration of Latinx heritage this month and the beginning of October is just the start of an acknowledgement every day of the year of the Latinx community,” Garinkol said.
The Special Collections and College Archives of the college library and ICC are co-hosting a virtual historical exhibit about Latinx Heritage and LGBTQ+ identity at Occidental and in NELA. The library also has a book collection that celebrates Latinx heritage, which can be checked out for curbside pick-up or requested by mail, and select books can be accessed electronically. The virtual exhibit will be available throughout the fall semester, Garinkol said.
According to Garcia, one of the greatest benefits of learning about Latino heritage and culture is a greater understanding of people in general. She said appreciation of different cultures cultivates empathy for others.
“It gives everyone an appreciation of people that are different than themselves, and in turn it makes everyone a little bit more empathetic and it humanizes people that are not like you,” Garcia said.