Mexican and Central American countries celebrated their independence days and the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage this month. This year, student organizations on campus gathered to create University of Wisconsin’s first official Latino Heritage Month.
Christian Hernandez, director of Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity and chair of Latino Heritage Month Advisory Committee, said bringing this to UW was something that had been discussed for years as a way to bring the latino community together on campus.
The kick-off Monday, coinciding with Central American Independence Day, hosted about 300 students, Hernandez said, bringing together various Latino and multicultural groups on campus, plus a Mariachi band from La Follette High School.
Students could be seen battling for the grand prize bottle of Valentina hot sauce over a traditional Mexican game, “Loteria,” similar to bingo, filling their backpacks with smaller prizes of tortillas, Manzanita Sol and Mexican candies.
Latino organizations gave out information about their groups, including La Mujer Latina and Latino Men’s Group, as well as representatives from the Chicano and Latino Studies Program.
“[We’re] trying to promote and establish Latino community on campus,” Hernandez said. “There’s a division of organizations on campus and something like this rounds them up together.”
Santiago Chavez, a junior who is part of the Latino Men’s Group; Professional Association of Latinos for Medical School Access; and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan de UW-Madison, said the idea was brought by a notice of the strong and growing Latino presence on campus, a presence these groups were hoping could receive acknowledge from UW.
Chavez said Latino Heritage Month at UW was essential to remind Latino students where they come from and keep them in touch with their heritage when they are not alway surrounded by their culture on campus.
He said while all the different organizations may have a different individual mission, in essence all of their mission is the same.
“Through two languages, we wanted to build a community that will only keep growing and do great things in and out of this campus,” Chavez said.
He said it is also the mission to educate non-hispanic students about the culture, food, music and dances that Latino heritage has to offer. The educational workshops, socials and other events that these organizations host make this happen, he said.
“Being a predominantly white university, we take it upon ourselves to educate others and show them about our culture,” Chavez said. “We realize that many people might not be aware of some of our beliefs and traditions, either by lack of exposure or false stereotypes.”
Latino Heritage Month will continue until Oct. 15. Events will include a self-defense workshop hosted by Educated Leading Ladies Association and Lambda Theta and an altar set-up event for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
Chavez said Hispanic Heritage Month at UW, and the Latino student organizations as a whole, are a worthwhile resource for Latino students who seek a sense of community.
“We push each other everyday, encouraging each other to be the best we can be. Reminding everyone que si se puede,” Chavez said.