On the William Pitt Union lawn, two girls with bottles of red, green, yellow, white and black face paint carefully brushed a Mexican flag onto a male Pitt student’s cheek as they tried to keep from laughing. Others bobbed their heads to Spanish pop music playing on the speakers.
The Latinx Student Association and other student organizations kicked off Hispanic Heritage Month — a celebration of Hispanic and Latinx culture from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 — on Saturday with pastries, music and games, as well as informational tables about the Latinx clubs on campus.
Patricia Lenau, a junior finance major and president of LSA, said HHM’s dates were chosen because they correspond to independence days for various countries, including Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and Chile.
“It actually started as a week, and it was a whole big thing to make it a month,” Lenau said. “It’s really just about celebrating our culture and who we are and what makes us us.”
Gina Garcia, an associate professor in the School of Education and LSA’s advisor, said in a medium-sized city like Pittsburgh, the Latinx population needs time to celebrate their diversity and culture, as well as educate others about the issues Latinx people are facing today. A record 14% of the current first-year class are underrepresented minorities — Latinx students make up 7% of all first-year students.
“For us it was important to bring awareness to a population that is large in the U.S. — actually the largest racially minoritized group in the U.S. — yet really small in Pittsburgh,” Garcia said. “So when we first started thinking about Hispanic Heritage Month, that was a big thing. We just wanted to bring about awareness of the diversity within the Latino population.”
LSA invited several other clubs to table at the kickoff, including the Pitt Spanish Club, Brazil Nuts, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the Roberto Clemente Minority Business Association, the Latin American Graduate Organization of Students, the Pitt Salsa Club and even Carnegie Mellon University’s Spanish and Latin Student Association.
The Center for Latin American Studies also had a table to discuss its own study abroad opportunities and events. At the kickoff, representatives from the clubs shared similar sentiments about hoping to spread awareness about Hispanic culture, as well as demonstrate the diversity of the Latino population and showcase their own clubs.
According to Lenau, many people have the perception that Central and South America have the same culture, but each country has its own lifestyles and customs.
“Every single one of the countries is so unique and diverse, and it’s kind of amazing,” Lenau said. “We were just ordering candy for this event, and we were trying to get something from every country but every single country had a completely different candy.”
In the wake of the Aug. 3 shooting in El Paso, Texas, where the shooter targeted Latinx people, Garcia said celebrating Latinx culture and diversity is now more vital than ever before.
“I think HHM is especially important considering the current political climate, because Latinxs are being attacked regularly, both blatantly and covertly through public discourse and policy,” Garcia said. “HHM is a chance for us to shed light on some of the negative discourse around Latinxs and also disrupt it.”
To many members of LSA, including Oscar Hung, a first-year global management major, the club provides a home away from home by providing a family for its students and staff. According to Lenau, a former president and vice president of LSA met when one heard the other speaking Spanish in Nordy’s Place in the William Pitt Union basement and started to discuss ways to create a community for the Pitt’s Latinx population.
“Being Hispanic and having that background is something that a lot of us share,” Hung said. “It’s important to share these moments with these people and make other people aware.”
LSA is planning many different events for HHM, including Loteria Night, Spanish Karaoke Night and a comedy show. SGB also recently approved funding for two different Latinx speaking engagements in Oakland, featuring Joe Hernandez-Kolski and Bobby Gonzalez.
Lenau hopes that many Pitt students — of all backgrounds — come out to the various events LSA is planning.
“To me, it’s celebrating not only just the broad term ‘Hispanic,’” Lenau said. “Each individual country and what makes them special and sharing our culture with people who haven’t really experienced it.”