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Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month at Ithaca College

IC+PODER%3A+Latinx+Student+Association+most+recently+co-hosted+Caf%C3%A9+con+la+Directora+with+the+BIPOC+Unity+Center+in+celebration+of+Hispanic+Heritage+Month.+
John Henry Downes
IC PODER: Latinx Student Association most recently co-hosted Café con la Directora with the BIPOC Unity Center in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.

From mid-September through October, Ithaca College students, staff and faculty dive into the kaleidoscope of cultures, traditions and stories during Hispanic Heritage Month, commemorating how Hispanic communities have enriched, influenced, contributed and cast a spotlight on the rich tapestry of Mexican heritage that threads its way through the college. 

Community events during the month 

Angelica Carrington, director of the BIPOC Unity Center, highlighted the importance of celebrating history and heritage months while also acknowledging the need for year-round efforts to elevate the experiences of marginalized people. 

“It’s important to … learn and celebrate different Latino-looking heritages because we’re not a monolith,” Carrington said. “A lot of times, folks, especially what’s highlighted in film and media, or when people think about Latinos, they automatically assume, sometimes Mexican in some spaces, or assume that we’re all the same and we’re not. Not even within the same country; our costumbres are sometimes so different, right? Even within the same type of food in the same country, every region does something different.” 

As part of the Hispanic Heritage Month program sponsored by the BIPOC Unity Center, the college teamed up with ¡CULTURA! Ithaca and the Latino Civic Association of Tompkins County, among others, to organize Cine con Cultura.” This is the ninth edition of the festival, with screenings in several locations like Cinemapolis and Cornell Cinema. “Gods of Mexico” is a documentary focused on native Mexican communities fighting to preserve their cultural identity amidst today’s modern society and will be shown at Cinemapolis on Oct. 8.

The Latino Civic Association of Tompkins County is also hosting their second annual Latinx Heritage Fiesta. Founded by Yen Ospina, a Colombian-American artist, and Stacey Dimas, Chief of Staff of the New York State Senate, this event aims to wrap up Hispanic Heritage Month with a celebration including food, vendors and live performances from artists. The festival will be held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Oct. 14 at Press Bay Parking Lot.The BIPOC Unity Center also hosted Café con la Directora on Sept. 20, partnering with  PODER: Latinx Student Association and Marilú Marcillo, dean of the School of Business and Information Science at Felician University. 

The college has been promoting academic programming and raising awareness with celebrations dating back to the 2000s. The historic Hispanic Heritage month initiative asks Americans to observe and organize events and activities that not only celebrate Hispanic culture and achievement, but also commemorate Hispanic-American contributions to society and history.    

“It’s valuable for people to step outside the box and it’s just as valuable for us as offices and academic departments to work together to create more education opportunities,” Carrington said.

Previously, according to Carrington, events celebrating Hispanic heritage were planned and prepared throughout the month. However, recently, as the staff members of BIPOC Unity and Center for Equity Inclusion and Belonging have been focusing on transitioning post-pandemic, the office’s goal is to coordinate more educational events in collaboration with student organizations rather than just passive educational initiatives through social media platforms. 

“Once positions get filled and people get in their groove, there’s things happening and I think there will be even more for all different educational initiatives,” Carrington said. 

Future opportunities at the college

While the administration appears to be making an effort to organize programming to appropriately honor Hispanic heritage, first-year John Murillo said these activities are not being advertised in a way that gets the attention of the student body. 

“I feel like a lot of them I have to find out by … LAM and members who told me [about the events] or by randomly stumbling upon [them],” Murillo said.

Senior Joseph Jr. Sosa said that during his four years at the college, he had only ever attended a Hispanic-oriented gathering in the Campus Center lounges during his junior year’s fall semester. Similarly, Junior Aaliyah Peleaz attended the Commons’ Hispanic Heritage Month celebration for the first time Sept. 28. 

“Bringing that awareness or really feeling like we’re being celebrated, I feel like could definitely be worked on,” Peleaz said. “Posting things where they … [address] minorities … just because we’re a PWI [predominantly white institution] doesn’t mean [we’re] going unnoticed.”

Sosa and Murillo addressed the current necessity of having a bigger celebration and the push to celebrate holidays important to Hispanic students and their cultures. Murillo said that even things like his professor sending out a message addressing Mexican independence and spreading knowledge was very meaningful to him. 

Sosa suggested collaboration among organizations and offices to make these celebrations happen.

“It’s more just like having [the celebrations] so the whole campus can participate, not just us,” Sosa said. “Having that help, and the college gives us a platform.”

Student communities on campus

Sosa and Peleaz referred to the increasing number of self-identifying Mexican students in the incoming class. Both alluded to lacking that community and creating bonds with peers of Mexican heritage because they did not have a platform that helped them connect. Subsequently, this has affected the creation and strengthening of clubs and organizations such as PODER and La Asociación Mexicana (LAM), a startup group that is working to get official recognition from the Office of Student Engagement. 

First-year Marvin Juarez Espinoza said these organizations have provided him with a secure space and a supportive community as he gets acclimated to the college.  

“I was a little bit nervous that I wasn’t going to be able to find that community that I’ve been so used to back at home,” Espinoza said. “But finding those two groups just made it so much more fun to be here, just because I have people around me now that can relate to some of the things that I’ve experienced and can relate to some of the things that I come from.” 

Murillo, head of public relations for LAM, said he feels that this is a chance to spread awareness and share his Mexican culture. LAM hosted a small get-together at the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month in honor of Mexican Independence Day by watching “El Grito,” a ceremony in which the president reenacts priest Miguel Hidalgo’s 1810 proclamation, which served as the catalyst for the independence movement.

“[Ithaca College has] gotten me to see other Hispanic cultures, Mexicans as well, and how they celebrate stuff and how we’re all very similar,” Murillo said. “I get to see how other people also … [celebrate] and [how] they think. … It just kind of made me feel like it’s all one big community.” 

Similarly, many students have connected with their peers. Their language, their music and their celebrations have facilitated bonding. First-year Oscar Jimenez Rodriguez was also surprised by the size of the community so early into the academic year and found LAM to be a good platform for students with Mexican heritage to collectively push awareness for their culture at the college. 

“Even outside of specific events, just knowing that the upperclassmen are so open … or like my [peers] as well … that have this Mexican heritage and we bonded because we share that Mexican common part of our identities, it definitely has helped me feel less outside of home,” Jimenez said.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article stated there has been a shift toward more educational events rather than student-led ones. That is incorrect. There has been a shift for more collaboration to happen between educational and student-run events rather than just passive educational initiatives through social media platforms. 

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Mariana Contreras, Assistant Life and Culture Editor
John Henry Downes, Photographer
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