When they collaborated to plan a campus-wide celebration of Latinx/Hispanic Heritage month, performing arts faculty member Josie Guevara-Torres and English faculty member Dariana Guerrero sought to connect with students from underrepresented groups, as well as other members of the community. What resulted was a cultural initiative that included literature, art and music. When a library display of books, context, and images of national flags with Latinx and Hispanic heritage was unveiled, they were bolstered to hear students say, “Hey, my flag is up there!”
Latinx is the gender-inclusive terminology to define anyone who identifies as being from Latin America. Hispanic is a term used to define a country whose people speak Spanish. Being cognizant of ideas of power and Spanish colonization, Guerrero and Guevara-Torres decided to include both terms and to educate the Nobles community about the linguistic and historical differences between these terms.
Guevara-Torres identifies as Latinx, mixed-race Salvadorean with indigenous and European roots. She launched the initiative because of the lack of a historical precedent or representation, as well as a personal sense of longing for the seasonal celebrations she was missing with family. She empathized with the frustration of students of common backgrounds that little was being done.
“I want to express to the whole Nobles community that we need to acknowledge every student in our classes, our advisories, our afternoon programs — and how they can be affected by not being represented. This project was taking a small step to start helping everybody understand each student,” said Guevara-Torres.
Guevara-Torres and Guerrero were excited to get different community members involved, from the library, to the visual arts department, to the Spanish faculty. Guerrero said, “It was about identifying stakeholders and allies, ultimately thinking about who would help us get this important work done. We relied on our collective wisdom. Josie had the amazing idea to start it and as a new Nobles faculty member I knew I wanted to be a part of something meaningful and influential”
Guevara-Torres and Guerrero selected vibrant, culturally significant images representing a diverse array of Latinx and Hispanic heritage identities by artists within those groups. Diversity, equity and inclusion faculty member Gabby Malavé worked with photography faculty member Curtis Mann to print and hang the images throughout the Nobles campus.
Librarian Ella Steim helped curate the book list. After Malavé, Guerrero and Guevara-Torres had compiled an impressive list of authors of Latinx and Hispanic descent, Steim secured the financial resources to buy those not already in the Nobles collection. She also combed the catalog for authors from countries or heritages that might be represented. Steim said, “From the library’s point of view, we were really excited to collaborate to get as many voices in the community as possible and increase visibility — as well as getting the insight from people who have greater or more in-depth knowledge than we do.” Ultimately, the display included fiction for all ages, poetry, history, and essays.
Something that may surprise outsiders is the intentionality and care with which these cultural displays are created and dismantled. Steim says, “One important reason we make displays is to raise awareness of the representation in our collection. We try in our library to have texts that mirror the identities of all members of our community, with the understanding that some of those identities are not always visible.”
Beyond the library display, the celebration team worked with the assembly booth crew to play a variety of bachata, merengue, salsa and cumbia music throughout the month. Guerrero said, “These things are small changes in our day to day life, but have a huge impact on people who see these reminders all over campus. My juniors will say to me, ‘Ms. G, did you hear the music they were playing this morning? Our students notice when they are being seen and heard and that makes for a healthier, stronger and more inclusive Nobles community.’”
Following a video in assembly about the importance of language and the distinctions between identifying as Hispanic or Latinx, affinity group core leaders from Sister 2 Sister, Brother 2 Brother and Students United for Racial Justice and Equity (SURJE) helped lead a discussion. Topics ranged from the importance of hair texture to not feeling Hispanic or Latinx enough, or being judged by one’s skin color.
The Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month team want this first celebration to spark a more comprehensive ongoing evaluation, so that momentum continues and the community doesn’t relegate such representation to specific months. Guerrero asked, “How can we get out of the common mindset of celebrating holidays and heroes and make lasting change that includes the representation of all students? How can we act as a community to echo our mission of inclusivity and equity? This is a long-term conversation and all students, faculty and staff must be part of the dialogue in order to ensure everyone feels safe, welcome and seen.”