Growing Up Latino: MC Celebrates Latino Heritage Month

by Alexa Schmidt & Samantha Walla

Staff Writers

Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 is a month dedicated to celebrating Latino heritage in the United States, commemorating the culture and contributions of American Latinos.

The Manhattan College community has many outlets and extracurricular activities in place to honor the heritage, including Fuerza Latina. This club, which embraces Hispanic culture through interactive activities, aims to provide students from all backgrounds a place they can be themselves and expand their views.

Anna Rosario, a sophomore international studies major with a double minor in peace studies and Spanish, is the president of Fuerza Latino.

“I wanted to re-establish Fuerza Latina on campus because I wanted it to be known that Hispanics are a strong presence on campus and that [there are] a lot of us,” Rosario said. “I wanted there to be a club where we could just be ourselves and learn about other Hispanic cultures as well as teach others about our cultures.”

The importance of Fuerza Latina and Latino Heritage Month extend far beyond celebration of culture.

“I believe it is very important to have Latino Heritage Month because people need to be educated on the many contributions Latinx have made in the U.S. It also helps those Latinxs born in the United States. Latino Americans face many challenges and cause them to have insecurities and doubts about their heritage and ethnicity,” says Rosario. “I know I felt this growing up. I was always a “gringa” [which means “white girl”] to my cousins because I was too Americanized, or I was too Hispanic in school. I didn’t know who I was or where I fit in.”

Rosario also calls for the reform of Hispanic history teaching in American schools, as Hispanic students should be exposed to historical figures such as Sonia Sotomayor, Roberto Clemente and César Chávez – all of whom build pride in their heritage in the same way that they are exposed historical figures like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Despite this, Rosario can easily point to her favorite aspects of her heritage.

“Growing up Dominican-American was so much fun and there was never a dull moment in my childhood,” she said. “My parents made it their mission to make sure that all of their children knew where our family came from. Family is everything in any Hispanic household, my parents always wanted a big family, this I am the oldest of nine children [six girls and three boys] Though my parents are both bilingual, Spanish was the main language spoken at home.”

Tradition is an important part of growing up Latina. Rosario favored the feast of Los Tres Reyes Magos and putting on an annual nativity play in her parish.

“At my house Santa Claus doesn’t exist, we instead get gifts from the three kings,” she said. “I remember that every year after all the children of my parish put on the nativity play we all had to sing really loud to get the kings to hear us so they could come collect our gift letters. They always came and I just remember the incredible amount of joy that I felt then, and the joy that I feel now when I help the kids put on the show.”

In addition to specific holidays, dancing is a large part of the Hispanic culture.

“It is essential to surviving family parties,” Rosario said. “My parents taught me how to dance bachata and merengue and now I teach my younger siblings.”

The importance and love of dance is found in many different Latin American countries. Gabby Montes, an exercise science major at MC, also cites dancing as one of her favorite aspects of her culture.

“When it comes to the Nicaragüense side of my family, that culture, history and identity have play a huge role in my life,” Montes said. “Something I find really cool is that even though Nicaragua isn’t an island or part of the Caribbean it has a lot of those influences and dancing and music are huge part of the culture. So growing up exposed me to that plus me naturally being a really active kid, it sparked an interest in dance and I’ve been dancing ever since.”

Montes describes her mother’s migration to New York to keep herself safe during times of war as a key influence in her upbringing.

“My mom moved to New York when she was just a little older than I am now. She had $200 in her pocket, a small piece of paper with a name and address on it and nothing more. My mom wanted me to have a connection with my family and Nicaragua so we would always travel back and forth between the two places. She wanted me to get to know all the wonderful things Nicaragua had to offer and all the traditions and customs. So growing up I was really immersed with Nicaragua’s culture and it has impacted who I am today,” Montes said.

When asked about her favorite tradition growing up, Montes spoke of “La Gigantona.”

“It was like a huge carnival-like festival. Filled with music, food, dancing and of course ‘La Gigantona,’ which is essentially this giant wooden doll dressed up in super colorful dresses. Dancing Gigantona drums are played and popular folk verses and dances happen. It was first created by Nicaraguan mestizos to make fun of the Spanish and the conquistadors. But today it’s part of the culture and tradition and everyone in Nicaragua looks forward to it,” she said.

Montes is also involved with Fuerza Latina as head of public relations.

During this Latino Heritage Month, the club supports the various Multicultural Center events and also focuses on their own fundraising efforts for natural disaster relief in Puerto Rico and Mexico.

The Multicultural Center, located in Kelly Commons, has organized multiple events in honor of Latino Heritage, including a poetry night that took place on Sept. 28.

This event was an informal gathering that allowed students to come in and share original or favorite works of poetry, or just listen and support their friends. Leicy Ortiz-Jupiter, a sophomore, is one of the many students that attended this event.

Although Ortiz-Jupiter is a civil engineer, she is no stranger to writing poetry.

“I like poetry and I’ve been trying to get my stuff out there. I like writing and enjoy it so. I’ve been doing this since I was about six, but I never really told anyone how I feel. And now I’m feeling all type of feelings,” Ortix-Jupiter said.

Throughout the rest of Latino Heritage Month, both the Multicultural Center and Fuerza Latina will continue to host events and celebrate the colorful Hispanic culture.