Learn about Latino culture, make an impact this Latinx Heritage Month

Students in Hispanic Immigrants in the U.S. participate in a book drive for the ‘La Mancha’ community. Photo by Ishaan Nandwani

Ishaan Nandwani, Opinions Editor

We can learn a lot from those from our own backgrounds and those who are different from us through immersion and service.

Knowledge is power, and cultural understanding is the key to a more unified world. This Latinx Heritage Month, it’s essential we take a step toward understanding one of the most prominent communities in the U.S.

Latinx Heritage Month, also known as Hispanic Heritage Month, takes place yearly in the U.S. from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. The month was established to pay tribute to Hispanic and Latino Americans who have enriched American society.

Hispanics and Latinos make up 18.7% of the population in the U.S. and 7.1% of the population in Richmond, according to the 2020 U.S. Census Bureau. Many are immigrants from nations across Mexico, Central and South America, and each of them carry rich and idiosyncratic traditions.

Latinos have had a lasting impact on our nation — from Puerto Rican composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, who often draws on his cultural background in his compositions, to Mexican American civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, whose spirit of advocacy was informed by his experience as a Chicano.

Unfortunately, Latinos in the U.S. have experienced hardships throughout American history and today face barriers in areas such as health care and education.

Now more than ever, it’s important to celebrate and uplift Latinos in our local community and across the nation, whether you identify as Latino or not. There are countless ways to get involved.

Recently, through my Hispanic Immigrants in the U.S. service learning course with professor Anita Nadal, I began volunteering with English-as-second-language students at George Wythe High School. Many of the students at George Wythe are immigrants from across Latin America who have migrated to the U.S. in the last few years.

Although I’m not from a Latin American background myself, I’ve learned much through these interactions — as we converse in Spanish, they share their challenges with navigating the education system with limited English proficiency. Not only has this service experience been incredibly fulfilling, but it has also greatly expanded my understanding of the students’ cultural backgrounds and experiences.

While rewarding, you don’t have to participate in a full on service experience to make a difference. Barnes & Noble, the School of World Studies and the School of Sociology at VCU have donation boxes set up to collect toys and children books for the kids at Southwood Apartments, nicknamed “La Mancha.” La Mancha is home to a large number of Latino immigrants who would greatly benefit from these items.

VCU has an ongoing relationship with La Mancha, having established a coat drive here last winter, and the residents are always grateful for these donations. If you have extra toys or books at home, I highly encourage you to drop them off at one of these on campus locations.

Additionally, the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and the College of Humanities and Sciences are hosting several events throughout Latinx Heritage Month. Each of these events provides the opportunity to learn about a facet of Latino culture, whether through exposure to Latin American traditions or direct intercultural communication.

Highlights include Muevete Dance Nights on Thursdays at Monroe Park, with Latin-inspired dances like the Salsa and ChaCha; Cultural Conversations with Universidad de La Salle, which provides a space for discussions about topics like music with students from Mexico; and a presentation from immigration expert Victor Narro this Thursday, Oct. 6, which covers immigration rights and activism. A full catalog of events is available through OMSA.

Latinx Heritage Month is the perfect time to step out of your comfort zone. By participating in these activities, you will uplift Latinos in our local community while broadening your worldview.

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