Hispanic Heritage Month during COVID: Harrisites reflect on their culture

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For many, September 15 kicked off a brand new school year, but for Hispanic families, it also marked the start of month-long parades, home-made meals, and pride in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. Nationally observed since 1988, Hispanic Heritage Month recognizes the influence that Hispanic communities have had on the world. Despite the ongoing pandemic, Harrisites are finding ways to connect with their backgrounds and reflect on what this month means to them.

With the diversity embedded within Hispanic culture, each family’s form of celebration can differ. Sophomore Arianna Caballero shared the homemade dishes she enjoys with her loved ones every year. She said, “Usually my family celebrates Hispanic Heritage month by making empanadas, bandeja paisa…and lomo saltado. We also play our Cumbia, salsa, bachata, and reggaeton music just a little bit louder than we usually would.” 

Some families take the time to appreciate their pasts, remembering and honoring prominent figures that are engraved into history. “My mom bought me a book that highlighted every famous Hispanic figure that made their mark on pop culture, from Gloria Estefan to Rita Moreno,” senior  Zoe Tylipakis recalled. “I loved learning about these people’s stories and how they put different twists on their craft.” 

However, due to the limitations imposed by COVID-19, this year’s celebrations may look different. Spanish teacher Beatriz Ezquerra explained how before the pandemic, she typically dined out with her friends at Hispanic restaurants. She commented, “It is so sad that given these circumstances, we cannot celebrate it like that…I do miss exhibits that show Latin American art in the New York museums, or concerts of Hispanic artists.” Arianna agreed, as her family was not able to have the usual parties that bring everyone together.

However, the pandemic has not stopped Harrisites from honoring their heritage. “My mom always taught me that I had to work extra hard since I was not only Hispanic, but a Hispanic woman. Hispanic Heritage month is really empowering to people of Hispanic descent and helps us build each other up instead of tearing each other down,” Zoe said. Others also took this time to educate themselves and correct any common misconceptions about the Hispanic community. 

Many Harrisites agreed that although Hispanic Heritage Month lasts only a month, there are opportunities to explore their cultures every day. “I don’t need to limit myself to a month to express a component of my identity, my ethnicity, which I demonstrate and exercise every single day of my life,” senior Ian Patino remarked. 

Señora Ezquerra shared how she is always on the lookout for public events that celebrate her Spanish culture and allow her to meet new people. “I am proud of being Spanish, but I am prouder of being Hispanic, of talking and teaching this beautiful language,” she said. “I am thankful for this city that gave me the opportunity to meet so many Hispanic people who today are so significant in my life: my colleagues/friends, and my students.”

“To me, Hispanic Heritage Month is a way to recognize my culture and the ways people of my culture have impacted the world,” Zoe concluded. “It makes me feel prideful about where I come from and how Hispanic culture is such a huge part of my life and the lives of others.”

Photo by Micah Sandy