First signed into law by President Johnson on Sept. 17, 1968, National Hispanic Heritage Month has over three decades of history. Despite this lengthy history, awareness of the celebration is still strangely low.
The National Hispanic Heritage Week bill originally outlined a week of praise and adulation for the numerous contributions Latino/as have made to the United States, either in culture, legislation or creatively. According to the US House of Representatives website during its first years, the week hinged on working with grassroots activist organizations while also highlighting legislative issues relevant to America’s Latino/a population.
This longstanding history of the celebration is what makes it surprising that awareness of it is so low. Kayla Fontanilla, a 22-year-old communications major, was unaware of the month-long celebration, but voiced steadfast support.
“I’m not too familiar, not really at all. Since I really don’t know anything about it; a lot of general information,” she said referencing what more she would like to learn about it.
“Knowledge is power. Being knowledgeable about a topic helps lessen discrimination and really helps get people together and understand, especially minority groups. Living in the bay area we are surrounded by so many different groups of people,” she said, discussing how these celebrations can help activism.
In 1987, California representative Esteban Torres submitted a bill to expand the week to a month-long celebration of Latino/a culture and although the bill died in committee, Senator Paul Simon of Illinois sponsored a similar bill that was officially signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on Aug. 17, 1988.
Kurt Otis, a 23-year-old studio arts major, is a Mexican-American who grew up “three blocks from the border.”
He said he wasn’t aware of the month, but feels it’s great “as long as it’s not too corny.”
Otis voiced a worry that the distance of the celebration from the actual issues of people could make the month more of a representation than a movement. However, he was supportive of the celebration overall.
“I think slight mal-representation is better than no representation,” Otis said.
“Latinx people come in all shapes and forms,” referencing some of the cultural nuances of Latin culture. Otis expressed appreciation for the large swath of Latin cultures at SF State.
“Where I’m from it’s 90 percent Mexican”, Otis said. “Coming here and meeting people from Guatemala, Southern Mexico, El Salvador and other Latin countries has been an enjoyable learning experience.”
When discussing the numerous sub cultures within the broad Latino/a spectrum, Otis said “it’s a very diverse cultural group.”