Latinx Heritage Month, also known as National Hispanic Heritage Month, is a time to recognize the contributions and influence of Latinx people to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States. Typically celebrated from September 15th to October 15th each year, heritage month is a time to celebrate Latinx people and traditions — while keeping in mind that there are many identities encompassed within the term “Latinx” — and that members of the community are free to self-identify in a way that resonates most with them.
Whether it’s learning how to cook a traditional dish, taking a salsa or bachata class, learning to play lotería with your family, or educating yourself about Latinx culture as a whole, there are many ways to celebrate heritage month each year. In honor of Latinx Heritage Month 2021, I spoke with Latinx-identifying college students and recent graduates to learn how they’re celebrating this year — whether it’s staying true to their family traditions, starting new rituals of their own, or otherwise. Here’s what they had to say.
Despite it being popular to celebrate Latinx and Hispanic Heritage Month in American schools and institutions, many Latinx people didn’t grow up specifically celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. And for many, their parents and loved ones passed down the belief that culture should be celebrated more than just one month a year. “My family and friends don’t celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month mainly because we practice celebrating ourselves and our traditions all year, whenever we can,” says Dorilyn Toledo, a student at the University of California Irvine.
Izzie Ramirez, the Managing Editor of Spoon University, agrees. “I operate on a mentality that every month is Hispanic Heritage Month, and I try to celebrate all parts of my heritage as much as possible,” she tells Her Campus. “I don’t need a designated month to feel recognized. What I want is equity for Hispanic people everywhere.”
For other members of Gen Z, heritage month was never even on their family’s radar. As Mollie Guerrero, Junior Associate of Influencer Marketing and Community at Her Campus Media, shares, “I don’t even think my parents know it’s Hispanic Heritage Month. At home we celebrate ‘Día de la Independencia,’ Independence Day, for Bolivia (August 6th) and Cuba (October 10th).”
For non-Latinx people, heritage month can seem like a unique commemorative event that’s celebrated just once a year. However, for young people like Mollie, it feels like just another day in the life of a Latinx person in America. “When I’m home at my parents’, we’re always immersed in our culture through music, food and media,” she tells Her Campus. “Exploring our past and future with my parents is something I do naturally to immerse myself in our beautiful culture. It doesn’t feel like ‘celebrating.’ It feels like daily life, because it is!”
For some Latinx students, recognizing and learning about their culture was ingrained in their school curriculum. However, this largely depends on the region of the U.S. you grew up in, and isn’t common across every state. “I grew up in South Florida, where there is a huge Hispanic presence,” Mollie tells Her Campus. “Therefore, our schools always implemented Hispanic Heritage Month activities to celebrate those within the culture. One of which included a week-long celebration, where students and parents would bring in food and clothes from their culture to share with the school.”
Tianna Soto, a North Carolina State University graduate, remembers what it was like growing up as a Latinx person in the south. “Growing up in the south as a mixed Puerto Rican, Jamaican-Chinese woman, I rarely encountered people with a similar background as me,” she tells Her Campus. “In elementary and middle school, I remember learning about Mexican culture in school and specific days like Cinco de Mayo and Día de los Muertos — for a while, many people in my southern hometown didn’t seem to recognize or know about other Hispanic and Latinx cultures. I didn’t really hear anything about Hispanic Heritage Month until college or so.” For Tianna, learning about her mixed background has been more of a personal journey rather than something that comes from formal education or an annual heritage month. “Embracing your culture and your unique identity is an experience that can’t be condensed into a single month out of the whole year,” she says. “The journey is ongoing, and I don’t believe it ever ends.”
Whether it’s through movies and pop culture, critical discourse about identity and representation, content creation on TikTok, or sharing empowering affirmations about Latinx culture on Instagram, Latinx college students and recent grads are constantly learning to honor their heritage in new, exciting ways. For example, as a Latinx social media content creator herself, Mollie uses her platform to amplify her community: “Being a content creator on Instagram and TikTok, I have been more involved in amplifying the voices of the unheard in the creators space. I make sure to share as many of my Hispanic peers’ work, achievements, and overall platforms to ensure they get as much visibility as possible.”
For other members of Gen Z, celebrating Latinx Heritage Month simply serves as a reminder of family ties, cultural values, and where they came from. “In Latinx culture, the family is heavily valued,” Dorilyn tells Her Campus. “I used to resist it when I was younger, but now I’ve embraced my family as my necessary comfort and where I can find an abundance of love and wisdom.”
Latinx Heritage Month is a safe space for members of the Latinx community to express the beauty, love and traditions behind their heritage. However, this month is not the only time to celebrate Latinx culture! If you identify as Latinx, it’s always a great time to acknowledge and celebrate where you come from, and if you’re not part of the community, it’s never too late to start learning about it. In understanding and appreciating our own cultures as well those around us, we can continue to open new doors for conversation and cultural connection.
From celebrating days like Día de la Independencia to creating TikToks and remembering Latinx icons like the late Selena Quintanilla, Gen Z students are finding different ways to honor heritage month, even if their traditions or perspectives look different than those of past generations. Whatever your story and heritage may be, try playing a game of lotería with your roommates, enjoy the beauty of Hispanic music, and taking this special month to learn about the history, traditions, and joy of Latinx culture. Chances are you’ll learn a lot about yourself and the world around you.
Dorilyn Toledo, University of California-Irvine
Izzie Ramirez, Managing Editor, Spoon University
Mollie Guerrero, Junior Associate of Influencer Marketing and Community, Her Campus Media
Tianna Soto, Associate Editor, Her Campus Media