Hispanic Heritage Month: The Significance of the Latinx Community
By Pablo Xavier Covarrubias Ortiz
Hispanic Heritage Month has an interesting yet often misunderstood placement on the calendar. While other heritage months start and end in a “traditional” manner, Hispanic Heritage Month ranges from September 15th to October 15th each year. The organization behind said placement centers around the fact that many Latin American countries’ independence days fall on the time span between mid-September and mid-October.
Some Independence Dates:
Nicaragua – September 15th
Mexico – September 16th
Chile – September 18th
The Latinx community holds an important place in American society, and often do work that goes unnoticed. Without our Latinx family, there would be no fresh fruit in your grocery stores. There would be no awareness or love of our cuisine, from our birria to the scrumptious Chilean completo. Hispanic Heritage Month serves as an important time to highlight a diverse set of cultures, history, food, and humanity that is otherwise overlooked.
Central Michigan University’s community of Latinx individuals may be small, but the connections, passion, and involvement are apparent. From the CMU chapter of Sigma Lambda Beta International Fraternity Inc. to the MASS office, Gamma Phi Omega International Sorority Inc., and Sigma Lamdba Gamma National Sorority Inc., the activities and passion held by such groups continues to bring an important spotlight on the contributions and importance of the Latinx community.
One such individual is Gabriela Salais; a senior studying fashion design with a minor in Spanish. Her involvement in Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority Inc., OBU Fashion Show, and other events that highlight her heritage showcase her passion, work ethic, and gravity on CMU’s campus not only as a student but as a person and member of the Latinx community. Her work in fashion design injects a fresh and innovative look at how her heritage and upbringing have influenced her designs.
How does your heritage and identity change how you see and exist in the world?
I grew up very political in my ethnicity and culture. I’ve known from a young age how to see the world from my Latinx perspective and with that perspective going throughout my day to day life I’ve seen microaggressions, to racism, to celebration. I’ve seen the good and bad between the two and experienced the celebration of my culture and the racism against it. I’ve taken steps to put my heritage forward because of this in my day-to-day life and into my work.
Tell me about yourself and your family.
Well, I was born and raised in Lansing, Michigan, by two educators who teach in the Lansing school district. I have three brothers; CMU has run in my family from my grandparents all the way to my brother and I. I am majoring in Fashion Design and minoring in Spanish and am graduating in Spring 2023.
As someone who has shown their work in both Threads Fashion Show and a Detroit Magazine, how do you feel your identity as a Latinx person affects your work?
I strive every day to try and incorporate my culture and my ethnicity into my work, whether it’s being commissioned or for a show, I try to put as much emphasis on anything in my culture. Whether my recent work with experimenting with embroidery, because many Latin women engage in embroidery in Latin America daily.
You’re very involved on campus. Can you tell me which organizations you’re actively participating in?
I’m involved with Threads, co-director of this year’s Organization of Black Unity Fashion Show. I’m currently the president of Sigma Lamdba Gamma Nat’l Sorority Incorporated. I’ve assisted in the past with the Impact Program, and I’m also the recipient of the MAC scholarship
What made you want to become involved around campus?
Creating a safer space for POC, my latinos around campus, and overall a better community around campus that is more inclusive, has more equity and diversity. This stems from my beliefs and from my values that have been passed to me by my family and ancestors. These organizations that push these shared values are what makes me want to be and continue to be involved around campus.
What are some misconceptions people have about Hispanic Heritage Month that you’d like to resolve?
I think a lot of people, even my fellow Latinx people, we always wonder why our month isn’t a full month. People forget the significance behind the placement of HHM is because it’s there to celebrate the independence days of numerous Latin American countries that fall upon these dates.
What are some ways people can become more active in the Latinx community?
Definitely staying in tune with the events hosted by numerous organizations that is posted by the MASS office. Staying involved with the MASS office and its activities. There’s three Latin based multicultural Greek organizations: Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority Inc., Sigma Lamdba Beta National Fraternity Incorporated, and Gamma Phi Omega International Sorority Incorporated, and supporting their events. You don’t need to be Latinx to get involved. Support your Latinx friends, and don’t be afraid to ask them questions about their heritage with respect.
Your brother Alejandro is also active on campus with the Sigma Lambda Beta fraternity. How has your brother influenced your life as a student and member of the Latinx community?
Oh, well my brother introduced me to everything when I got here. He was already 2 years deep with his connections that he made with his little social self that he is. He is the one that got me involved and connected, and is the reason why I’m so involved around campus especially in regards to the Latinx community today.
What goals did you have when you began getting involved on campus, particularly with the Latinx community?
I wanted to get involved with anything that I really could that I had passion for, because I knew if I got involved that it would move forward and bring awareness to things I valued. I think it’s even better that I’ve chosen orgs like SLG to emphasize my heritage, that being it’s a Latina origin organization.
Do you think CMU does enough in terms of supporting the Latinx community, especially during HHM?
No *with laughter* I think that CMU could always strive to be better in their endeavors, but nobody is perfect. I think that HHM can be easily overlooked during its time period because of football, because of rush week for the Greeks, because of school getting more intense, and the Halloween season. It gets ghosted basically because of the time its in and CMU should always be emphasizing its multicultural orgs because CMU’s number of multicultural orgs and people in general is already really low, so we need to be getting all the support we can get.
What’s next for you?
To continue with my fashion career, and to continue highlighting my culture through my work and through any career path that comes into my life. Careers can change, but culture cannot.
What’s something you’ve always wanted to say to the Latinx community, both on campus and around the country?
For anyone who identifies as Latinx etc., I know it can be hard especially if you’re first generation, I encourage everyone to come out and show support and love to all the current HHM events going on put on by the MASS office (Instagram). Just come out, because we’re all strong and our support system is there, we all just gotta know we’re out there for each other.
Although there is little representation on Central Michigan’s campus for Latinx students, those that are Latinx find much solace in their close relationships with one another. While CMU’s lack of support for the Latinx community is apparent, there still exists a strong bonds in the community.