The Intercultural Center kicked off Latinx Heritage Month on Friday, Sept. 15 at the Student Center Patio with free empanadas and churros, music, and giveaways. The celebration was just the start of a month-long series of events that aim to educate about and honor Latinx heritage.
At the kickoff event, student organization leaders Jefferson Gonzalez, President of the Latin American Student Organization (LASO), Tatiana Romero, the Vice President of LASO, and Maria Hernandez, the President of STEM UP Students of Color, handed out free Latinx-originated refreshments while other students educated visitors about more heritage-based clubs. Multiple tables proudly displayed the flags of a number of Latin countries, encouraging students to take them and show off their own Latinx pride.
“As a Monmouth University student who identifies as Latina, Latinx Heritage Month means a time where, as a community, we can showcase our pride of being Latinx,” started Romero. “I hope that other students who are not of Latinx heritage gain knowledge and have fun from attending our events. We would love for other students to immerse themselves in our respected cultures all while having fun with us.”
The Intercultural Center’s main goal for the upcoming month is to promote a sense of community and understanding between Latinx students and students of other backgrounds. Zaneta Rago-Craft, Ed.D., Director of the Intercultural Center, elaborated on this idea, “[Latinx Heritage Month is] an opportunity to recognize the multifaceted histories, traditions, and the ongoing impact on critical issues facing our society. For the Intercultural Center, Latinx Heritage Month represents a chance to foster a sense of belonging and inclusivity for Latinx students and the wider university community. It’s a time to promote understanding, dialogue, and unity among all students, regardless of their background.” She also noted that contributions from student organizations, campus partners, and alumni are all working together to help make the Latinx Heritage Month events a reality.
Events scheduled for this month range from Latin Dance Night to a Latinx Alumni and Career Panel. “Through workshops, lectures, performances, and other activities, students can gain insights into the history, art, music, and issues facing Latinx communities,” Rago-Craft explained. She also personally encourages students to attend this year’s featured keynote address by award-winning poet, Yesenia Montilla. “Her work is really powerful, reflective, and affirming. Poetry and spoken word can create uplifting and healing experiences, and I want to especially encourage students to experience the event!”
For the majority of Latinx individuals in the University community, however, Latinx Heritage Month is something that they live all year round. Priscilla Gac-Artigas, Ph.D., Professor of Spanish and Latin American Literature, is the only Puerto Rican full professor at the University and the first Puerto Rican to become a Full Member of the North American Academy of the Spanish Language. As the youngest in a family of twelve, she was also the first to attend college and study abroad in the United States and France. So for her, her Puerto Rican heritage serves as a badge of pride.
“For me, Latinx Heritage is not only for a month; for me, it represents my life…[to] each one of these accomplishments, I have brought my Latinx roots.” Gac-Artigas continued, “Everywhere I go, I look back to my humble origins in Puerto Rico, where the seeds germinated. And that is what I try to instill in my students: to celebrate their roots, their culture, and their identity not only for a month but for life; to be proud of who they are, of their origins; to not allow others to distort their history and underestimate their culture or their identity. And that goes for us of Latinx Heritage, but also for everyone, no matter origin, race, gender identity, or sexual orientation.”
Inaugurated in 2019, the Intercultural Center serves as Monmouth’s focal point for education and consultation regarding historically underrepresented campus community members such as people of color, LGBTQIA+, first-generation, and religious minority members, to name a few. A number of student clubs are thus derived from the Center, including the Black Student Union, the Latin American Student Organization, Monmouth PRIDE, and the Muslim Student Association.
“The Intercultural Center at Monmouth University plays a crucial role in enhancing the campus community,” Rago-Craft said. “It serves as a hub for promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. It provides resources, support, and a safe space for students from various backgrounds to connect, learn, and engage in meaningful dialogues. Overall, it contributes to the development of well-rounded, culturally aware individuals and a more inclusive campus community.”
Despite the work that the Intercultural Center has accomplished for the University community, there’s always more that can be done. “One month of celebration should not be a means to hide and make us forget what happens the other eleven months,” Gac-Artigas commented. “We must celebrate all year round with our acts towards each other, celebrate our differences, celebrate the respect for each other, celebrate thinking critically, and celebrate raising our voices.” She also added, “Is Monmouth doing enough? I think that, for example, establishing the Intercultural Center…has been a step in the right direction.”
“I believe the University does their best in celebrating other cultures,” explained Romero. “However, what we really need is for our student body to come support our events. We want more students of all backgrounds to come to our events to learn, grow, and educate themselves on Latinx cultures.”