OU Honors Hispanic Heritage Month

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Although September brings heavy course loads and late-night study sessions to most students in Athens, hundreds have something to celebrate.

September 15 marked the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month, a 30-day celebration of the histories, cultures, and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Latin descent.

The observation was instituted in 1968 under former President Lyndon Johnson and originally lasted a week.

Ronald Reagan extended its duration in 1988 to last between September 15th and October 15th. The day of September 15th is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

The theme for this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month is “Many Backgrounds, Many Stories…One American Spirit,” a message that Ohio University’s Hispanic Heritage Month keynote speaker knows well.

Eric Alva, a disabled Iraq War veteran of Hispanic descent and a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender activist, described his experience as being Hispanic and gay in the military on Tuesday at Ohio University.

The Office of Multicultural Programs and the Black Student Cultural Programming Board sponsored the free event.

As a member of the 3rd Battalion of the 7th Marines, Alva served in “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” and he became the first American injured in the war.

He retired after 13 years of service and announced that he was gay. Inspired by his experience, he became a human rights activist lobbying for the “Military Readiness Enhancement Act” aimed at repealing the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Assistant Director of Multicultural Programs Winsome Chunnu explained that when coordinating the event, “We were not looking for someone with the quintessential look or discourse, but we wanted to show that there is diversity in every group.”

Alva’s story is not only representative of Hispanic heritage, but it also incorporates the October celebrations of National Disability Employment Awareness Month and LGBT Awareness Month.

“I am not just Latino,” said Alva. “I am gay, I am disabled, and I am a veteran. I will never not share with the people the beauty of my life.”

Other activities on the Athens campus in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month include:

Cultural Food Throw-Down – A festival featuring a host of Latin American foods will take place at 7 p.m. Oct. 12 (location TBA). It is hosted by the Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority.

"BLACK in Latin America" – A film series discussing social and political issues and what it means to be black in Latin American countries will be shown on several nights throughout the celebration in the Bentley Room 220, hosted by HOLA, a Latin American graduate student organization. The film showing dates are: Tuesday, Sept. 20; Wednesday, Sept. 28; Tuesday Oct. 4; Tuesday Oct.11

Latin American artifacts will be on display in Baker University Center – date TBA.