Anita Gomez, a nontraditional student who manages a family and a restaurant, held back tears while talking about Hispanic Heritage Month.
Gomez recalled how much comfort she felt during Hispanic Heritage Month when she first came to Youngstown State University four years ago, and how it helped her connect with both the university and the community.
This year’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month will kick off at 12:15 p.m. on Sept. 13 at the Mahoning County Courthouse, located in downtown Youngstown. The event will feature a flag ceremony representing the 22 Hispanic countries, along with dancing and opening remarks.
“We are proud to be from different countries and proud to be here,” Gomez said.
Yulanda McCarty-Harris, director of the YSU Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity and chairwoman of the Hispanic Heritage Month planning committee, described the mix of cultures.
“We invite them in, and they’re very much a part of our group, and they all bring their own different perspectives and ideals to the Latino experience,” McCarty-Harris said.
The celebration’s planning committee, made up of community members and YSU faculty members from various departments, has been preparing for Hispanic Heritage Month since February.
YSU’s Hispanic Heritage Month has evolved from a Cuban festival that spanned just a weekend to a weeklong Hispanic heritage conference that embraced all Hispanic cultures. Ever since 1972, though, the university’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month has followed the nationally designated dates of Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.
McCarty-Harris noted that last year’s celebration might have featured more events, but that this year will include “some very key events.”
“There is a lot of history we are presenting this year,” she said. The Hispanic Heritage Celebration, scheduled for Oct. 6, is the month’s largest event; it’s a day of entertainment, dance and food, and will feature animals from the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, dancers from Fred Astaire and a Zumba dance lesson. The event, which will be held in Kilcawley Center’s Chestnut Room, begins at 11 a.m. and continues until 3 p.m.
In addition, Jose Galvez, the first Mexican-American photographer on staff at the Los Angeles Times to win a Pulitzer Prize, will present a lecture and display his photos on Sept. 19.
McCarty-Harris said she challenges YSU students to step outside of their comfort zones and learn about Hispanic culture, even by attending just one event.
“It’s about educating. I think the celebration shouldn’t just be all Hispanic people coming together; I think it should be about everyone coming together to learn about the history,” McCarty-Harris said.
Gomez said attending the Hispanic Heritage Month events are “a must” for her two daughters.
“They have to be proud of their culture and keep their traditions,” she said. “It is a family event. They have to go. … We work hard throughout the whole year. It’s a lot of work and dedication.”