Sept. 15- Oct. 15 marks National Hispanic Heritage month in the United States. According to HispanicHeritageMonth.gov this consists of “celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.” 

According to HispanicHeritageMonth.gov, “The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on September 15 and ending on October 15. It was enacted into law on August 17, 1988, on the approval of Public Law 100-402.” 

Whereas most national months begin on the first of the month, Hispanic Heritage Month begins in the middle of the month signifying respect to the Hispanic nations which gained their independence on that day. 

According to History.com, “The timing of Hispanic Heritage Month coincides with the Independence Day celebrations of several Latin American nations. September 15 was chosen as the kickoff because it coincides with the Independence Day celebrations of five ‘Central American neighbors,’ as Johnson called them—Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Those five nations declared their independence from Spain on September 15, 1821.” 

In addition to populating South American countries, the Hispanic community has significantly contributed to the United States’ population in recent years. According to PewResearch.org, “Hispanics have played a major role in driving U.S. population growth over the past decade. The U.S. population grew by 22.7 million from 2010 to 2020, and Hispanics accounted for 51% of this increase, a greater share than any other racial or ethnic group.” 

With an undeniably large increase in Hispanic population comes an unfortunate and undeniable opportunity for ethnic stereotyping. Much of the accusation placed on the Hispanic community in the United States deals with the disproportionate assumption of illegal immigration, however most Latinos in the U.S. are U.S. citizens. 

According to PewResearch.org, “Four-in-five Latinos are U.S. citizens. As of 2019, 80% of Latinos living in the country are U.S. citizens, up from 74% in 2010. This includes people born in the U.S. and its territories (including Puerto Rico), people born abroad to American parents and immigrants who have become naturalized citizens. Among the origin groups, virtually all Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. Spaniards (93%), Panamanians (88%) and Mexicans (81%) have some of the highest citizenship rates, while Hondurans (51%) and Venezuelans (48%) have the lowest rates.” 

As for immigration itself, according to PewResearch.org, “The share of U.S. Latinos who are immigrants is on the decline and varies by origin group. From 2007 to 2019, the number of Latino immigrants increased modestly, from 18.0 million to 19.8 million. But immigrants made up a declining share of the Latino population – decreasing from 40% to 33% during this span as the number of U.S.-born Latinos increased and the arrival of new immigrants slowed.” 

There has also been an increase in Latino persons enrolled in higher education in the U.S. According to PewResearch.org, “The number of Latinos enrolled in college also increased from 2010 to 2019, from 2.9 million to 3.6 million. In 2019, women made up a significantly higher share of Latino college students than men, 56% vs. 44%. (A gender gap in college enrollment exists among all racial groups.) Among all U.S. college students, the share of Latinos enrolled in college increased from 14% in 2010 to 19% in 2019.” 

At Oklahoma Baptist University, junior forensic biology major Jennifer Santos started the Latin American Student Organization, more commonly known by its acronym LASO. According to Santos, “I have always felt deeply passionate about representation and diversity. Growing up in Dallas, Texas I was fortunate enough to grow up close to my Mexican heritage along with the many other eccentric and beautiful Latin American cultures that surround my community. When I moved to OBU there was, to say the least, a culture shock. I felt that a part of me was missing.” From there, the decision to start LASO was a no-brainer. 

“I found out that OBU had never had an official multicultural club that solely represented Latin American students on campus, and so, I thought that had to change. Through LASO, I wanted to create a safe environment where Latin American students could share their own experiences, culture and customs. I wanted to create a community where anyone could indulge and appreciate our culture as a whole, while also being open to difficult discussions that affect our Latino community,” Santos said. 

Since its start last year, LASO has since become a very popular organization on campus. LASO seeks to educate students on Bison Hill about Latin American culture as well as make an impact in the community. 

According to Santos, “Now, fast forward two semesters and we have managed to make our mark on Bison Hill and the Shawnee community through the multiple events we have hosted such as Loteria Night and Latino Jeopardy Night. LASO has been able to pour onto the Shawnee community through our work with ESL students in Shawnee elementary schools.” 

Santos continued, “That being said, starting LASO was to become something greater than myself, to be able to pour out onto others the beautiful language, culture, and customs each of our members holds and cherished dearly, as it is an integral part of who we are as individuals and as Latin Americans. It has been an honor to lead this multicultural club as it has challenged me as a leader, but more importantly, as an individual. I am surrounded by the best people on campus, each member possesses their own unique qualities, which make LASO what it is. I believe that that is what LASO boils down to, the community it has created among the members and among the entire student body.” 

In regards to Hispanic and Latino representation on campus Santos said, “[It] is an integral part of what LASO stands for. I believe that through the introduction of our multicultural club we have been able to create a more inclusive college experience which may have lacked before. Latino and Hispanic representation on campus still has a long way to go, but I strongly believe Latino and Hispanic representation in associations such as SGA and many other clubs and organizations on campus will pave the way for representation to a broader scale on campus.” 

According to data available on okbu.edu, in 2019 just 50 of the enrolled 1,711 students identified as Hispanic/Latino. While there is a proportionately low number of Latin American students at OBU, there is plenty of opportunity for students of all ethnicities to learn about the culture. 

When asked what one thing he would want other cultures to know about Hispanic/Latino culture Santos said, “Hispanic/Latino culture is made up of diverse individuals each with their own story, customs, language, and culture. We all share similar yet different experiences and dreams. However, with all this variation we all find it is our responsibility to negate false binaries and embrace intersectionalities across our community.” 

Senior creative writing major and fellow LASO member Tanner Hernandez believes the importance of family stands out within his Hispanic culture. Hernandez said, “Although not one family is completely perfect, I’ve been able to witness the loyalty of my Hispanic family when it comes to making sure one’s needs are met. They just have a heart to serve and to love, and almost like a small town where everyone knows the needs of those in their community.” 

Hernandez continued, “all my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents would come together at every family gathering and be intentional in every way possible with the people they love. Whenever I’m with them, it’s almost as if time stops and all that matters is the value of the present. They have such a heart to love life to the fullest in every moment, taking every opportunity to get to know and to treasure the people they love (and most, if not all, of the time we could talk for hours as if no time has passed at all).” 

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