This month, we invited Dr. Gwendolyn Ferreti and Ms. Alondra Barrera García to speak to the campus community.
Warm greetings in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. President Roelofs has graciously invited us to write a guest entry for his blog. We are proud to recognize Latina/o/x and Latin American heritage and culture in the United States this month. Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15-October 15. Its formal observation began in 1968 under the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson as a week-long commemoration and was expanded to cover a 30-day period by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. Its inception coincided with the rise of social activism in the 1960s, such as that of the Chicana/o Movement, which pushed to gain full social, cultural, educational, and political recognition for Chicano (Mexican-descent) communities in the Western and Southwestern regions of the United States. This movement came along with other ethnic, identity and social justice movements such as the fight for Civil Rights of Black people, Indigenous people and people of color, the Black Liberation Movement, the Women’s liberation movement, and more.
While Latinx people recognize the hard-fought legacy of this month-long celebration, the name of the celebration is fraught with debate. For many, “Hispanic Heritage” month reduces the recognition of Chicanx and Latinx communities in the US and Puerto Rico by tying us to a history of conquest by Iberian Spanish colonizers. As Latinx communities grow throughout the US (especially in the Appalachian and U.S. Southern regions), it is vital that we recognize our richness as a diverse group of people that include many racialized and ethnic groups including Afro-Latinx, hundreds of Indigenous groups, mestizos, and Whites/Euro-descendants; a wide range of sexual orientations and gender expressions; a wide breadth of religious and spiritual expressions; many different language speakers; and many national groups.
At this time, Latinx and immigrant communities in the US are facing increasing hostility. These hostilities have escalated to horrendous acts, such as the White Supremacist mass shooting that targeted Latinx and immigrants in El Paso on August 3, 2019. At the same time, the country faces deep questions about its commitment to immigrant communities, especially Latinx immigrants. Central American refugees, including children, are currently being detained en masse as they travel to the US to apply for political asylum. Latinx immigrant communities in the South and Appalachian region are also increasingly subjected to massive raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), such as those conducted at workplaces in Tennessee in April 2018 and in Mississippi August 2019. It is crucial, then, that we honor our historic and continued existence in this country to counter the ways in which our communities are being terrorized and erased. Celebrating and honoring Latinx culture and heritage is essential to counter the hate, racism, and xenophobia we face.
Today, Berea College continues to grow its commitment to Latinx students and the broader Latinx community. Many of Berea College’s faculty and staff teach, mentor, and serve Berea’s Latinx students. Latinx students have also taken on tremendous campus leadership through the Hispanic Outreach Program (HOP) which serves the broader Latinx community in Madison County as well as through groups such as the Latin American Student Association (LASA) who advocate for students and organize events like last year’s Latinx Empowerment: Rising Up Mini-Conference. We are looking forward to supporting and growing these efforts and are already celebrating success! This month, we organized a Latinx Student Reception and have taken up the work to open the Espacio Cultural Latinx (the Latinx Cultural Space) which was inaugurated at the end of the Spring 2019 term in response to students’ advocacy. We are also working to develop more Latinx Studies courses, programming, and will continue to support and mentor Latinx students in the years to come. We believe that Latinx studies and resources will become a lasting part of the College’s rich history of interracial co-education and will add to the College’s investment in equity, diversity, and inclusion through its Great Commitment to provide educational opportunity for students of all races, primarily from Appalachia, who have great promise and limited economic resources.
In the meantime, we encourage you to come visit us, say hello, and chat. ¡Muchas gracias (thank you very much)!
Gwendolyn Ferreti and Alondra Barrera García
*We recognize that traditional Spanish grammar dictates that the word “Latinos” technically encompasses both males and females. However, this practice prioritizes the masculine form to be representative of all bodies and excludes those who fall outside of the gender binary. The practice of using the “x” is a conscious choice to be fully inclusive of all gender identities and expressions. The use of an “x” does not preclude a/o, but rather specifically recognizes and gives respect to gender non-conforming and non-binary people and cis-gendered/trans persons who identify as male and female. A parallel usage of gender-neutral language that is more popular in South America is “Latine.”
Dr. Gwendolyn Ferreti is a specialist in Latinx studies and critical migration studies and joined Berea College this Fall as the new Assistant Professor of Latinx Studies. She is housed in the Peace and Social Justice Studies Department, is also the campus’s DACA Coordinator, and teaches a freshman course as a part of Berea’s Male Initiative.
Ms. Alondra Barrera García is currently the AmeriCorps VISTA Latinx Outreach Coordinator. A recent graduate (May’19), she is proud to work to build capacity for the campus’ growing Latinx community. She has a BS in agriculture and a BA in Peace and Social Justice and has focused her studies on exploring Latinx immigrant experiences.