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Campus to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month

Submitted by Kwami K. Kwami on September 8, 2011 – 3:56 pmNo Comment

The annual 31-day observation known as National Hispanic Heritage Month will commence Sept. 15 and conclude on Oct. 15.

This observation is intended to set aside a specific period of time for Americans to pay tribute and give honor to the many contributions that Hispanic-Americans have made to develop and enrich this nation.

The UALR Office of Campus Life and the UALR student chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) have joined to offer several activities, including musical entertainment, theatrical performances, feature and documentary film screenings, brown bag lunches and a panel discussion to enlighten students, faculty and staff about the purpose of this important month.  “We have also sought out teachable programs that will be used to help educate the UALR community,” said Diversity Programs Coordinator Kara L. Matthews.

This annual observance began in 1968, following the passage of House Joint Resolution 1299 by the U.S. Congress that authorized President Lyndon B. Johnson to issue hortatory Presidential Proclamation 3869, which officially established National Hispanic Heritage Week as a means to pay special tribute to the Hispanic tradition.

Spanish professor Sherrie Ray said that the opening of the consulate office across University Avenue from the campus that ignited the observance of National Hispanic Heritage Month at UALR.  “Look at it from the perspective that just 160 years ago, three-fifths of what was then known as Mexico was conquered, and is today known as the states of California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and parts of Wyoming, Colorado and Oklahoma.  So, Hispanic heritage is intrinsically a part of American history.  It behooves the UALR community to use this celebration as a stepping stone to shed light on some of the issues that directly affect the Hispanic-American population in here in Arkansas.  This community is a fast changing demographic with whom we now share this state,” she said.

Spanish professor Olimpia Underwood added, “I have spent the last two years during National Hispanic Heritage Month speaking to various classes on campuses at the invitation of other professors.  My goal is to stress the importance of our students not relying on restaurants to define their understanding of the history and culture of Latin American countries.”

According to an Arkansas demographic research brief published by the UALR Institute for Economic Advancement using U.S. Census Bureau data, Arkansas has the fastest growing Hispanic population in America, with Warren, Ark., having the largest per capita population at 18 percent.

“This growth in population is so drastic,” Dr. Terry Trevino-Richard, UALR-LULAC advisor, said. “It presents a wonderful, yet challenging, opportunity for Arkansas to put itself at the forefront of understanding and enrichment in the advocacy for the civil rights of our Hispanic population, including ensuring access to healthcare and education.”

The significance of this type of opportunity was recognized by the U.S. Congress in 1988 when, during the 20th anniversary celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Week, it expanded the observation to a month-long celebration.  The next year, President George H.W. Bush issued the first annual National Hispanic Heritage Month presidential proclamation which specifically charged American educational institutions with preserving its acknowledgment.

“Our students taking a serious look into the planned activities and actually becoming involved and engaging themselves is our goal,” said Matthews.  “An example of one of the events that would really benefit everyone is the screening of the award-winning documentary Mendez v. Westminster: For All the Children / Para Todos los Niños.

The film is about Mexican-American parents who refused to allow their children to receive a second-rate education in Orange County, Calif.  As a result, LULAC joined forces with the NAACP to get a federal appeals court to declare segregated schools in California unconstitutional.  This was decided seven years before the U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education.  The Mendez case was one of Thurgood Marshall’s first cases that helped prepared him for victory in Brown.

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