Edinboro celebrates Latinx Heritage Month with virtual panel

Category:  News
Thursday, October 8th, 2020 at 12:46 PM
Edinboro celebrates Latinx Heritage Month with virtual panel by Emma McNeeley

October is Latinx Heritage Month, and to kick it off, Edinboro University held a virtual discussion on Oct. 1 with staff and students from both EU and Slippery Rock University.

During the panel, participants talked about uncomfortable experiences, along with the recent term “Latinx” and identity. 

Dr. Stephanie Diez-Morel, a professor at Edinboro in the social work department, started off the meeting, stating it would be a welcoming environment to discuss these topics.  

“I also ask that we make it a brave space,” she said. Often times, the term “safe space” is used for a place where you can discuss sensitive topics and experiences. However, Diez-Morel feels that sharing these things makes it more of a brave space, with individuals opening up about personal experiences and taking risks.  

Julianna Rios, president of Slippery Rock’s Student Organization of Latinos, Hispanics, and Allies, or SOL — was the moderator of the panel. She began the event by allowing others to introduce themselves and talk about their experiences growing up. 

Dr. Leslie Sotomayor — a professor of art education at Edinboro who also has a doctorate in women’s studies — started this conversation, explaining, “I grew up speaking Spanish as my first native tongue and was forced into speaking English in elementary school in about first grade.” This opened up the discussion on not speaking English at home; several stories mentioned parents not wanting the language in the house. There was also the general theme of often feeling different. 

Next, Rios asked about identifying yourself, including the terms Latinx and Hispanic. Sotomayor commented, “the term Hispanic was imposed in the United States on a group of people that would not nicely fit into a white American description.” The term was used by the government, beginning in 1970, for the census. Sotomayor’s parents used the term Hispanic, but she prefers Latinx.

“I feel that not only my Spanish/Hispanic roots are to be recognized within my heritage and identity, but also my African and Lebanse, Cuban, Puerto Rican hyphenated roots are just as strong as the Spanish blood that might run through my veins and my name,” she explained.

Dr. Ana Maria Caula, a professor in the modern languages and cultures department at Slippery Rock, offered a unique insight. “I feel like any label is limiting myself — that I have to be this,” she said. Caula also had positive thoughts on the specific term Latinx. “I think we create labels that are more inclusive like Latinx, that is including all the LGBTQ community. So I think that’s a good advance in terms.”

Dr. Roger Solano, a professor from Slippery Rock and the management and marketing chairperson, opened up on feeling like he doesn’t have a home country. “But when I traveled through Latin America — Mexico, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Columbia — I feel like home. There is a connection ... emotional connection, a cultural connection, food, religion, language, jokes,” he said. Solano also noted he feels as though all those countries are his home country. “The borders are really blurry. There is not a specific strong border that I am this or that or ‘xyz,’” he said. 

Tatyana Abreu, a student pursuing a master’s in social work, identifies as Afro-Latinx due to her being African American and Puerto Rican. “For me, it’s important to identify as both cultures of where I’m from,” she said. “I identified as Latina because I was born and raised in a Hispanic family. But as I got older, I started to learn about my African American culture.” Starting to identify with both helped her form her identity, and it’s a struggle that others in the group or out of the group likely can understand and deal with. 

A big issue brought up was assumptions and others labeling you without asking. The panel also discussed how others approach or ask questions about identity.

Rios brought up her experiences, saying, “I have friends who say, ‘well, you must be Mexican because you’re Hispanic looking.’ No, you didn’t ask, you just associated me with something of your image of what I’m supposed to look like. That can be very disintegrating to your identity.” 

This opened up discussions and stories on having assumptions from looks or your accent and how these assumptions can be wrong and take away the ability for the individual to identify themselves. This included getting asked if you’re staying in the U.S. when you’ve been a citizen for years, or being asked the best Mexican restaurant to go to when you wouldn’t know. These instances can cause discomfort or annoyance, according to the panelists. 

“Not to be that person, but I’m going to be that person and label the elephant in the room about what these discussions are encircling: it’s racism. That’s what we’re talking about,” said Sotomayor. “In my experience, when someone asks you where you are from, insinuating you’re not from wherever you’re standing, it’s kind of a racist question. I don’t think there’s any way around it.” 

This prompted discussion about the language used around asking or learning about someone’s heritage. According to the panel, it seems as though the best approach is just getting to know someone first. Abreu said it is better to get to know someone and start regular conversations before even asking, “what is your ethnicity?” 

“I think that would be a more appropriate way; just take the time to get to know people, and understanding who they are instead of just asking where they are from,” said Abreu. 

Other panelists included Dr. Sheila Lorenzo de la Pena, of the EU art therapy department, and Brandon Torres, Edinboro Latinx Student Organization president.

Emma McNeeley is the News Editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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