Students reflect on their culture during Hispanic Heritage Month

Carlee Rigatuso, Reporter

Every year, from September 15 to October 15 Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month. This month is dedicated to celebrating the histories, cultures, and contributions of American citizens of Hispanic and Latin descent.

This observance is more than a celebration; it can also act as a form of education on Hispanic culture. For Hispanic students at Bellevue West, their cultures play an important role in their everyday lives. 

Senior AJ Garcia said she personally identifies as Chicana, meaning she is an American girl who comes from Mexican descent. While she mentioned several holidays, she said Hallows Eve was one of her favorites.

“Halloween is also Hallows Eve which is mourning those that are gone, their ghosts or spirits,” AJ said. “After Hallows Eve is Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the dead), which is where we have a second little ceremony.”

AJ explained that many people think that Dia de Los Muertos is Mexico’s Halloween. Dia de Los Muertos is actually the final day of a series of the “days of the dead” which in chronological order goes: All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day. 

To honor the deceased, families create an altar, called an ofrenda, to display pictures of dead loved ones. Senior Karyme Diaz, who is of Mexican and Salvadoran descent, said her family includes flowers in their ofrenda. 

“The flower that we use is called Cempazuchitl which is called marigold in English,” Diaz said. “Then we light candles and we give them the food that they liked when they were still here.” 

To Americans, Cinco de Mayo is one of the most visibly celebrated Mexican holidays. 

However, many lack cultural awareness surrounding the origin of the holiday.

“They think it is our Independence Day, but September 16 is Mexico’s Independence Day,” AJ said. “It’s actually a celebration of when the Mexicans defeated the French, but Mexico doesn’t actually celebrate Cinco De Mayo so much.”

Senior Emily Garcia, who is of Dominican and Honduran descent, said that one of the cool things about Hispanic culture as a whole is the variation in how they refer to the same thing. For example, Emily refers to a popular Hispanic game as Chalupa while senior Israel Soltero, who is of Mexican descent, refers to this same game as Loteria. 

“It’s all based on luck,” Soltero said. ”It’s really infuriating ‘cause our family, we bet actual money. It’s like bingo, but with pictures: if they call out the picture on your card you put down a bean, and if you fill out the whole row, you win”  

Games and celebrations are important to family bonds, and even more important to these bonds are respect, according to Soltero. Respect was something he said he doesn’t always receive when he comes to school. Oftentimes, Soltero said, this lack of respect is related to his ethnicity, whether it is from inappropriate assumptions or disrespectful jokes. Many students interviewed said that people tend to assume their ethnicity and refer to them like that rather than asking. 

“Once I got asked if I was mixed, another time I got if I was Indian or if I was Native American, or if I’m Mexican,” Emily said. “A lot of people think when they see me when they don’t know me, they think I’m Mexican. They assume that I celebrate or say the same things.”

Diaz also mentioned another common assumption made about her: her language

“People assume that because you’re Hispanic that you don’t know English,” Diaz said. “They think that Spanish is always going to be your first language.” 

These assumptions and misconceptions don’t only apply to holidays and stereotypes, and can even be as simple as what it means to be Hispanic. 

“Latino and Hispanics are two different things,” AJ said. “When you’re Latino that represents the land, for Hispanics that represents the language [spanish], so that includes Spain.”

Whether they are from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, or The Dominican Republic, Hispanic culture helped form each of these students into who they are. 

“My favorite aspect of my culture is how it’s so family-oriented, how connected we are, and all the celebrations we get to do, “ AJ said. “That’s the biggest thing for my culture: family is everything.”