Alumni Reflect on Hispanic Heritage Month

Sharing traditions, resources and what the month means to them

Each year, we observe National Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. It’s a time of celebration and recognition of the cultures, histories and contributions of the American Hispanic community.

Hispanic Heritage Month also includes the independence days of several Latin American countries, including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Chile.

We recently spoke with three UMKC alumni about their traditions, resources and what the month means to them.

Meet our alumni, pictured below from left to right:

  • Veronica Alvidrez (M.S.W. ’11), experience manager, Startland
  • Susana Elizarraraz (B.A. ’15), chief community officer, Latinx Education Collaborative
  • Edgar Palacios (B.M. ’08), president and chief executive officer, Latinx Education Collaborative

portrait of veronica alvidrez portrait of susana elizarraraz portrait of edgar palacios
What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you personally?

Veronica Alvidrez: For me, Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to consciously reengage with my culture. Although my culture is always with me, it is not always at the forefront. This time of year allows me to dig in and reconnect with a big part of what makes me, me.

Susana Elizarraraz: It personally gives me an opportunity to reflect on what my current opportunities are and how they are due to the many sacrifices people made before me. This includes my freedom, my opportunity to get an education, my opportunities to have ownership of land and property — all of these were denied from my ancestors at various points in history. Though I appreciate these sacrifices all of the time, Hispanic Heritage Month encourages me to pause, reflect and be grateful for those who came before me that made my life today possible.

Edgar Palacios: Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to celebrate and elevate the voices and contributions of the Hispanic community. Hispanic/Latinx folks make up 17% of the U.S. population and still are severely underrepresented in positions of influence and decision-making. It's also a time to celebrate various independence days of Latin American countries and honor the sacrifices of our ancestors. 

Are there ways you celebrate? Traditions?

Alvidrez: We like to celebrate our culture with many carne asadas and gatherings during this time of year. My mother enjoys gathering us for a night of Lotería. 

Elizarraraz: Hispanic Heritage Month is a tradition in the United States, so as a family, we didn’t follow any celebrations or traditions particular to the month. However, Mexican Independence Day lands during the month, Sept. 16, and my family recognizes that. As children, we didn’t have much to be able to celebrate, but as an adult, I’ve begun to appreciate my heritage more and recognize the dates that are significant to my identity. My identity has been something that I’ve had to learn more about in my adulthood, so many of the celebrations and traditions held by my people are new to me as well. Recently, it has been important for me to recognize those traditions to give homage to the strength and pride that they showcase. 

Palacios: This year, I 've been celebrating by adding the Nicaraguan flag to my Zoom background. It typically gives me the opportunity to share about Hispanic Heritage month and about my Nicaraguan roots. 

Are there resources in Kansas City or at UMKC that you recommend for people wanting to connect with the Hispanic community?

Alvidrez: Given the current state of our country due to COVID-19, I do not know of any places that one can visit to reconnect. With that said, I do enjoy visiting Café Corazón when I feel the need to fill my cup with our culture and all its color.

Elizarraraz: One organization that comes to mind right away is the Hispanic Development Fund and their partnership with UMKC Multicultural Student Affairs with Avanzando. Hispanic Development Fund awards thousands of dollars in scholarships to Latinx students every year. For many students, including myself, having scholarships like these are the determining factor of whether or not college is accessible. Avanzando, led by Iván Ramírez, is the program that derived from HDF at UMKC. It provides mentorship opportunities for the scholarship recipients, which is a life-changing experience as well.

In addition, I’d encourage people — especially artists — to check out the Latino Arts Foundation, led by Deanna Muñoz. The Latino Arts Foundation is doing great work in establishing a place for Latinx artists and others, which doesn’t currently exist in Kansas City.

Palacios: Kansas City has a rich and diverse Hispanic community. I recommended reaching out the following organizations or institutions: El Centro, Inc., Guadalupe Centers, Hispanic Development Fund, Mattie Rhodes Center, Latinx Education Collaborative, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City, Greater Kansas City Hispanic Collaborative, KC Hispanic News, and Dos Mundos.

Published: Sep 28, 2020

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