“Where I live, you greet each other as if you’re family,” said Frankie Bernardo, A&S ’15 and co-chair of Hispanic Heritage Month. “Everyone’s like, primo! Hermano! But when you get to BC, you’re literally fending for yourself now.”
Helping to create a sense of family at Boston College, Hispanic or otherwise, is the driving force behind Hispanic Heritage Month, which Bernardo and Yolanda Bustillo, A&S ’16, have co-chaired this year. The celebration of Hispanic culture runs from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, but planning for the events has been in the works since last spring.
“The first thing we think of is, ‘How is it going to connect to BC?’” Bernardo said. “While we might like that event, the BC community might not. They’re the first thing that comes to mind.”
A student committee and faculty group both help plan events together, said Rosemary Concepcion, A&S ’15 and this year’s public relations director for Hispanic Heritage Month.
“The bookends are always the biggest events,” Concepcion said, referring to the opening and closing ceremonies.
This year’s theme is Cultura Sin Fronteras, or Culture Without Borders, and Concepcion said that it is visible in the amount of collaborations that have happened this year. The Philippine Society of BC will co-sponsor an event that talks about the meaning of identity, and groups like Sexual Chocolate participated in the opening ceremony by adding a bit of Latin flair to their routines.
“They’ll dance to salsa music, or in their chant instead of saying ‘SC’ they say ‘chocolate,’’ Concepcion said.
Bustillo said that the theme was designed to cast a wide net this year.
“It all leads to reaching a broader community, creating lasting messages, and connecting with something global, something international,” Bustillo said. “So Cultura Sin Fronteras is something you see with your heritage at BC, but it also involves immigration issues. It’s very broad.”
Maria Vasquez, A&S ’15 and president of the Cuban American Students’ Association, said that taking part in this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month collaborations has been an important step.
“We really want to get closer to OLAA [the Office of Latin American Affairs] and work as partners so that we all support each other,” Vasquez said. “Unification is the number one thing.”
She and CASA are hoping to put on an Afro-Caribbean arts showcase during Hispanic Heritage Month this year in the hopes that such an event will highlight the unique aspects of Hispanic cultures that make them special.
“Hispanic Heritage Month means a month which is very focused on Latino culture here in the U.S., breaking down myths and showing diversity,” Vasquez said. “We might have some similarities, but we don’t all eat the same kind of food.”
Even students not directly involved in the planning of Hispanic Heritage Month appreciate the opportunity to share a little something about their cultures.
“I know I speak for many of the Latinos at BC when I say that we take pride in our joy, energy, love for our countries, and obnoxiously loud tone,” said Federico Pineda, CSOM ’15 and co-president of the Latin American Business Club.
One major misconception that every round of Hispanic Heritage Month organizers sincerely tries to change is that the month’s events are only for Hispanic students.
“It’s hard for students that aren’t Hispanic to come out to these events,” Concepcion said. “But we all share the same interests! Whether you like salsa music or Hispanic food or something, you should go.”
Vasquez also emphasized that the month’s events are for everyone at BC.
“Our job is to make sure you have fun, no matter what,” she said.
Hispanic Heritage Month has been at BC since 2009, according to Marcela Norton, who has been on the faculty planning committee since then.
“We need to thank one of our students, Bryan Leyva, BC ’10, whose dream was to bring HHM to the Heights and worked very hard to do it,” she said in an e-mail.
Since then, it has become an integral part of the BC calendar, Vasquez said.
“It’s 150 percent necessary,” she said. “We all know diversity is lacking at BC, and Hispanic Heritage Month makes it so that it’s not like the information isn’t out there. These issues are very important.”
In addition to the opening ceremony, the committee has held a Latin Soul Arts Festival and a talk given by Angel Taveras, this year’s keynote speaker and the first Hispanic mayor of Providence, R.I. There will also be a Boston Esperanza 5K race and an event called Bienvenidos, or “Welcome,” a mixer for Hispanic faculty, staff, and students. The closing ceremony, featuring performances by groups both from BC and the outside community, will take place on Oct. 10.
“I feel like it’s family,” Bustillo said. “Freshman year I felt so lost because we’re in between these two worlds, where you don’t know which ethnicity you should stand by. BC can be family, Latinos, Hispanic Heritage Month can be family. It gives you a home where you didn’t have one before.”
Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Editor