As Hispanic Heritage Month comes to an end, a leader of the OU Hispanic American Student Association said that the month’s official recognition by local governments has helped Hispanic and Latinx students feel supported despite divisive national rhetoric.
On Sept. 10, Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt and Norman Mayor Breea Clark signed proclamations officially recognizing Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 as Hispanic Heritage Month in Oklahoma City and Norman. Arturo Alonso, mechanical engineering junior and OU HASA Latino liaison, said celebrating the Latinx contribution to Oklahoma’s cultural identity has been a “great move.”
“I think it’s amazing just to see the different, diverse cultures just within Oklahoma as a state, especially in Oklahoma City, being a larger city,” Alonso said. “The fact that we’re able to celebrate our diversity and our Hispanic culture, and seeing that on official government documents is great to me, especially since central Oklahoma does tend to be a more conservative area.”
Alonso said the official recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month was even more impactful because many people within Hispanic and Latinx communities have sometimes felt alienated by the rhetoric used on the national level, including by President Donald Trump and other federal officials, to describe their communities.
“(Official recognition has helped) just because of the fact that our president is saying all these different things and putting us into different categories when, for the most part, they’re untrue,” Alonso said. “So just seeing that, it’s great that even with the current political climate, our mayors are able to give recognition in a positive way and empower the communities rather than suppress.”
On Sept. 13, the White House issued its own official proclamation recognizing Hispanic Heritage Month nationally.
Amid governmental recognition of the month, OU’s annual Day of the Dead festival will not be held this year due to budget cuts, although it is expected to return next year. But HASA is collaborating with the Fred Jones Art Museum on Nov. 2 to hold a Day of the Dead event, Alonso said. The Latin Dance Club is also expected to host its annual Latin Ball on Nov. 1.
Holt said he first recognized Hispanic Heritage Month in 2018 during his first year as mayor and was “happy to do so again” after Hispanic and Latinx leaders in Oklahoma City approached him with the idea.
“I certainly want everyone to feel welcome, and of course, I want the rhetoric and recognition we use to reflect our inclusive and welcoming approach,” Holt said.
In the future, Clark said she would like to expand Norman’s recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month to include not only a proclamation recognizing it in city government, but events organized by the city to celebrate Norman’s Hispanic and Latinx residents.
“One of the things I would like to see us expand on is involvement in the events surrounding Hispanic Heritage Month,” Clark said. “I’m more of a woman of action, I suppose, and while I enjoy proclamations and know they’re appreciated, I think actions are more important than words.”
Clark said in the future the city could potentially partner with Norman’s Pioneer Library System, which currently holds independent events celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. This year, Pioneer hosted a Day of the Dead themed light show Oct. 10 and an evening featuring Hispanic food and music Sept. 19.
Cooperation with OU student and cultural organizations is also a priority to help build a more inclusive environment and celebrate the diverse cultures OU students bring to Norman, Clark said.
“I often find OU and Norman can sometimes be separate entities, and I’m really trying to build that bridge,” Clark said. “I’m happy to work with student organizations because I don’t want to see our students as ‘other people’ — they’re residents of Norman, too.”