Shining a light on Hispanic culture

Story by The Spectator Staff

The world shines a little brighter Sept. 15 — Oct. 15 as Latino Americans are celebrated throughout the United States.

UW-Eau Claire was no exception as events were held in honor of the month. A welcome reception started out the festivities on Sept. 18, and more are on the way.

Melissa Hartung, student services coordinator at the Office of Multicultural Affairs, said she was pleased with the turnout of the first event.

Hartung said she remembers taking part in the Hispanic Heritage Month activities as an undergraduate in 2006. Now after participating in the event for four years, Hartung is the advisor for the Student Organization of Latinos.

Hartung said the month is designed to honor, celebrate, and give Latinos a voice, but most of all it is simply meant as a time for celebration. Hartung said she wants faculty and students to realize this time is not only for Latinos, but for everyone.

“Learning is for everyone, and that’s the whole point of the college experience,” Hartung said.

Identifying as Latina, Hartung said this is important to her from a personal perspective and that it is important for there to be an outlet like Hispanic Heritage Month for Latinos because that is so much of who they are.

Hartung said if she hadn’t been able to share her feelings, it would have been stifling.

“For (Latinos), it’s an outlet of expression … for acceptance, and that’s very important, especially if they identify with being Latino … you know others support you,” she said.

This month gives Latinos a chance to have a voice in the community as a light is shone on them, Hartung said.

On Oct. 1, a panel of Latinas met to discuss what it means to be a Latino/a in the community, Hartung said.

Junior Etzel Lopez-Ortega and Diane Sanchez, university students, were two Latina representatives on the panel.

Lopez-Ortega now calls Middleton, Wis., home, but she is originally from Panama. She said finding other Panamanians in her area was rare, but after joining a Latino group in Eau Claire, Lopez-Ortega found a Panamanian there, and that was
exciting to her.

“I feel like once we get out of here, we forget we’re Latina,” Lopez-Ortega said. “We’re just one student, we’re from UW-Eau Claire … that’s it.”

From South St. Paul, Minn., in the area Sanchez lives, there are a good amount of Latinos, she said.

“(Coming to Eau Claire), I wouldn’t see a lot of people who looked like me or who had a background like me,” Sanchez said.

After growing accustomed to Eau Claire, Sanchez said she doesn’t notice this as much.

However, Sanchez said she feels there’s a constant fight between being American and Hispanic at the same time.

The Sabor Latino Luncheon will be at 11:30 a.m. on Oct. 15 at The Dulany and will be the last event of the celebration.

— The Spectator Staff