Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates cultural contributions of Latino Americans

For the past two weeks, the nation has recognized the important contributions of Hispanic culture through Hispanic Heritage month.

Hispanic Heritage Month began September 15 and will end October 15.

The Hispanic Heritage Council of Western New York (HHCWNY) has organized an array of events that highlight Hispanic culture both locally and throughout the country.

Thus far, the events have revolved around themes of food, culture, and history.

Last weekend at Canalside, Goya food sponsored an event promoting healthy eating habits with Latin cuisine of Fernando Desa. This past Sunday, the Buffalo Science Museum hosted an event providing an introduction to Spanish food with a presentation by the “Taste of Puerto Rico” food truck.

The HHCWNY has also partnered with the Buffalo Public Library and the Buffalo Historical Society in a series called “Bring Us Your History.” The series includes an array of presentations on Hispanic culture and its historical roots.

HHCWNY President Casimiro Rodriguez says the events highlight the significant impact of Latinos throughout history.

“Our ancestors came with humble beginnings, many came as migrant workers, but they stayed here, and they acquired good paying jobs in the steel industry and in the rail yard. They have contributed immensely to the area both financially, socially and politically.  We have professionals from all different backgrounds.”

SUNY Buffalo Professor Henry Taylor, who has spoken at an event titled “Nuestra Historia” at the Buffalo Public Library, says the theme of inequality is also important to recognize during the month.

“The foundation of the Americas is unique in the sense that the Americas were built on a foundation of slavery.  The Americas were the source of the enormous wealth that transformed and made Europe what it became.”

When asked if he thought these inequalities persisted today, Taylor responded, “Of course it does.  You have 56 percent of Latinos in Buffalo living in poverty.  Nationally, the statistical rate mirrors that of African Americans.  They share the bottom of the economic base.”

While he recognized that many different Latino cultures faced separate obstacles, he invoked Cuban intellectual and revolutionary Jose Marti, and reiterated the notion of coming together: “Whether it’s Peru, or Chile, or Argentina, this is our America.  We should work together to solve our problems.”

Casimiro Rodriguez reiterated the significance of transcending cultural boundaries, claiming the month helped celebrate Buffalo’s diversity as a whole.

“It’s very important that different ethnic backgrounds appreciate each other’s roots.  As we do that we’re able to learn from one another and relate to one another.  When you understand the backgrounds of each other, people tend to get along better.”

Hispanics have represented a significant population in Buffalo.  According to the 2010 Census Bureau statistics, Latinos represented 10.5 percent of Buffalo’s overall population (compared to 16 percent for the entire country), and Spanish has remained the most prevalent non-English language spoken in Buffalo public schools for the last decade, according to data from the Partnership for Public Good.

Rodriguez  said that the Latino community wants to be intertwined with Buffalo’s success, as a whole: “We want to make a difference here.  We are not only living here, but we want to help the city meet its objectives, and be part of the Renaissance, and be part of that future.”

Hispanic Heritage Month was started by President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s, and initially only spanned one week. President Ronald Reagan later expanded it in 1988 to last one month, as it was enacted into law that same year.

The month was designated during these particular dates, as several Latin American countries celebrate their independence on September 15th (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua), while Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence on September 16th and 18th—respectively— and  Columbus Day is also celebrated on October 12th.

A listing of all the Hispanic Heritage Month events taking place throughout Buffalo can be found on the Hispanic Heritage Council of Western New York’s website (hispanicheritagewny.org/events).

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