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Rice celebrates ‘Our Heritage Month’

Courtesy Ceola Curley Students line up for the kickoff event of Our Heritage Month at the Multicultural Center.

By Richie Su     9/19/23 10:59pm

Rice is celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 to recognize the achievements of the Hispanic American community, as well as their contributions to the culture in the U.S. and at Rice. This year, the Hispanic Heritage Month planning committee has renamed the event to “Our Heritage Month.” 

Luziris Pineda Turi, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion associate vice provost and one of the co-chairs of OHM planning committee, said this name change mainly functions to honor the diversity of the Latino community.

Turi said the term ‘Hispanic’ is limiting from a historical perspective and that the discussions surrounding which term to use are still controversial today. In an email to the Thresher, Turi said that the U.S. government — which only had the category “Mexican’”in their census until the 1970s — landed on the term “Hispanic” as a blanket identifier. 

“Hispanic refers to countries where Spanish is spoken or the communities left by Spain’s conquest of the Americas,” Turi wrote. “In this way, it erases the Indigenous peoples of the Americas, the people brought by force to the Americas who were mostly from Africa and the diaspora of peoples left from the Spanish colonization of the Americas who don’t all speak Spanish.”

To better promote the representation of Hispanic and Latino peoples, Turi said the OHM committee met monthly for the past six months studying articles that articulate the questions, tensions and possibilities raised by potential terms used to refer to the identities recognized by this event. 

“To choose between Hispanic, Latino/a, Latine, or Latinx could potentially be exclusionary,” Turi wrote. “So the creation of a heart with all of the pan-ethnic labels used so that no one’s preferred label was erased along with the use of ‘Our Heritage Month’ was proposed, discussed and finally brought to life.”

Ultimately, Turi reaffirmed that the word “Hispanic” doesn’t disappear. Instead, it is used with other pan-ethnic terms for greater inclusivity and acceptance. 

“We want to encourage our community to use whatever term makes them feel their best,” Turi wrote. “Language is not fixed. Terms will change in meaning over time, and being at Rice, where unconventional wisdom is lauded, it is exciting to be at the forefront of finding ways to open doors (hearts) to all of our community members.” 

While the OHM planning committee is organizing the event, students and faculty also responded to this change in their own ways. Graduate student Kirsten Hilson said she believes the new name is more inclusive. 

“[Being] fourth generation in a Mexican immigrant family, I sometimes feel that the [previous] narrative isn’t very indicative of Mexican and Hispanic Americans’ experience and assimilation and what that process [of assimilation] is like,” Hilson said. 

Ithzel Rubio, a first-generation student ambassador, said she would like to continue using the name OHM.

“I personally really like the switch to Our Heritage Month,” Rubio, a Jones College junior, said. “I never personally identified with the term Hispanic all that much, and focusing on only one label within such a diverse community only divides us further … I see [the label OHM] as an opportunity for unity we’ve never had before and, hopefully, will keep having in the future.”

Turi said that, like its name, OHM’s programming also aims to promote the inclusion of various Hispanic and Latino identities and minority groups. The upcoming month will see events like activist roundtable talks, a ‘Make Your Flag’ activity and a poetry reading.

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