Embracing Hispanic Heritage: Message from CDO Gloria Aquino Sosa

Dear Saint Mary’s community members,

We are midway into national Hispanic Heritage Month, a celebration of the intersections of history and experiences of Latin@ cultures, including the commemorations of independence for Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. President Lyndon Johnson initiated the observation of Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968, and President Ronald Reagan expanded the celebration in 1988 to 30 days of recognition beginning Sept. 15.

The intersections of identity rolled into the word “Hispanic” include the indigenous peoples who have traversed and resided in multiple continents, and the monarchal colonizers of centuries past. The complex and intertwined heritages of a people whose contributions to civilization are countless, and its representations that exist in so many aspects of our cultures, including language, demonstrate that whatever moniker is used to describe this beautiful populace, resilience and strength are absolutely included in the mix.

During this month of reflection, I urge our Saint Mary’s community to observe, study, and venerate the rich and varied histories of the land we occupy—that of the indigenous first Mexicans and first Americans—as we recognize Hispanic Heritage Month.

Mexico has suffered two major earthquakes this month, Puerto Rico continues to suffer from the devastating impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and the U.S. government has vowed to continue its tiered and often terrifyingly appalling rejection of both documented and undocumented immigrants from Latin American and other countries. These natural and man-made tragedies inflict trauma on the anguished individuals who have lost loved ones, homes, and a sense of security. Families and friends here in the U.S. and at Saint Mary’s are also relentlessly impacted by the constant uncertainty of their futures when undocumented Dreamers and others are left in the dark waiting to hear their fate.

We are challenged to respond to and address these issues as a Lasallian institution seriously committed to its Catholic identity as foundational to its mission. We must shape our responses constantly through the lens of solidarity, one of the key principles of Catholic social teaching, as emphasized by the Conference of Bishops (UNCCB), in the document issued in 2000 and reinforced since, and that can be found here. We can, and will, continue to work against the injustice and inequity of treating humans as less than, based on arbitrary laws often created to benefit the few while dehumanizing the many, failing to recognize the dignity of the human person. Our mission demands that we observe injustice and do what is in our power to rectify those injustices. We must respond to the call of conscience with knowledge and action. We owe that commitment to those who came before us, those who are here now, and those who will come after us.

Saint Mary’s College of California has embraced its designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution. The College’s new STEM center, which supports new learning opportunities for scholars of color on this campus and for transfer students from Los Medanos Community College, was born as a result of our new HSI designation. Additionally, SMC is launching a new Institute on Latino and Latin American Studies, which will host community conversations, debates, film festivals, a speaker series, and feature resources to share faculty research. Our HSI distinction brings with it a responsibility to not only honor and support our Latin@, or Latinx, or Hispanic students, staff, and faculty but to formally and wholeheartedly embrace national recognitions of the sacrifices and the contributions of our Hispanic sisters and brothers.

Saint Mary’s will continue to list Hispanic Heritage–related events this year, while initiating the planning for an official 2018 inaugural celebration. We are also planning our first formal celebration of Black history, “44 Days of Black History,” this coming January. At the same time that we launch these formal celebrations, we should forever ensure that recognition of the legacies and influences of the diverse peoples who together make up our inclusive SMC community are not designated to just one month, but embraced throughout the year.

Gloria Aquino Sosa
Chief Diversity Officer