By Nicholas Wynn
From Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, McNicholas, along with the entire United States, celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month, an important step in recognizing and celebrating Hispanic culture in America. Throughout the country, there are celebrations of the history, culture, and other contributions of American citizens who have ancestry and origins in Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
McNicholas celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month both in the Spanish classrooms and during lunch. This year, Spanish teachers sponsored “Música Mondays,” where they played Spanish music in the Café and Student Union during lunch bells. On one Monday, they also played The Book of Life. In their classes, they take a greater focus on culture.
“[We] learn about what it means to be Hispanic, which countries are Spanish-speaking, [and] customs and tradition of Hispanic people,” Spanish teacher Tracey Canisalez said. She added that they talk about misconceptions of Hispanic culture as well, and research a project on famous Hispanics.
Spanish teacher Carla Wessels said, “We celebrate it by exposing the students to the culture… with the music, the food, the artists, the dancing, the paintings, the people, [and] all the different aspects of Hispanic culture.”
Taking the time to do these things during Hispanic Heritage Month at McNick is important because it raises awareness about and celebrates the connection McNick has to Hispanic culture. Wessels said that Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated for awareness, trying “to make [the culture] known because, in McNick, we don’t have a big Hispanic community, so it’s good to make awareness of that.”
McNicholas has only 22 students who identify with Hispanic ethnicity. One of these students is freshman Graciela Bilionis. “It’s people’s beliefs. It’s their religion and what they know,” she said. “It’s what they’re used to and how they are, so [representation] is showing their identity.”
In addition to the twenty-two identifying students, “We may not realize it, but we do have students who have background. They may not be one hundred percent, but they have a relative or neighbor close to the culture,” Canisalez said. Because of these connections, McNick must recognize and celebrate the importance of Hispanic culture.
While students are exposed to Hispanic culture during lunch and Spanish classes, imagine a more encompassing approach that extends throughout the whole school day. One option would be to invite a guest speaker to an all-school assembly to speak on the influence of Hispanic culture. Senior Veronica Menendez, who was born in Puerto Rico and lived there until she was ten, liked the idea of bringing in guest speakers. “[H]ave Hispanic students who attend McNick talk about their story and their experiences as a Hispanic,” she also suggested. “We should do more to get the whole school involved, especially students who don’t take Spanish,” she said. Bilionis suggested a fundraiser that could raise funds for Hispanic poverty while simultaneously showing Hispanic heritage. “[It will] give them a better environment and get supplies,” she said.
The significance of Hispanic Heritage Month must spread outside of just McNick though, and it must be recognized nationwide. The reasoning isn’t much different. If the entire nation is able to recognize the importance of Hispanic influence in America and celebrate that, people would be able to come together and understand the culture more. Menendez agreed with this. “[It] is extremely important for McNick and the whole country to put on festivities for Hispanic Heritage Month because we need to raise awareness and educate others about the Hispanic culture so that we can stop ignorance and prejudice towards the culture and the people,” Menendez said. “We are all different, and we should embrace our differences. We can do this through educating people about the culture,” she added.