Credit: Bobby Groth | Mustang News

Editor’s note: This article is available in Spanish here.

Business and accounting junior Joanna Gazcón paves the way for her family and other first-generation Cal Poly students, while holding her Hispanic identity close to her heart. Her reality is just one of the many stories that Hispanic Heritage Month highlights each year from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. 

As a daughter of immigrant parents, whose highest education was up to third grade, Gazcón said she feels grateful and empowered to take on college at Cal Poly.

“It felt like it came full circle — all the hard work, sacrifices and obstacles my parents endured to give their kids a better opportunity in life, all the support I have from my family back in Mexico,” Gazcón said. “It all has never been taken for granted and I’m able to recognize how fortunate I am to continue my higher education.”

For newly-admitted Hispanic Cal Poly students, some could be the first in their family to study at a university. 

Due to COVID-19, Gazcón wasn’t able to be in the residence halls her first year. With the return to campus the following year, Gazcón’s second year was her first time stepping foot at Cal Poly.

“Having my parents there with me on that day held a very special place in my heart as I could see how proud they were,” Gazcón said. “Not only proud, but they were amazed by the campus since they were never able to experience this for themselves.”

The month highlights and honors Hispanic culture and traditions, with the opportunity to provide learning experiences. Some of the scheduled programming from Cal Poly included a food and community mixer, cafe con pan dulce, guest speaker presentations and more.

An email sent out by Cal Poly’s Diversity and Inclusion team also announced the grand opening of Cal Poly’s Latinx Center, which will take place on Thursday, Nov. 10.

The idea of a month being observed arose from Latino activism in the 1960s of Latinos wanting recognition of their heritage and culture. Hispanic Heritage was originally celebrated for a week in 1968 under the Presidency of Lyndon B Johnson. It became a month until 1988 under the Presidency of Ronald Reagan. 

Agriculture science junior Sophia Garcia shared their interpretation of Hispanic Heritage Month.

“Hispanic Heritage Month to me is the acknowledgement of our ancestors and what they have done for our community,” Garcia said. 

One learning experience for Cal Poly students is discovering the meanings behind terms commonly used in the Hispanic community. The term “Latinx” is one hallmark of the month. 

Biomedical engineering senior Adrian Diaz shared a clarification for the term “Latinx.” 

“To all Cal Poly students, please be aware that Latinx does not only mean Mexican,” Diaz said. “As being a Mexican-American myself, I am aware that there are minority groups within the Latinx community.”

The term “Latinx” spans a wide net of cultures, countries and people, Diaz said. 

“Latinx culture encompasses so many beautiful cultures within itself, from countries all over Latin America, such as El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile, Uruguay, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Haiti and so many more,” Diaz said.

On Sept. 29, Gina Ann Garcia, a Hispanic Serving Institutions [HSI] scholar, provided a keynote address where she discussed topics from her book, “Becoming Hispanic Serving Institutions.” 

According to the U.S. Department of Education, HSI “provides funding to institutions of higher education to assist with strengthening institutional programs, facilities, and services to expand the educational opportunities for Hispanic Americans and other underrepresented populations.”

Yet Garcia said HSI’s are, for many, “an unknown construct.”

“The meaning that you attach to it, is what you make it to be,” Garcia said. “HSI is to create spaces where we feel like we belong in such a way we call it family.”

Encouraging students who identify as Latinx to honor their heritage, Diaz hopes students can embrace their culture.

“Be proud of your roots and where you come from,” Diaz said. “Take the opportunity of being a minority at a predominantly white institution as a form of empowerment. Our culture is beautiful, so embrace it and let it shine wherever you are.”