September 15 marks the start of Hispanic Heritage Month and we, as Mi Gente, Duke’s Undergraduate Latino Association, invite you to take part in the celebration of Latino heritage in the United States.

Hispanic Heritage Month dates back to 1968, when President Lyndon B. Johnson declared the week of September 15 and 16 Hispanic Heritage Week. In 1988, a week was extended to a 30-day period by President Ronald Reagan from September 15 to October 15. The start date, September 15, was chosen as the official start of the month as it is the anniversary of independence for a number of Latin American countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September 18, respectively.

Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the accomplishments of Latinos in the past, but also celebrates the future accomplishments of Latinos. Many of these Latinos are represented in various fields, such as music, film, literature and science, such as Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic female astronaut to fly into space, and Gabriel García Márquez, famed literary author who passed away this April. It also recognizes current Latinos and their achievements such as Sonia Sotomayor, the third female justice and first justice of Hispanic heritage to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States, Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz, as well as Argentine Pope Francis, who has spearheaded progressive changes within the Catholic Church. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Latinos account for 17 percent of the U.S., but as the percentage increases, so will the list of accomplishments.

Mi Gente is Duke’s undergraduate Latino student organization—however, this should not be interpreted as Latino exclusive. Mi Gente is for all Latino and Latin-American students along with those interested in Latin culture. To clarify the assumptions, Mi Gente does not constitute only Mexican-American students or students who are now interested in their Latino identity, but of students of all backgrounds. Mi Gente members are of all races, sexualities and backgrounds that come together at events to enjoy delicious food and fun conversation. Mi Gente serves as an organization to foster and grow the appreciation of Latino culture. Mi Gente hosts an array of events from academic sessions to community trips that are open to all of Duke.

Nevertheless, we do discuss items such as bringing or retaining Latino professors at Duke, which should not just be of concern of Latino students, but all of Duke. As the Editorial Board wrote in 2012, “More enthusiastic recruitment of Latino faculty members will benefit the larger Duke community as well,” and this is true. A lack of diversity in faculty is a concern that the administration faces, but is an issue that students experience.

Last year, Mi Gente introduced the Alianza Latina photo campaign and has received support from Duke students of all backgrounds who have joined since its inception. The campaign’s goal is to highlight the experiences of Latino students and Allies on Duke’s campus. Last spring, we asked participants to consider what “orgullo latino” or Latino Pride meant to them. The responses varied from personal reflections to reflections on Duke. Fausto Paguada stated that "orgullo latino is not shortening your name to fit the American standard,” while Carl Lawrence participated in the campaign to showcase that "multicultural friendships should not be exceptions to the norm.” Alianza Latina has created 40 individual portraits, each featuring a unique message surrounding the Latino/a experience. In keeping with the theme of Latino Pride, the campaign will continue during Hispanic Heritage Month. Duke students, faculty and administration are invited to participate in the campaign to showcase that Latino pride is not only for Latinos, but for all who appreciate Latino culture.

Additionally, Mi Gente has worked hard to increase the Latino representation on Duke's campus through Latino Student Recruitment Weekend that is held every spring. This year we had the most successful weekend yet, and have increased the Latino presence to 10 percent—the highest percentage of Latino students on campus to date.

Mi Gente invites you, Duke student, professor or faculty, to be involved with Hispanic Heritage Month. This may be in the form of attending HHM events, learning how to cook a new Latin dish, picking a book to read by a Latino/a author or even expanding your knowledge of the Spanish and/or Portuguese language. If you only think of “immigrant” when you hear the word Latino or Hispanic, Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity for you to mature your interpretation of Latino. We urge everyone at Duke to expand from your norm and celebrate either your culture or a culture that influences you and the United States.