Hispanic heritage embraces a very diverse group of cultures


Pitt’s annual celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month began with a virtual panel discussion on the complexities of identity within the Hispanic and Latinx diaspora.

Pitt students, faculty and other Pittsburgh residents with various backgrounds participated in the “What does it mean to be Hispanic/Latina/e/o/x in the United States?” discussion on Sept. 16, which was moderated by Gina Garcia, associate professor in the School of Education, and Marialexia Zaragoza, a doctoral student in the School of Education.

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher welcomed participants expressing his fondness for Latino culture, which was a “critical part” of his upbringing in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Hispanic Heritage Month, he said, “is a celebration worth having” because of “the incredible vibrancy and richness of this incredibly broad umbrella of cultures, races, ethnicities.” 

The celebration is especially important because Pittsburgh and its surrounding region have a low population of Hispanic and Latinx citizens when compared to other major U.S. cities. Despite this, the Hispanic and Latinx community in Pittsburgh “is small in numbers” but “mighty” in impact, he said.

Belkys Torres, the executive director of global engagement at the University Center for International Studies, said the members of Latinx and Hispanic communities often find themselves critically thinking about their identities, which helps advance “our collective and individual good.”

Torres said it’s important to discuss more than what it means to be Hispanic or Latinx.

“I'd argue, however, that it's equally provocative to ask ourselves the questions, why this matters and why we find ourselves in a situation where we are in a continual analysis of these pan-ethnic labels within our U.S. context,” Torres said. 

She said this question is especially important because of the findings 2017 study from the Pew Research Center, which found that roughly 69 percent of Latinx and Hispanics in the U.S. do not see a shared common culture. 

Torres pointed to her upbringing as a first-generation, U.S.-born citizen with Cuban ancestry as an example of how complex identity can be. She was born and raised in Miami, where, when asked about her identity, she identified as Cuban. But when she moved to Pittsburgh, she would self identify as Latina instead of Cuban or Cuban-American.

“That means that I identified differently depending on context and that's been true my entire life,” Torres said.

Shenay Jeffery, assistant director of PittServes, also struggled with her identity as an immigrant from Guyana, a South American country bordering Venezuela and Brazil. Because of its location, the nation is full of a diverse multicultural history with a variety of influences, she said, and so is her family.

But when she and her family immigrated to the U.S. when she 17 and she began attending Pitt, she found it was “easier” and “less confusing” to place herself in a box for the people around her. She said she came to campus “needing and wanting to belong.”

“I wanted to fit in,” Jeffery said. “And this meant that I almost had to silence part of who I am because when people see me, they're like, ‘Oh, you're just Black, right?’ And that was honestly just easier to navigate. … And to be honest, it just became the path of less resistance to just check, 'Black.' And checking 'Black' meant that I can assimilate a lot easier.”

However, her journey in learning what it means to be Black in the U.S. has been “eye-opening” and has brought her closer to her family and culture.

An additional part of the panel discussion had participants bring and discuss “artifacts” related to their heritage and culture, including music, art, and food.

Throughout the celebration, members of the Pitt community will be encouraged to submit their own artifacts for the Hispanic Heritage Month Artifact Showcase. Examples of these artifacts include poems, songs, dance, recipes, art, photos, souvenirs and more. Submissions will be displayed through a University gallery and social media.

To find out more information on the additional Hispanic Heritage Month events and to register for them, visit the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s website. 

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at dharrell@pitt.edu or 412-383-9905.


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