Get to Know Your Hispanic Neighbors

Wonder why National Hispanic Heritage Month runs from Sept. 15 – Oct. 15? Learn the answer as you discover things about your Hispanic neighbors, which will surprise and delight you.

When I saw the bilingual sign in front of the little church which was to become my home parish, I was curious. It is the closest Catholic church to my home, but I hesitated to visit out of fear of an awkward encounter with people who seemed very different from me. The sign reads “Unidad en la Diversidad; Unity in Diversity,” and most of the members are Hispanic.

The first encounter was certainly awkward, mainly because I didn’t know a soul there. Plus, my high school Spanish was rusty. A year later, they were my friends.

Only a friend gets to help with the festivities for the December Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, an amazing celebration of the story of the Mexican Juan Diego’s encounter with La Virgen de Guadalupe, patron saint of the Americas. My fellow parishioners worked tirelessly for hours creating decorations and costumes, practicing dances and music and preparing food. Every year the audience grows as the local community has discovered this colorful event.

At first I thought they were all Mexican. Then, my pastor pointed out that he was from Columbia. In fact, there would be two separate celebrations of Las Posadas, the Mexican and Colombian versions. “Posada” means lodging or shelter. Also in December, Las Posada reenacts Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter. Songs express the story of their journey: “In the name of heaven, I ask you for shelter.” “I cannot open up; you might be a rogue.” Then, we celebrate with food, song and fellowship as Joseph, Mary and the child she carries are finally welcomed.

It’s that kind of hospitality that we Americans express when we call our country “a nation of immigrants.”

National Hispanic Heritage Month recognizes the contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans to the United States, and it’s also a celebration of heritage and culture. It was approved by President Lyndon B. Johnson and expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period.

Hispanic or Latino Americans are those with origins in Latin America, Spain, Portugal or anyone in the United States who identifies themselves as Hispanic or Latino. “Hispanic” refers to those with Spanish-speaking ancestry or origin, while “Latino” encompasses all those with Latin-American ancestry or origin, including Brazilians. However, the terms are often used interchangeably.

Why Sept. 15-Oct. 15 for National Hispanic Heritage Month? September 15 is the anniversary of independence of 5 Latin-American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatamala, Honduras and Nicaragua. All declared their independence in 1821. Plus, Mexico, Chile and Belize celebrate independence on September 16, 18 and 21 respectively. Learn more at www.hispanicheritagemonth.gov.

Better yet, attend a Hispanic event or make a pilgrimage to a historical place or exhibit. Links from the website above will aid your discovery. Also, consider watching award-winning Hispanic films:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Latin_American_Academy_Award_winners_and_nominees

For those living in the Columbia, SC area, considering viewing an exhibition of the art of Alejandro Garcia-Lemos at Columbia College, Columbia, SC. It will be in the Goodall Gallery through October:

www.columbiacvb.com/includes/events/index.cfm?action=displayDetail&eventid=10984

Consider checking out the Palmetto and Luna website,

www.palmettoluna.org/

“fostering Latino arts and culture.” View the art of the Colores children’s contest:

http://www.palmettoluna.org/coloreswinners2012.htm

On Sunday, Oct. 7, Charleston’s Wannamaker County Park will host a Latin American Festival:

www.ccprc.com/index.aspx?NID=136

Please don’t let your discovery of Hispanic culture end with National Historic Heritage Month. Look for Las Posadas or the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrations in your community this holiday season. Get to know your Hispanic neighbors. You’ll be glad you did.

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