Heritage Month Focuses on Hispanic Culture, Issues

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Byline: Eric Peterson Daily Herald Staff Writer

Hispanic Heritage Month, which starts this week, is beginning to go beyond a celebration of the arts and toward a harder look at the culture and issues faced by Hispanics in the United States today, according to a Harper College official.

There's nothing wrong with using the month to showcase the music, dance, food and literature Hispanic people have brought to North America, said Laura LaBauve-Maher, associate dean for multicultural learning at Harper College in Palatine.

But the time is now being spent going beyond those things as well, examining the nature of what it means to be Hispanic in the early 21st century United States, she added.

"I think things are changing," LaBauve-Maher said. "We're also trying to work at it from an academic point of view. The fastest growing population is Latinos. We want Latinos to know how to access higher education and to empower themselves through education."

Hispanic Heritage month begins on Sept. 15 each year because that's the anniversary of the date several Latin American countries, such as Costa Rica, Nicaragua and El Salvador, earned their independence. Sept. 16 marks the anniversary of Mexico's independence from Spain. It continues into mid-October to include Columbus Day on Oct. 12.

As far as how the terms "Hispanic" and "Latino" relate to one another, LaBauve-Maher said they are most accurately used today when they are used interchangeably. What she most objects to is when she hears either term being used in a way that implies an exclusive category within the other.

The term Hispanic first came about in the 1920s when the U.S. government was looking for a way to classify the Mexican-American population in the Southwest, first labeling them Hispano-Americans. …