Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month
What is Hispanic Heritage Month and Who is it About?
The United States of America dedicates a month (September 15th-October 15th) to honor the contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. Before we go further into learning about this month, we have to learn the details behind the word “Hispanic”. What does Hispanic really mean? There are some people who distinguish themselves between being Latino/Latinx versus Hispanic.
Being Hispanic relates to being from a Spanish-speaking country of origin, so this term is relatable for those who can trace their origin back from Spain or Latin America. The key thing to be aware of is that not every country in the listed regions are Spanish speaking. For example, Brazil resides in South America but it is predominantly a Portuguese-speaking country. Latino/Latinx people, however, are people who trace their origins from Latin America (Central America, South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean) and speak any of the Romance languages (Spanish, French, Portuguese, etc.), which does include Brazil.
Regardless of these two differences, when the U.S. Census Bureau asks a person in their questionnaire “is this person of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?” They let each person identify however they want to identify. This is like the approach of the holiday. Those who identify as Hispanic, Latino or both can choose to be a considered part of this celebration or not due to the open definition of the people who it intends to raise awareness for: “ancestors who came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.” This also includes those who are a part of the Latinx community as well!
Why is This Month Important?
For people who do not identify as Latinx or Hispanic, this month is a good opportunity to learn about and celebrate cultures that are different from your own. In 1968, Hispanic heritage month was created by President Johnson and it was originally celebrated for a week. It still recognized the contributions of the Hispanic culture. But, in 1988, President Reagan expanded the celebration to a whole month to cover a span that includes the Independence days for a group of Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaruaga, Mexico, and Chile.
Spotlight: Ballet Hispánico
Ballet Hispanico is a dance company based in New York City that celebrates the Hispanic and Latino culture. “Ballet Hispánico brings communities together to celebrate and explore Latino cultures through innovative dance productions, transformative dance training, and community engagement.” Their mission truly reflects everything they do. It was founded by Tina Ramirez and was intended to be a performing arts troupe in 1970. The dancers were originally Flamenco dancers. Ramirez served as the artistic director until 209 when Eduardo Vilaro stepped into her role.
Today, Ballet Hispánico is a fusion of Ballet, contemporary dance, and variations of Latin dances including salsa, merengue, cha-cha-cha, mambo, and Samba. This company teaches audiences about Latino subcultures through their performances. The company engages undeserved communities with the use of arts partnerships like arts in education and performing in schools to highlight Latino culture through dance.
Since Vilaro’s leadership, there is an increased fusion of contemporary dance and ballet with in their dance pieces. Vilaro’s vision reflects the Latino and Hispanic cultures evolving. As the cultures evolve he wants the dance performances to reflect the evolution while still honoring the Latin and Hispanic roots.
“Culture’s not static. Culture, and especially immigrant culture, fuses with the American culture… it adds to the fabric of our nation.”
What Does Ballet Hispánico Look Like Today?
The main influences that often reflect the dance depends on who choreographs the piece itself. According to Vilaro, each dance can be a reflection of the choreographers’ cultural background. Therefore, some pieces are based on someone’s experience of being caught between two cultures. Some pieces are based on modern takes on classics like the musical Carmen. Other pieces addresses the Latinx experience involving discrimination, gender roles, stereotypes, and today’s changing climate. Regardless of who choreographed a piece, there is something for everyone.
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