DI discusses Hispanic Heritage Month with La Casa student staff member

A+photo+is+taken+during+La+Casa+Cultural+Latinas+annual+Paleta+social+to+welcome+new+students.+Senior+Cristal+Caballero+is+in+the+second+row%2C+third+from+the+left.%0A

Photo Courtesy of La Casa Cultural Latina website

A photo is taken during La Casa Cultural Latina’s annual Paleta social to welcome new students. Senior Cristal Caballero is in the second row, third from the left.

By Vivian La, Assistant Daytime News Editor

Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated in the United States from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. At the University, 11.2% of students identify as Hispanic. 

Cristal Caballero, senior in LAS who is an active part of the Latinx community on campus through RSOs and is on staff at La Casa Cultural Latina, sat down with The Daily Illini to discuss the importance of having pride in one’s culture.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Daily Illini: What is Hispanic Heritage Month in your own words and why is it important?

Caballero: Hispanic Heritage Month is basically a celebration to put into perspective the importance of Latinos’ contributions all around the world — specifically in the U.S. context. It’s a place where you can just be proud of where you come from.

DI: What are you personally looking forward to as the celebrations start?

Caballero: I definitely look forward to the community aspect when it comes to campus. Obviously because of COVID-19, it has put a lot into perspective, like the sense of community. You could only get that sense so much when it’s virtual, but when it’s in person — and everyone most likely will be wearing masks — it feels different. It feels like you’re actually with the people celebrating your culture or someone else’s culture. 

DI: How would you describe the Latino community on campus?

Caballero: It all depends. So although on campus, the large majority of the student population that is Latinx has a Mexican background. However, there’s also biracial folks that are Filipino and Mexican. So we have biracial folks and then we also have Central Americans and South Americans on campus. People tend to find their community.

DI: Can you explain the difference between Hispanic, Latino and Latinx for people that are unfamiliar with it? 

Caballero: Hispanic basically means that you speak Spanish and Latinx means you’re from Latin America. There’s a difference between the two words, but it’s also important to note that the term Hispanic didn’t come into the U.S. until the 1960s. It’s purpose was to categorize a lot of people from Latin America that came to the U.S. And so, the term was racialized and politicized.

If you’re not part of that community, or you’re not around like the Latinx community, you may just group all Latinos as Hispanics, even though it may not be the appropriate term. I think overall, the general public wouldn’t be able to tell you the difference.

DI: With that lack of understanding, why is it important for the community to be aware of things like Hispanic Heritage Month and of Hispanic culture in general? 

Caballero: I feel like it helps with celebrating different cultures that aren’t necessarily prevalent in the United States. I think it puts into perspective the importance of just being able to celebrate who you are, where you come from, without being persecuted in some form or some way because being on campus is different. Like you’re not surrounded by people that I grew up with. You know, realizing that this space is not meant for me. And so we have to find these different spaces to feel at home. 

DI: What challenges are there currently for Latino Americans?

Caballero: One of them is just more of the retention rate among Latinos. If we look at the six year graduation rate of Latinos specifically on campus, it has decreased over the past four or in the past four years. We’re not on par to the average six year graduation rate, which is about like 86% (in 2020) because we’re at 79%. A lot of this has to do with the different resources that are available to Latinos on campus.

The other one is definitely xenophobia. People just assume that everyone here is Mexican, but there’s a lot more Latin American countries outside of Mexico. There’s a racism problem on campus. It’s just ingrained in the history of the University. We can’t ignore the fact that this school is built off the backs of native peoples.

DI: We’ve talked about challenges, but how have you seen the community grow or change in the last couple of years?

Caballero: I definitely have seen a lot of Latinos come to campus and I love that. I love seeing people thrive, but one thing that people don’t realize is that it’s one thing to go to college. The other thing is to finish. I have seen many of my friends drop out of school because either they realized they didn’t like it or because they didn’t have the financial means to continue. So those are the different things that have changed over the past couple of years. We definitely want to advocate for having more resources.

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