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Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month: Celebrating with Film, History and Literature

By Diane Osman

Each year, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. The heritage observance began in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period. It was enacted into law on Aug. 17, 1988.

As we celebrate the histories, cultures and contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America, it is interesting to look at the history of the terms “Hispanic” and “Latinx” and how these words originated. Back in the 1850s in the United States, the terms “Hispano-Americano” and “Latino” appeared in advertisements in the West. But by the 1920s, people of Latin American origin were often referred to by their own nationality, such as Mexican American or Dominican American. During this time, the U.S. Census Bureau counted people of Latin American descent as white.

Chicano (Mexican American) activists argued for a separate categorization in order to have representation for their specific needs. Thus, the term Hispanic became nationally recognized.

For decades, people of Latin American descent have struggled with the term Hispanic because it denotes Spanish influence and only refers to Spanish-speaking parts of Latin America. Since the 1980s, the term Latino has grown in usage, as has “Latinx,” which emerged in the early 2000s as a gender-inclusive variation. The University of Dayton has recently adopted the use of the Latinx in addition to Hispanic.

The University of Dayton Libraries have many resources that celebrate the rich culture and traditions of Latinx/Hispanic heritage.

Films available on Kanopy

Kanopy has thousands of titles on myriad topics; UD students, faculty and staff can browse all Kanopy titles online.

Who Is Dayani Cristal? Stories of Crossing the Border

The body of an unidentified immigrant is found in the Arizona desert. In an attempt to retrace his path and discover his story, director Marc Silver and actor Gael Garcia Bernal embed themselves among migrant travelers on their own mission to cross the border, providing rare insight into the human stories that are often ignored in the immigration debate.

Mariachi High

This film follows a South Texas high school's top ensemble, Mariachi Halcon, through a year of auditions and rehearsals, heartbreak and joy — building to the state championship. It makes a convincing case for the positive impact of in-school arts engagement on students’ lives. One of the film's central themes is a connection between mariachi music for Latino youth and high achievement.

Whose Barrio?

In this film, residents, elected officials and activists clash over gentrification of East Harlem, a Latino New York neighborhood. Author and journalist Ed Morales introduces the conflict between real estate developers and residents who feel they are being priced out of their spiritual and cultural home. He explains his personal connection with the neighborhood and introduces two residents, Jose Rivera and James Garcia, who have opposing views.

Clinica De Migrantes

This documentary by filmmaker Maxim Pozdorovkin tells the story of Puentes de Salud, a health care clinic serving a undocumented immigrants, many of whom have left their families behind to perform physically exhausting labor for meager wages. The film also follows the clinic staffers who treat around 10,000 patients each year with little funding.

Life Deferred (Vide Deferida)

After the announcement of the policy known as "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals," Vanessa, an undocumented immigrant teenager, contemplates the possibility of a future she was ready to give up on.

Fiction by Latinx authors

Dominicana (Angie Cruz)

This novel is a vital portrait of the immigrant experience and the timeless coming-of-age story of a young woman finding her voice in the world.

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent (Julia Alvarez)

Uprooted from their family home in the Dominican Republic, the four Garcia sisters — Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sofia — arrive in New York City in 1960 to find a life far different from the genteel existence they left behind. What they have lost — and what they find — is revealed in 15 interconnected stories.

Love In the Time of Cholera (Gabriel García Márquez)

In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina eventually chooses to marry a wealthy doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is a romantic. Throughout his business career, he reserves his heart for Fermina. When her husband dies, Florentino attends the funeral, and 50 years, nine months and four days after he first declared his love for Fermina, he does so again.

Nonfiction by Latinx authors or about Latinx history

The Line Becomes a River (Francisco Cantú)

In this memoir, a former border patrol agent shares the haunting experience of an unnatural divide and the lives caught on either side, struggling to cross or to defend it.

Before Night Falls (Reinaldo Arenas)

In his 1992 autobiography, Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas describes his early life in Cuba, his time in prison and his escape to the United States in the Mariel Boatlift of 1980.

Ordinary Girls: A Memoir (Jaquira Díaz)

In her striking memoir, Jaquira Díaz recounts a tumultuous journey from her carefree girlhood in Humacao, Puerto Rico, to a troubled adolescence in Miami, her life upended by her mother’s post-divorce spiral into drug addiction. Neglected, Díaz finds kinship with other like-minded outsiders like Boogie, China, Flaca and Chanty. She is able to find direction in the military followed by a college education.

Latinx: The New Force in American Politics and Culture (Ed Morales)

“Latinx” is one of the largest and fastest-growing minorities in the United States, accounting for 17 percent of the country and altering the political landscape in a growing number of states. Yet Latinx people barely figure in America’s ongoing conversation about race and ethnicity.

Racial Migrations: New York City and the Revolutionary Politics of the Spanish Caribbean (Jesse E. Hoffnung-Garskof)

In the late 1800s, a group of Black Cubans and Puerto Ricans found a home in New York City. A generation before the Harlem Renaissance, they created a vibrant community full of art and political action, coming to heavily influence the thinking of José Martí. Hoffnung-Garskof creates a vibrant portrait of a community.

Mexican Workers and American Dreams: Immigration, Repatriation and California Farm labor, 1900-1939 (Camille Guerin-Gonzales)

In the first 40 years of the 20th century, over 1 million Mexican immigrants moved to the United States, attracted by the prospect of farm work in California. They became workers in industrial agriculture — barely recognized and poorly paid. When the Great Depression arrived, native workers blamed their unemployment on the immigrants and demanded that Mexican workers and their families leave. During the 1930s, the federal government and county relief agencies forced half a million Mexicans to return to Mexico. This book looks at their migration, their years here, and the repatriation program — one of the largest mass removal operations ever sanctioned by the U.S. government.

Frida Kahlo: Temporis (Gerry Souter)

Behind Frida Kahlo’s portraits lies the story of both her life and work. Kahlo was 18 when a terrible bus accident changed her life forever, leaving her handicapped and burdened with constant physical pain. But her explosive character, raw determination and hard work helped to shape her artistic talent.

Latina Outsiders Remaking Latina Identity (Grisel Y. Acosta, editor)

This anthology contains 39 articles, essays, stories and poems that unpack, affirm and illustrate the ways Latinas express the intersections of class, race, gender and disability.

—Diane Osman works in the UD Libraries dean’s office and is part of the Libraries’ diversity and inclusion team.

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