September marks the annual celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month that recognizes the contributions of Hispanic Americans to the history of the U.S. The month includes the celebration of independence for several Latin American nations, such as Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Chile.
This past month also marked the five-year anniversary of the college’s Latinx and Latin American Studies (LLAS) department and the 50th anniversary of La Causa, the Latinx affinity group on campus. In honor of this particularly special Hispanic Heritage Month, I would like to highlight some of the Latinx student voices that contribute to the Amherst community through their connection with different Latinx arts and cultures.
Born in Jalisco, Mexico, Josue Martin ’24 recalls childhood memories that have shaped his Mexican American identity. “I was born in Jalisco, but I grew up in Los Angeles,” he said. “As a child I was involved in a Mexican folklore dance group called Grupo folklórico mexcaltitán de los ángeles. I learned how to dance Zapateo (tap dance), which is a Mexican dance marked by rhythmic stamping of the feet.”
Dancing became an outlet that allowed Martin to connect with his Mexican heritage. “Although I was able to connect with my culture, I had to learn how to navigate being both Mexican and American at the same time,” he said. “I had to be ‘Mexican enough’ and ‘American enough,’ but I always kept the values that the Mexican community taught me close to me because it sparked a bigger connection to my identity.”
Martin described how his connection to his Mexican heritage has been strengthened by taking classes in the LLAS department. “I am currently taking a LLAS course called ‘Diego and Frida,’” he said. “The course is giving me the opportunity to learn about the history of my nation, as well as the art that comes out of it. It makes me proud that figures such as Frida Kahlo bring pride to Mexico through her art that represents the diverse Mexican culture.”
Ellerman Mateo ’25 talked about his connection to his home nation of Guatemala, in addition to his often-overlooked Mayan roots. “I identify as Mayan, both of my parents speak Q’anjob’al,” he said. “Q’anjob’al is an ancient Mayan dialect. Although I don’t speak it, it is an important part of my identity.”
Similar to Martin, Mateo mentioned how the sexuality, women’s, and gender studies (SWAGS) course he is taking, “Indigenous Women in World Politics,” has allowed him to strengthen his connection to his indigenous identity. Mateo passionately spoke about the challenges faced by Mayan artists. “Most Mayan art is done by indigenous underrepresented women who face a lot of challenges getting their work published,” he said. “My SWAGS course challenged me to find art done by Mayan women, but it became difficult due to the little representation. It is important to acknowledge Latinx art, but as well as indigenous art that makes up a huge part of Latin America.”
Michelle Contreras Catalan ’25, an international student from Chile, described how her love for Chilean poetry has helped her understand her dual identity. “A poet who I am currently following at the moment is Cristalina Parra,” she said. “She is a young poet and artist who went to study abroad in Dubai and writes about her life within two cultures: Chile and Dubai. This resonates with me deeply because I too navigate within two cultures here at Amherst. Although it was difficult at first, I feel more comfortable with the way I navigate two distinct cultures.”
Contreras Catalan also mentioned her connection to the Latinx community at Amherst. “When I first arrived at Amherst, I noticed that the Latinx community was small,” she said. “However, I noticed that it was not much of a struggle to communicate with other Latinx students. Although I may not know them all, I feel welcomed to know that I could have a conversation in both English and Spanish and feel comfortable.”
Diego Carias ’23 reflected on his immigrant journey from Honduras to the U.S. “When I arrived from Honduras, all I felt was like a kid who needed to make it,” he said. “Growing up in New Orleans was tough, but I always knew that I had to make it, and education was the way.”
Carias reminisced about his past in Honduras. “Although I left, I still remember some of the celebrations that remind me of my childhood,” he said. “Similar to New Orleans, Honduras has its own Mardi Gras where people dance and celebrate traditional Honduran culture. One of the practices done is dressing up in traditional Mayan dresses that represent Honduras history and connection to the land.”
Adriana Almendares ’25, also an immigrant from Honduras, arrived in the U.S. when she was 16 years old. Describing her identity, Almendares said, “I feel and I am Honduran. I do not feel American. All my family and friends live in Honduras. Since most of my life was spent in Honduras, I am very much still connected and close to my culture.”
Almendares is the granddaughter of Sergio Almendares, a known Honduran painter who paints “Paisajes Hondureños” or “Honduran Scenery.” Almendares described her grandfather as, “the inspiration for my love of art and painting.”
“When my grandfather was 15 he moved to the capital of Honduras to study art,” she said. “He earned his degree and dedicated his work to painting the beautiful landscapes and sceneries of Honduras. Today I love painting landscapes and sceneries. I just love the creativity that comes with it, that’s why I am studying architecture because I can be as creative as I want.”
Many of the Latinx students at Amherst celebrate their cultures through the art of their home nations. As a Peruvian immigrant myself, art for me has come through the form of music and street art. One of my fondest memories growing up was seeing street performers act out comedic skits called “Comicos Ambulantes” or “Street Vendor Comics.” Many of the skits consist of parodies of the daily lives of the Peruvian population that poke fun at the hardships of poverty, political corruption, and crime of Lima through dark humor. Most, if not all, are performed in parks and plazas, where crowds of people gather.
As the Latinx community continues to grow within both Amherst and the U.S., our cultures and traditions continue to flourish and expand. Many of us continue to honor the memories of our parents, grandparents, and friends; these memories foster our love for our cultural heritage. The Latinx community still faces many challenges today, but the contributions of our community continue to create safe spaces and opportunities for younger generations, immigrants, and marginalized groups. Adelante!