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Celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month is a celebration of what unites us all

Today marks the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15, and the theme this year, “Unidos: Inclusivity for a Stronger Nation” couldn’t be more apt or timely. By now, it’s cliché to point out that we are in the midst of a polarized and deeply divided time in our nation’s history, but we cannot afford to shrug or look away from this crisis. In celebrating the contributions and achievements of Hispanic and Latinx Americans, we have an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the very best of what our nation aspires to be: a place that welcomes immigrants and their descendants and celebrates multiculturalism, weaving diverse cultures and traditions into our national fabric for the betterment of all.

Ily Soares, who submitted this year’s winning theme, was inspired  by the fact that across the diverse backgrounds and experiences of Hispanic and Latinx people in the United States, a “uniting factor within our Hispanic community is our desire to be included and represented in all aspects of American society…[W]hen different voices are sitting at the metaphorical table and included in key decisions, the entire community benefits from greater solutions that address concerns from all people.”

Soares’ words are at the heart of why diversity, equity and inclusion are core values at the UW, indivisible from our mission of learning, discovery and service for the public good. By recognizing and honoring the many contributions of Hispanic and Latinx faculty, staff, students and alumni, we both spotlight their achievements and celebrate the extraordinary diversity that enriches us as a nation. Embracing that diversity is our pathway to a more just, equitable world in which we are truly “Estados Unidos” – the United States.

Across our campuses, and far beyond, Hispanic and Latinx Americans with a UW connection are changing the world – through teaching, scholarship, research, art, literature, innovation and public service. Jackson School Associate Professor and interim chair of Latin American and Caribbean Studies María Elena García has explored the Peruvian “gastronomic revolution” in her book “Gastropolitics and the Specter of Race: Stories of Capital, Culture, and Coloniality in Peru.” This spring, Associate Professor of International Studies Vanessa Freije was awarded a prestigious  National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend Award to research the history of Mexico, intra-American relations, and the politics of knowledge production. Recent UW alum and Mexican American Ricardo Ruiz, ’20, has just published his first book of poetry, which he began as an undergraduate. His book, We Had Our Reasons, reflects on the emigration journeys of Mexicans like his parents to eastern Washington. And we could not be prouder that the newly-appointed U.S. Poet Laureate, Ada Limón, is a graduate of the UW School of Drama.

On October 14, UW Tacoma will gather for the second annual Celebrando Comunidad: Latinx Celebration + Awards to recognize the achievements of Latino/a people and organizations in the Puget Sound. At UW Bothell, the Latino Leadership Initiative Program was designed to provide leadership training and opportunities to Latinx students. And music lovers across our region will be happy to learn that in October, the Meany Center will welcome the world-renowned chamber music quartet, Cuarteto Latinoamericano to its stage.

As a Latina and Cuban immigrant who has made this country my home, I am proud to be among the millions of people in the U.S. with origins in Latin America. As I can attest firsthand, Hispanic and Latinx cultures are anything but monolithic; and yet, Ily Soarez’s words about what unites us also resonates with me. The majority of us either came here, were brought here, or descended from people who made the journey because they had faith that a better life was possible in a nation that pledged itself to equality, freedom and opportunity. I believe that vision is within reach, but we will need a big table that welcomes many voices.