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Celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month’s themes of prosperity, power and progress

Each year, from September 15 to October 15, our University of Washington community joins the nation in honoring National Hispanic Heritage Month, taking time to recognize and celebrate the impact and contributions of Americans whose family origins, like my own, are in Mexico, Spain, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. While we embrace Hispanic culture and achievements all year round at the UW, this month serves as a reminder to reflect on the depth and breadth of all that Latine and Hispanic people have added to our national life.

This year’s theme of “Latinos: Driving Prosperity, Power, and Progress in America” resonates deeply here at our UW, where we are driven by our belief in the power of higher education to create pathways to those aspirations. During this and every month, we have so many opportunities to celebrate the art, history, stories, language, culture and myriad other achievements of the UW’s Latine community members past and present, as well as their impact across our state and nation.

On our Seattle campus, Kane Hall is home to Mexican-American artist Pablo O’Higgins’ monumental work The Struggle Against Racial Discrimination, a powerful symbol of perseverance and Mexican and American cooperation, and the Samuel E. Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center’s collection includes several murals by Latine artists, including “Somos Aztlan” by Chicano artist Emilio Aguayo. Among the Burke Museum’s Arts & Cultures exhibits are a beautiful collection of textiles and other artwork from Mexico, Central and South America, including the Fred Hart pottery collection, the largest collection of Mexican pottery in North America. And we continue to celebrate the incredible life and impact of the pathbreaking artist, UW alumnus and my dear friend, Alfredo Arreguin ’67, ’69, who passed away this spring. He leaves a towering legacy of both artistic and cultural impact.

The UW is and has been home to some of the world’s leading Latine scholars, including former UW American Ethnic Studies professor — and first Latino to be named U.S. poet Laureate — Juan Felipe Herrera, who was recently granted the 2023 Frost Medal for lifetime achievement, and UW alum Maria Quintana, whose recent book, Contracting Freedom:Race, Empire, and U.S. Guestworker Programs, examines the impact of 20th century U.S. guestworker programs from Mexico and the Caribbean. And we look forward to seeing UW alumnae and current U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limon’s “You Are Here” project come to fruition in 2024, featuring the installment of contemporary nature poetry as public art at national parks across the U.S.

Above all, our University is committed to creating and sustaining a culture that is welcoming and inclusive of the diverse experiences and heritages that are represented by the Hispanic diaspora. Groups including the Latine Student Union at UW and the Latinx Faculty & Staff Association are working to create supportive and empowering environments for UW Latine community members. At UW Bothell, students involved with the Latino Leadership Initiative are mentoring local Latine high school students to increase access to higher education for a community that is often underserved. And the UW’s Leadership Without Borders offers services and support to undocumented students, including educational resources like the DACA Myth Busters campaign and the Undocu Ally Training for working with undocumented students. On October 20, UW Tacoma will host its third annual “Celebrando Comunidad: Latinx Awards + Celebration,” celebrating the outstanding contributions of Latine-identifying members of the South Puget Sound.

During this National Hispanic Heritage Month, I hope you’ll explore some of these wonderful opportunities to learn from and enjoy the immense richness and variety of Hispanic and Latine influences on our campus, city and region. They serve as a reminder of the excellence that arises in a culture that is grounded in a welcoming spirit of belonging.