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“There is always Familia” Hispanic and Latin Heritage Month celebrates culture, history, family

Victoria Gonzales grew up around a dinner table that resembled a UN meeting.
“We have so many nationalities represented in our family,” Gonzales said. Her father is Mexican, her mother Honduran. Between their extended family and marriages, their dinner table has become an amalgamation of identities. “Food is something that’s really embedded in our culture. It’s a family moment…Latinas and Hispanics like to stop the day and savor the moment savor the food.”
That’s why, Gonzales explained, Clemson’s Hispanic and Latin Heritage Month celebrations include so much food. Gonzales is a member of the Hispanic and Latino Heritage Month Committee, which has planned six separate events celebrating Clemson’s Hispanic and Latino Presence. 
According to the organization’s vision statement, the celebratory month was “created with a desire to educate and heighten awareness about our rich culture.”
Bringing students to the dinner table is just a part of that.
Natalia Arbelaez, one of the committee chairs said she believes that the month is an important, educational look into the Hispanic and Latino community on campus. 
“We saw that Clemson was not doing much for the Hispanic and Latino community and our population is only three percent, so we thought let’s just take matters into our own hands,” said Arbelaez.  “With the help of LaNita from the Gantt Center we put together a series of events that we believe really reflect our culture and we just want to share with the Clemson community.”
Arbelaez’s relationship to her Hispanic identity has only grown stronger since attending Clemson. “My high school and hometown was also prominently white, and I guess the Hispanic Community didn’t really get along that well, so I didn’t identify with them as much. But when I came to Clemson, more and more of my friends were Hispanic and Latino and I realized that I should start getting involved.”
“Honestly, [the Hispanic and Latino community at Clemson] is like a family, it’s a home away from home.”
Gonzales, too, feels that sense of community and family, and sometimes that made it hard to think about her identity.
“I had an identity crisis when I was younger,” Gonzales said. “Outside my home, everyone spoke English, and I would tell people that I was Mexican and Honduran. Inside the home, I only spoke Spanish. I didn’t feel very American.”
“It took me leaving the United States,” Gonzales explained. “I studied in France, and when you go to another place, you have to learn how to introduce yourself. People would ask me where I was from, and I told them about my parents being from Mexico and Honduras. They would say to me, ‘Why are you talking about your parents. We want to know where you are from!’”
“And I realized that ‘Oh yeah! I’m American!’” Gonzales said. “And I’m proud of that.”
Gonzales now identifies as Latin American or Hispanic American. 
“I was born here. I’m no less American than anybody else,” she said. 
Hispanic and Latin Heritage Month at Clemson will focus celebrating the Hispanic and Latin communities at Clemson and beyond, taking looks at contributions to Southern culture on a trip to Charlotte and learning about the undocumented community in a coffee-shop sit down with members of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). 
When asked what students should take away from Hispanic Heritage Month, Arbelaez said “Really, we just want to educate them about the Hispanic/Latino Culture. There’s more to us than just stereotypes—than tacos. Not every Hispanic is Mexican; Hispanics come in a variety of different skin tones.”
“I hope that students take insight from these events,” Gonzales said. “I hope students can understand that everyone comes from different walks of life and that we can be the change we wish to see in the world, as Mahatma Gandhi said. That change beings with educating ourselves and embracing the differences between us.”
Ultimately, Gonzales said, this a time to celebrate her community and it’s contributions.
“My favorite part of Hispanic and Latin culture is the familia—how every country is different, but there remains that bond of love that unites us,” Gonzales said. “There is always familia.

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