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Bringing Back the Presence of Cultural Celebrations, Starting with Hispanic Heritage Month

JJ Penalo
Hispanic Heritage Month Board Created by Ms. Montserrat

The aroma of chicken empanadas fill the tan hallways of UAM. Our walls are lined with photos of dishes and celebrations that have existed for centuries, surrounded with vibrant colors. Voices with a twist boom over the loudspeaker, revealing to us the history that lies within our population. This is genuine cultural appreciation. 

Within the last few years, there has been a recent rise in schools’ involvement in cultural activities and events. Students all over the world have demanded the presence of a topic so universal and relevant to be discussed and even integrated into classrooms for a variety of reasons. It could be to dismantle systemic silence, to bring joy to the school or to appreciate what’s come before us. 

The Urban Assembly for Media Studies has come to take a stand on this issue; they have now introduced an annual celebration for Hispanic History Month. 

A new addition to UAM over the last few years has been Ms. Monserrate Monserrate (Ms. Monsie), UAM’S 10th grade guidance counselor. Ms. Monsie was the admin who organized this entire operation, and without knowing, opened doors for celebrations to come. 

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Ms. Montserrat, School Counselor (Yehiaa Quteni)

“This is my second year here at UAM… I was observing. So I noticed that they didn’t have anything… so I asked Delia and Susan,UAM’s Co-Principals, if I can do something. I started with the bulletin board, which was a lot of fun. Then I started with music on Fridays before first period. I wanted everyone to rep their flag, regardless if they’re Hispanic or not.”

Before her presence, UAM had previously hosted artistic and engaging events, but not much relating to identity. And with the unplanned interruption of Covid, hosting events at all became difficult to achieve. 

Ms. Hespler, another beloved English teacher amongst UAM, commented in response to the impact of Covid. 

“Oh boy, yeah absolutely” exclaimed Hespler. “A lot of schools had to struggle in kind of unifying people again. There is a lot of isolation that happens. We need to break down those barriers that came back.”

Schools, especially those that are progressive, face a lot of backlash for prideful celebrations as such. For an example, Anti-Gay bans or Critical Race Theory bans are taking a toll on the education and acceptance of many minority students in school. 

“What they’re learning,” said Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, executive director of GLSEN, which advocates for inclusive schools, “is that some people don’t think they should exist.” reported Chalkbeat editor Patrick Wall.

As it can be seen, these types of events within UAM create a space for acceptance and acknowledgement. These events aren’t just something to fill the walls or things to say you did. Events like these don’t just break down physical barriers stemming from society’s issues, but also social barriers, such as diversification.

Terry interviewing 12 grade student (Alexis Hernandez)

A 12th grader emphasized the importance of community, commenting “I do support the diversity of cultures within our school, it gives a greater sense of community and diversity overall, and this is a very positive thing that is happening. I think this can and most likely will lay the foundation for what can be celebrations for many cultures in our school.”

Despite what many might think about the presence of a topic deemed so controversial in educational institutions, in my community, it has proven to be a way of admiration and appreciation for one’s culture. We do have a long way to go, with how we plan and organize these events so that our call to action is thorough, thoughtful and genuine, but a step is a step. 

James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced” and day by day, we are taking our steps to face it.

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About the Contributors
Egypt Terry
Egypt Terry is a senior journalist at the Urban Assembly for Media Studies. They enjoy vlogging their adventures, talking everything Black and Teen culture, and creating content for their blog.
JJ Penalo
JJ is a Senior at UAM High School. He is a free spirit who has the charisma to work hard at everything he does, whether it's something he is unfamiliar with or something that's right up his alley. He has a great fondness for photography, art, music, and gaming.
Yehiaa Quteni
Yehiaa Quteni is a sophomore at UAM High School. He likes to read, draw, and is independent, reliable, and smart.
Alexis Hernandez
Alexis Hernandez is a senior at UAM High School. He is focused on passing his classes, is strong-minded, disciplined, and determined to accomplish his goals.
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  • M

    Ms. ScarfiNov 2, 2023 at 2:21 pm

    I agree Monsie did something essential by bringing back and enhancing our school’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. Great job highlighting her and the work of others at our school!

  • M

    MTOct 30, 2023 at 2:14 pm

    Great piece! Cultural diversity is what makes New York City so special so it’s wonderful to see UAM celebrating that.